A Bit About Me
If you’re looking for my professional speaker bio, please click hereCan’t wait to meet up at the fantastic event we’ll be doing together soon. 

Maybe you’ve stopped in to get the skinny on my legal credentials and educationPrepare to be wowed by miles of street cred and hard earned experience. 

Otherwise, hi. 
Glad you’re here. 
Let’s have some fun.

Status Quo is a No Go.
~ My work exists to make better best and cool even cooler. ~
My childhood was spent being too smart for my own good in an everyone-knows-everyone town. When I saw something great, I would immediately recognize the ways it could be better. My father loved me bunches, but saw it as a sign of dissatisfaction. He would frequently ask why I couldn’t “just be happy with the way things were”. It’s not that I wasn’t happy, but in many ways, Dad was right. Status quo and me are not compatible.Why settle for normal when you can have exquisite? Superb.

Homogeneity was our hometown specialty and I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a bigger world to explore. So, come college time, I moved on. I worked my way through the College of St. Benedict , stringing multiple waitressing jobs into the funds for a semester abroad. Europe! Amazing. Different languages, different architecture, different art. I was in heaven. Different. 

The 1980s brought me to Hamline University School of Law, amazing shoulder pads and a new term: “sexual harassment.” Minnesota’s Supreme Court had just handed down a ground-breaking decision about sexual harassment in the workplace. To me, the concept was amazing. In those early days, there wasn’t even a phrase to describe it. I read everything I could get my hands on. 

My first published law review article (major kudos in the law school universe) was crafted from the employer perspective, detailing exactly how to comply with the new legal landscape and how important creating a safe environment would become to the bottom line of their business. Armed with youthful enthusiasm and fantastic annotations, I just knew that my work would impact workplace culture in a big way and companies would be fighting over who won the honor of my help in creating workable solutions. Wrong.
I ended up with a speaking engagement at the Business and Professional Women’s network. As a scholarship recipient, I was invited to say something pleasant about growing representation in a male-dominated field and thank them for the money. Small problem: I thought they really wanted me to speak. I genuinely felt that this was the perfect venue to trot out the work I’d been fixated on: the new discovery of sexual harassment and its impact on the bottom line for enterprise companies. Oops.

Enter: young Susan in a sea of 300 lunch enjoying, politely chatty people. I’m pretty sure they were talking over my introduction. I’m on stage: knees shaking. Voice quivering into the microphone. And then, something happened. My small voice magnified out into the room. As I shared my sexual harassment research findings, you could have heard a pin drop. That day was when I discovered the power of platform. Possibility.

Sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be an issue, but now there are all sorts of studies that detail the actual dollar amount it costs businesses to tolerate sexual harassment and other forms of discriminatory behavior, never mind how much more profitable businesses are if they retain women talent. Right. Clairvoyant.

I went on to practice law for small firms and the largest firm, as in-house general counsel and as a solo practitioner, representing businesses - the little guys to the Fortune 100s. Gradually, I began giving more and more business advice because people trust me and my judgment. Rightly so. This prompted them to consult with me on a variety of matters. Go-to.

What I have enjoyed most during the last 30+ years of advising businesses is the opportunity to help businesses spark positive change. Whether that is establishing new market distribution domestically or in Mexico, making internal policies compliant, or being savvy/gutsy/driven/inspired enough to start a new venture. Challenge.

Market disruption doesn’t always have to be major or monumental. It doesn’t even have to make a splash. It just means looking at things from a different perspective. Not following the usual methods. It means making better best and cool even cooler. Not “fine.” Not “okay.” Splendid.

Negotiation and Marketing 101
~ Patience and good food are the key to my approach in all things ~
I wanted to learn how to play the piano. Mom thought it was a good idea, too. I asked Dad if we could buy a piano. He said we couldn’t because they were expensive. A couple weeks later, I asked Dad again. He said we couldn’t afford a piano. I guess “we” spent the money on another snowmobile. Undeterred, I asked Dad again about a month later. The answer didn’t change. I was dispirited. Sad.

One amazing afternoon, when no one else was around, Mom sat me down and asked if I really wanted to play the piano. Of course I said, “YES!” And then she laid this stunner on me:
“If you really want a piano, you have to make Dad think that it was his idea.”
My kid-brain went on the fritz. What?!? I told her I didn’t know how to do that. She told me she would see what she could do, but I had to be very patient. Trusting.

Over the next several weeks, I watched, waited and listened. One night at the dinner table, Mom asked Dad about his piano lessons when he was growing up. It was a short discussion. Another night, Mom went to the phonograph and put on some vinyl of Mozart piano concertos. I didn’t even know we had those in the house! At the dinner table a while later, she asked if any of us were interested in playing a musical instrument. I replied that I would like to play piano because I thought the music was so pretty. My brother wanted to play drums. Masterful.

