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Katherine MacKinnon

Attorneys of the Year: Katherine L. MacKinnon

Shines in ERISA, pro bono work

With nearly 20 years of experience, Twin Cities’ attorney Katherine MacKinnon has built a reputation as one of this region’s leading practitioners of federal ERISA (Employee Retirement and Income Security Act) law.

However, MacKinnon hasn’t carved out her niche plaintiffs’ practice from the confines of a large law firm.

“Kate MacKinnon has been a solo or very small firm lawyer for many years, a group that deserves more recognition in the legal community generally,” said Hennepin County District Court Judge Mary Vasaly, who nominated MacKinnon for Attorney of the Year.  “In the many years she (MacKinnon) has practiced in this community she has demonstrated her excellence and professionalism. She focuses on ERISA and appeals, two very difficult areas, particularly for a solo practitioner.”

MacKinnon also has been an ongoing volunteer contributor to the legal profession. “She has frequently served on various bar association committees but more importantly she has volunteered to take cases for those who are unable to pay for her services,” Vasaly said, “She was one of the first participants in the pro se project at the Minnesota appellate courts.”

One of MacKinnon’s recent significant legal victories was a landmark reversal in an insurance coverage case. In Jacky L. Larson v. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the insurer acted improperly when it refused to pay the death benefit for an insured.  The court said the rescission of an insurance policy “requires proof of the insured’s subjective intent to deceive.”

“This is a very important case because the life insurance industry came out with an amicus brief” and there is industrywide interest in what proof is needed when an insurer seeks to cancel an life insurance policy due to incorrect information supplied by the insured, MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon said one of the guiding principles of her law practice is to represent individuals who are having difficulty obtaining benefits from their employer-sponsored benefit plans. “There is (usually) an elaborate process to fight for these benefits,” MacKinnon said, adding there is a great demand for lawyers practicing ERISA law.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon said she loves being a lawyer because of the intellectual problems she gets to handle. “It is fascinating and interesting. It is never dull.”

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