Mark Gherty had set his sights on becoming a teacher.

Though his father was a leading legal mind in St. Croix County at the time, the younger Gherty had plans outside the courtroom.

And then the 1970s happened.

"It was the whole Watergate thing," Gherty said. The scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon proved a watershed moment in shaping Gherty's life. Lawyers involved in the scandal "weren't defending the law," he said, recalling how his father - a former FBI agent who went on to become a St. Croix County district attorney and judge - wrote a letter to L. Patrick Gray admonishing the then-FBI director for his role in the affair.

The Watergate era sowed the seeds for what would become a 38-year career as a lawyer for Gherty, a stretch that comes to an end on Friday, Dec. 14.

"I think it's time to move on," he said last week from his office in the Constitution Building on Hudson's Vine Street, where the moving process was already underway.

Gherty said he and his late brother Terry, with whom he practiced law until his death in 2014, had long ago determined age 66 as the target age for Mark to retire. Having reached that age a few weeks back and after considering the sudden deaths of both his brothers in their 60s, Gherty concluded the time was right.

"Maybe enjoy life a little bit," the town of Hudson resident said.

He attended St. Patrick Parish School in Hudson, where he grew up, before continuing studies at St. John's Preparatory School in Minnesota. Gherty received his undergraduate degree at UW-River Falls, where he studied history, political science and speech.

He worked for the better part of a year at Andersen Corp. before trying his hand at a Twin Cities firm doing equity adjustment. But with the fire still burning from Watergate, he decided to follow his father's and brother's footsteps into the legal world.

The brothers decided in 1988 to narrow their practice on trial law, a focus Gherty said has been rewarding. Over the years, he developed a reputation as an aggressive defense lawyer whose passion sometimes raised decibels in Wisconsin courtrooms.

"The idea of defending rights is a major thing," he said.

Gherty said he takes his role as an attorney seriously. He doesn't laugh along with lawyer jokes, saying the same people who poke fun at attorneys often become the same ones dialing one up at 2 a.m.

"We have a role," Gherty said.

Looking back, he doesn't single out particular cases he has defended, though he has taken on several with a high profile - perhaps none as high as the Jane Neumann homicide trial from 1997. More recently, he successfully defended Prescott resident Rose Marie Kuehni in a prominent self-defense homicide trial.

He said he's been accused in the past by community members of practicing "that dirty kind of law," an accusation he rejects.

"I say, 'No, I am defending the Constitution of the United States and the state of Wisconsin,'" he said.

Gherty's achievements include serving as past president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and as a returning lecturer at the UW-Madison School of Law. He has twice argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court

He cites three major things for his success: the influence of his father and brother, his keen memory and a skilled, loyal staff that included Kathy Schollmeier and Judy Guise.

"We've been blessed," Gherty said.

As for the Constitution Building, he said a deal was being finalized with attorney Angela Olson to take over the space. Gherty said he was heartened by the prospect of keeping the building a law office.

Looking ahead to retirement, he said that while an extended vacation is long overdue, he'll not deviate greatly from the winter routine, which includes training for his cherished - if you don't believe it, check Gherty's personalized "Birkie" license plates - American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race. He said he will also continue to serve on the Hudson Hospital Board of Directors and as vice chairman of the UW-River Falls Foundation.

As he shoves off into the next chapter, Gherty said he does so with a sense of gratitude.

"My family has been so blessed by the community," he said. "The community, the clients - I will miss seeing the people."