A few weeks later, Dad came home and announced that he found a great deal on a piano and that it would be delivered the next day. And that we would all take piano lessons. Wow!

I took piano lessons for eight years. Lovely.

Patiently make them think it’s their idea over many delicious meals together. Genius.

Making Your Why Bigger Than Your Fear
~ Looking at the big picture makes for better work. ~
Part of the homogeneity of my home town is that we were all Christian. Catholics, like us. The one true religion. Lutherans, like my best friend, who sadly wasn’t going to make it to heaven with me. Oh, and there was one Jewish family in town. I shudder to think what they may have experienced.

One of the things we righteous Catholics were charged with doing, aside from holding firmly to our religion as the truth no matter what, was saving the world and converting every person on the planet to Catholicism. For their own good. To save their souls. So they could go to heaven and chill with us. And eat as much ice cream as they wanted.

Part of that soul-saving involved buying pagan babies in some undefined Asian countries. Now, I admit that my memory is a bit foggy here, but the basic program was that it was our job, as privileged (read: Catholic) first graders to save those babies. For $5.00 we could buy a pagan baby, give him or her a Christian name and save that poor little soul. For real. That’s what they told us.
We were each given a book with 50 stamps in it. Each stamp had the picture of the Madonna and Baby. Our job was to go door-to-door in our neighborhood and sell those stamps for ten cents each. 

I was so incredibly shy that I almost couldn’t speak and never understood why it was okay to talk to strangers this time, but I guessed the pagan babies were more important than anything. 

The thought of pagan babies spending an eternity in limbo, which frankly seemed worse than hell because it was a place where NOTHING happened, forced me out on those cold winter nights to knock on the doors of neighbors, some known and some complete strangers to talk them into buying Madonna and Baby stamps. 

Making my why bigger than my fear. I saved one entire pagan baby. All by myself. I got to name her, too. Her baptismal name. I wonder where that Asian Agnes is today. And if she ever knew her name was Agnes?

Limbo. Sameness. Definitely makes the why bigger than any fear. Even strangers. Motivation.

Creativity in Getting It Done
~ When we work together, everything is figure-outable. ~
As the oldest of five children who started “babysitting” at the age of 10 (child labor laws anyone?), I developed a finely tuned eye for seeing the fastest way to accomplish a task. The path of least resistance.

Having to manage my younger siblings, who naturally challenged me at every turn, forced me to quickly figure out creative ways to get the job done. Everyone with washed faces, in jammies, teeth brushed and in bed by 8:00.

Truth be told that was probably much more difficult than any strategic business decision I have worked on with a client. More pressure than multi-million dollar deals. Efficient.

Nonetheless, this opportunity provided fabulous training. I had to be creative and quick on my feet. This experience is the foundation for my creative efficiency when working with business clients and the reason I have a can-do attitude. Let’s get it done! Some even call me Helen Wheels! Quick.

Now, sometimes “the kids” were the bane of my existence, but try to mess with them, and you had better watch out. A mother bear with her cubs has nothing over me. I apply the same protectiveness to working with my clients. Safe.

You want me in the foxhole with you. Not only have I got your back, I’m covering your future, too. Ahhh ....

~ I create from a genuine belief that people are amazing. ~
I am the second oldest of 31 first cousins on my father’s side. One big happy dysfunctional Irish Catholic family, with a lovely dose of Slovenian from my Grandma. We gathered for holidays and all summer long at our grandparents summer cottage. Much of the time it was all of us. By nature I am a shy, quiet, introvert. 

To survive and live happily ever after in this sea of laughter and confusion, I developed the ability to connect quickly with people and determine what they wanted. 

If you don’t want Aunt Margaret to yell at you, don’t slam the screen door. 

If you want your post lunch PB&J, you had better be at the head of the pack running up from the lake. 

Oh, and wipe the sand off your feet before you enter the cabin if you don’t want Aunt Colleen to send you back down to the lake to clean your feet and to the back of the line, risking the possibility of no more Wonder Bread by the time you returned.

I was endlessly curious about what made people work the way they do. I am fascinated with the way we can turn talents, interests and passions into a career... or even a legacy. The result of this insatiable interest in my fellow humans is a powerfully brilliant network built from thirty-odd years of professional and personal connections. Lawsome.

Cheerleading and Teamwork
~ I work to create win-win. It saves the day every time. ~
Another benefit of having a plethora of first cousins with a demanding grandpa was that while we were expected to do our best at all times as a matter of course, with that many kids around there was little time for individual gloating. 

