The History of our Firm

The Milwaukee area has been home to the Otjen Law Firm in various incarnations since 1881. Since that time, six members of the Otjen family have practiced law and served in the firm. The firm is one of the oldest, continuous law firms in Milwaukee.

The firm had its beginnings when Theobald Otjen opened a law practice in the Village of Bayview in 1881. Theobald was an active member of the community, serving on many community boards and acting as Village Attorney and as a Trustee of the Village of Bayview. When Bayview was incorporated into the city of Milwaukee, he was the first alderman to represent the Bayview district on the Milwaukee Common Council. In this latter capacity, he was instrumental in the establishment of the county-wide park system and in other city projects. Theobald was elected to Congress in 1894 and served for twelve years. As a Congressman, Theobald helped establish the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He also appointed a young man to West Point who would later lead the Pacific campaign in World War II: General Douglas MacArthur.

Theobald was joined by his brother, C.S. Otjen, in 1884 and for many years the firm's letterhead read "Otjen Brothers-Law and Real Estate Office." During the early part of the 1900s, the Theo Otjen Company was probably the largest and most well-known real estate company and agency in the Bayview area.

Theobald's older son, Henry H. Otjen, joined the firm in 1906 upon his graduation from law school, and the firm became known as "Otjen & Otjen." That name remained until 1963 except for a brief, two-year period from 1925-1927. Henry, like his father, was active in community affairs and served as a member of the school board for a number of years. He also took over the active handling of the real estate company upon the death of Theobald in 1925.

Theobald’s youngest son, Christian John Otjen (“C.J.”) graduated from law school in 1916, just before the beginning of World War I. Christian was appointed a second lieutenant in the infantry and served in the war including training troops in England. He was reportedly the first American officer to cross “no man’s land” in World War I. He rose to the rank of Major and at the termination of the war, returned to Milwaukee to join the firm.

With the arrival of Christian in the firm, the focus of the firm’s practice began to evolve. Whereas the firm had earlier focused on real estate and related practices, it was Christian Otjen who began to represent a number of local mutual insurance companies in the early 1920s. Christian was a successful trial lawyer and by the early 1930s, the firm’s work was principally insurance defense, an emphasis that remains today. A number of the clients he developed remain as clients of the firm today, including large self-insured clients.

While continuing his legal practice, Christian also remained active with the military. He was called back to service a year prior to Pearl Harbor and was awarded the Legion of Merit – the highest noncombatant medal awarded by the Armed Forces. After World War II, he returned to his insurance defense practice. He continued in his practice until his death in 1950.

Henry Otjen’s son, Theo P. Otjen joined the firm in the early 1930s and remained until he accepted a position with the legal staff of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. He subsequently rose to be Secretary of that company.

The sixth member of the Otjen family, Carl N. Otjen, graduated from engineering school and served in the Navy during World War II. He returned to law school following the war and graduated in 1949. He also served on a number of community boards, and, like his father, remained active in the Navy while practicing law. For a number of years, he was Officer in Charge of the Naval Reserve Unit in Milwaukee. After 26 years of combined active and reserve duty, Carl retired from the Navy.

Carl maintained a broad legal practice, which encompassed worker’s compensation, automobile accident, product liability, medical malpractice and general liability claims. He served as a director of numerous organizations, including the David White Company; Gronning Company, Inc.; St. Mary’s Hospital; Curative Workshop; the Milwaukee Pops Orchestra (predecessor to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra); and the Skylight Theatre, among others. He served as Honorary Vice Consul of Norway from 1973 to 1997.

Carl’s practice largely focused on worker’s compensation defense during his later years. He developed a reputation for being one of the most knowledgeable attorneys in the state in regard to occupational hearing loss cases. Carl continued to be associated with the firm in an “of counsel” capacity until his passing in 2004.

In its present incarnation, the firm continues to represent insurance companies, self insured employers and hospitals in the defense of general liability, worker's compensation, and medical malpractice cases. The firm is now located in Waukesha on Swenson Drive. Although there is currently no Otjen family member practicing in the firm, we remain known as the Otjen Law Firm.