Joseph A. Sawyer practiced law in Owatonna from 1880 to death on June 16, 1916, at age seventy-one. In a memorial delivered at the annual convention of the Minnesota State Bar Association later that year, he was recalled:
"While some men get into the profession of law through circumstances which lead them there, it may be said of Joseph Sawyer that when he entered the legal field he did so, first driven by his ambition to become a lawyer, and second, because the natural tendency of his mind made him specially qualified for the work, and it may be truly said of Joseph Sawyer that he had a legal mind. He possessed the power of analyzation in an exceptional degree. His remarkable memory, coupled with his capacity for intense application, peculiarly fitted him for the legal work, and his success as a lawyer naturally followed."