Most everything centered around each person being happy – or at least not disruptively unhappy. If one cousin was upset or got hurt, it was tough for all of us to keep romping in the lake or playing starlight moonbright. As a result, play stopped until we could resolve the problem. If we didn’t, and adult intervention was required, it was curtains on playtime, which led to a lot of glum faces and a general mood of “bummer!” 

This taught me two things: 
(1) do whatever you can to avoid having a problem, and (2) cheer for everyone and figure it out. It’s a group effort. Together.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to be said for secret sauce, need-to-know basis and being unafraid to outsweat everyone else in the race. But, in the long run, we’re all in this to put food on the table and create a life for those we love. I think that the best business is done with these things in mind.

As a result, it is ingrained in my nature to cheer for others. This brings my cheerleading to bear in the implementation of strategy. Your success makes me smile. Your pitch-perfect negotiation is fulfilling to my core. 

Building just the right deal, making the right connection at the right time...it’s all part of what I’m truly most passionate about in life. Let’s pave the way for your expansion and growth. Success.

~ It’s cool. You don’t need to believe for me to rock your business with it. ~
Yup! You read that correctly. I was also born with an extra sense about people and an insight on how things would play out, a sense of vision if you will, that was enhanced by my environment. Early on I could distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and could see into the future. Critical things, such as the vision that Dad’s idea to stop at the antique store on the way to the lake was going to end in disaster. No one listened. Awful.

Fast forward to being a girl baby lawyer in a conference room of man boy lawyers discussing case strategy. After learning about the case and listening to the discussion, I would see the successful strategy. It was so obvious that I could hardly believe I had to articulate it. Invariably I would. All heads would turn to look at me. Shoulders would shrug. They would go back to the discussion as if I hadn’t said anything and then have the audacity to choose the totally wrong direction for the client. I would tell them why that was wrong and the bad consequence that would befall the client as the result of the strategy. Only to be ignored and looked at like I was crazy. 

When bad things happen to good clients. Unnecessary.

Over the years, I have learned that this gift of sight is something not everyone has. So what is obvious to me is not obvious to everyone. I have learned to explain the steps involved in arriving at the “correct” path and learned how to achieve buy-in on the vision. Nonetheless, I do have a gift for seeing the proper path. Vision.

~ Everything great about my career has started with reading too much. 
God bless the nerds. ~
One incredibly cool thing about growing up is that you can have a different relationship with the adults in your life, especially because they are no longer taller than you. In later years, I had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with my Grandmother. If we were visiting at my parent’s house, I would typically give her a ride home on my way back to the b-i-g city. As a matter of respect, I always parked the car and walked her to the door. Love.

This was our routine conversation, and I never grew tired of it:

Me: I love you, Grandma.
Grandma: I love you, too, Mary Sue. I love all of you kids. I love you all so much. And you know, [here she would stop, turn, look me square in the eyes with her pointer finger raised. every time] there’s not a dummy in the bunch! {bright smile, sparkly eyes, shuffle forward}

Grandma was right. While I am not Einstein, I am whipper-snapper smart. And, I love using those smarts to make better best and cooler cool. Enhance.

How We Can Work Together
~ We focus. We deliver. We bring home the bacon. Together. ~
If you’re reading this, odds are good that we see eye to eye. I bring everything that 30 years of business and legal acumen has shown me to help you break through barriers. Whatever is in the way of your goals, let’s get it out of the way. Vamos. 

Strategic insight. Creative vision. A tenacious can-do attitude are all at your service. 

Any good lawyer can get you out of a mess. My passion in life is guiding business leaders on the cusp of that Next Big Breakthrough. Go. Inspiration is great, specifics are better. 

Here’s a sample of issues I have worked on:
  • Advise on relocation of manufacturing facility
  • Clear hurdles for regulatory approval for product export to Mexico
  • Market expansion to Mexico and Bahamas
  • Review Mexican subsidiary compliance issues
  • Provide guidance on market expansion to large-scale product distribution
  • Revamp fund-raising strategies netting increase in donations by 35% in six months
  • Lead development of public policy initiative to positively impact issues affecting specific constituency
  • Secure release of US citizen arbitrarily imprisoned abroad
  • Define strategy for business startup
  • Establish an Office of General Counsel and develop plan to streamline legal procedures and compliance
  • Serve as executive sounding board for key decisions
  • Advise on business advisory board composition

I don’t believe that the people who are drawn to working with me want to merely start a business. There’s more there. Wherever you’re headed, I’m honored to help you move your business forward. Leap.


Legal Credentials and Education
Many are curious about businesses and firms with whom I have worked in the past. Unless there is a mutually beneficial reason to do so, I don’t disclose that information. Another lesson from growing up in a small town: don’t kiss and tell.

Activities: Hamline Law Review Associate Editor, Published
Honors: AmJur Award, Corporations

COLLEGE OF ST. BENEDICT, St. Joseph, Minnesota BA, German

State of Minnesota 

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Federal Court, District of Minnesota

United States Court of International Trade 

American Bar Association, Section of International Law, Co-Chair Mexico Committee 2016-18, Latin America and Caribbean Committee, Cross-Border Real Estate Practice Committee, International Employment Law, and Liaison to Organization of Women in International Trade 2014-current
Organization of Women in International Trade, member
The Southern Theatre, Director, 2009-12, Southern Exposure Chair 2011
Saint Anthony East Neighborhood Association, Officer and Director, 2008-12
Minnesota Women Lawyers, Co-Chair Public Policy Advocacy Committee, 2007-09; Chair Public Policy Task Force, 2006; Officer, 2006-07; Director, 2004-06; Co-Chair Mentor Committee, 2002-04

US Chamber Foundation: Center for Women in Business blog series
October 22, 2015 ABA, Montreal, Global Norms for Freedom of Expression in Film-Making
October 8, 2015 (via satellite) IBA - Future of Solo and Small Firms in the United States
November 2014, ABA Intl Law Conference Vancouver - Cyber Security in Mexico, Avoiding litigation in NAFTA countries
● Burns, Susan, “The Five Cs of Effective Ediscovery Management,” ABA Section of Litigation Woman Advocate Committee Newsletter, Fall 2010, Volume 16, No. 1
● Russeth, Richard and Burns, Susan, “Why My Human Document Reviewer is Better Than Your Algorithm,” ACC Docket, Volume 28, Issue 4 (May 2010): 18-38
● Burns, “On the Job Sexual Harassment – Sexual Harassment as Sex Discrimination: Developments in Employer’s Liability,” 4 Hamline L. Rev. 515 (1981)
● Burns, Susan, “Minnesota, Mexico and Women in Agriculture: A Unique Winning Combination,” ABA Section of International Law, Mexico Committee Newsletter, Issue 49 (June 2016)
● Burns, Susan, ed., “Year In Review” Volume 50, ABA/SIL, Mexico Committee Contribution (2015 and 2016), June 2016
● Burns, Susan, “What’s in a Business Name?” Encourage Her Newsletter, March 2015
● Burns, Susan, “Business Startup Legal Issues,” Guest Blog Series, US Chamber Foundation, Center for Women in Business, Winter 2015
● Contributing Author, “An Electronic Discovery Primer: Minnesota E-Discovery Working Group,” 40 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev 427 (2014)
● Burns, Susan, “The Five Cs of Effective EDiscovery Management,” ABA Section of Litigation Woman Advocate Committee Newsletter, Fall 2010, Volume 16, No. 1
● Russeth, Richard and Burns, Susan, “Why My Human Document Reviewer is Better Than Your Algorithm,” ACC Docket, Volume 28, Issue 4 (May 2010): 18-38
● Burns, “On the Job Sexual Harassment – Sexual Harassment as Sex Discrimination: Developments in Employer’s Liability,” 4 Hamline L. Rev. 515 (1981)

ABA Section of International Law, 2017 Spring Meeting
Washington, D.C.
● Mexico Committee What Lies Ahead For NAFTA: Are Unilateral Changes on the Horizon or will Long-standing, Positive Economic Relationships Prevail? Panel Chair and Moderator, April 27, 2017
● ABA and Japan Federation of Bar Associations joint presentation, Class in Session: The Emerging Global Presence of Class Actions, speaker

Conscious Goddess Festival
Whistler, BC
● Keynote Speaker, Owning your power goddess – the brilliance of your divine heritage, June 2016
ABA Section of International Law, Mexico and International Trade Committees joint presentation
Washington, DC
● Impact of TPP on NAFTA: The Impact of TPP on NAFTA: Opportunity for strengthening ties – or recipe for disaster? Moderator, September 14, 2016, 4:00-6:30 pm
ABA Section of International Law, North American Regional Conference
Montreal, Quebec
● Film + Freedom of Expression: Is It Time for a Global Norm? Panel Chair and Moderator, October 22, 2015
Encourage Her Network
Minneapolis, MN
● How to Avoid the Top Three Legal Mistakes Women Entrepreneurs Make in Running Their Business, December 15, 2014
ABA Section of International Law, North American Regional Conference
Vancouver, CA
● The Challenges of Defending Litigation in the Mexican, Canadian and U.S. Judicial Systems, Moderator, November 17, 2014
● Causes and Effects: Data Compliance Challenges in the Wake of Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency, Google’s Privacy Litigation and Mexico’s Privacy Notice Guidelines, Panelist, November 18, 2014
ABA GP Solo and Small-Firm Division, Spring Meeting
Las Vegas, NV
● How to Find a Job in a Small Firm, May 2014
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