his four years of practicing law, Minneapolis attorney
Richard A. Ruohonen has been very active in Minnesota’s
legal community — and his hard work has paid off.
Ruohonen was named a Rising Star in the Law by Minnesota
Law & Politics in both 1999 and 2000, and
at age 29 recently became one of the youngest attorneys
ever to be named a Superlawyer. He was also recently
chosen as one of Minnesota’s top 200 personal injury
lawyers, and was elected to serve on the Minnesota
Trial Lawyers Association (MTLA) Board of Governors.
In addition, Ruohonen became a partner at his firm
at the beginning of this year.
March 31, 1971; St. Paul, Minn.
Hamline University School of Law,
J.D. 1996; Hamline University, B.A.
Political Science and Economics,
1993; Hamline University Graduate
School, candidate for Masters Degree
in Public Administration
Pritzker & Associates, associate
1996-2000, partner 2001
Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association
(MTLA) Board of Governors; Minnesota
State Bar Association; Hennepin
County Bar Association
Wife, Sherry; expecting first child
in September 2001
is proud of his professional accomplishments, and
does not regret his years of hard work. “[My career]
didn’t get handed to me by anybody. … I worked hard
to get where I am and the hard work has paid off,”
Although he is a member of both the Minnesota State
Bar Association (MSBA) and the Hennepin County Bar
Association (HCBA), Ruohonen devotes most of his professional
organizational time to his activities with the MTLA.
As co-chair of the MTLA’s continuing legal education
committee, Ruohonen put together a seven-week, 21-hour
course on anatomy and physiology for lawyers. The
course, which covered various topics including seminars
on the digestive, endocrine, and nervous systems,
on muscles and joints, on pain and suffering, and
on emotional disorders, was attended by over 20 attorneys
and led by University of Minnesota Medical School
professors and doctors last fall. According to Ruohonen,
the course was offered for around $600 per participant,
and is among the most successful and lucrative continuing
legal education seminars ever offered by the MTLA.
was an unbelieveable course — from a human perspective
it let me know what my clients are experiencing,”
says Ruohonen. The course involved sessions with cadavers
in addition to seminars, which gave those who attended
an in-depth understanding of the body and how it works.
a personal injury attorney you’re constantly taking
depositions of doctors and you have a quasi-medical
understanding,” observes Ruohonen. “This program [really
helped the participants to understand more fully]
how the body works. I think [the program] really is
going to help the other [participants] and me in our
practice. It really gave me a much better understanding
of when there is pain and how it happens and what
the chemical affects are on the body. It was as much
in-depth as you can get in 21 hours,” says Ruohonen.
According to Ruohonen, personal injury attorneys owe
it to their clients to learn as much about their medical
situations as possible. “If you as a lawyer understand
the terms and the concepts rather than simply go with
what the medical records say, you will do a better
job cross examining doctors, conducting direct examinations
on your own doctors, and arguing your client’s case
to a jury,” observes Ruohonen.
The MTLA plans to offer the course again next year.
partner in four years
to Ruohonen, who has been practicing personal injury
law since 1996, his desire to become an attorney started
in high school. “I’ve always been a good arguer and
been very analytical. Everybody growing up would say
I could argue my way into anything or out of anything.
My family has always told me I had a knack for that
kind of stuff. When I told them I wanted to go to
law school they said I’d fit right in. I don’t know
whether that’s good or bad,” jokes Ruohonen.
Ruohonen has always been somewhat of an overachiever.
He worked 30 to 40 hours per week while earning his
undergraduate degree, and put in close to 80 hours
per week during his summers. “I didn’t do a lot of
playing,” recalls Ruohonen.
Although like most law students he didn’t work during
his first year of law school, Ruohonen worked during
the summer, and began working as a law clerk at Meshbesher
& Spence during his second and third years. “When
I was in law school I didn’t know what type of law
I wanted to go into. I thought I wanted to be in business
law at first. But I took a few business classes and
I could just tell it wasn’t for me. When I got hired
at Meshbesher I really liked what was going on there
and how they were helping people and I really liked
the practice of personal injury law. That’s when I
decided I wanted to go into [personal injury law],”
According to Ruohonen, his strong work ethic served
him well after graduation, when he joined the Minneapolis
law firm of Pritzker & Associates.
I was in law school I was working a lot and studying
a lot. It felt like a vacation when I only had to
work 60 hours a week,” says Ruohonen.
Ruohonen was told that he would be made a partner
in his firm in October of 2000 — just four years after
being admitted to the bar — and has been a partner
at the three-attorney firm since Jan. 1, 2001.
Fred Pritzker explains, “I’m making Rich a partner
early because he deserves it. He’s an exceptional
young lawyer. He works extremely hard, he’s great
with clients, he brings in business, and most importantly
he’s a good human being whom I trust immensely.”
Ruohonen typically arrives at his office between 6:30
and 7:30 in the morning, and stays until between 6:00
and 7:30 at night, sometimes later. He works three
out of every four weekends. “That’s the part that
isn’t always that fun,” says Ruohonen. “Everyone else
is sleeping in, but I have to get up and come [to
the office]. But at the same time it’s probably when
I get the most work done because I don’t have the
constant phone calls and interruptions,” he adds.
right way to practice
is grateful to Pritzker for mentoring him. “He’s a
great lawyer — it’s fabulous to see him in trial.
… I think we practice a different brand of law here.
Client contact, and developing relationships with
our clients, is very important to us. Fred has taught
me that being able to trust our clients and having
them trust us [is very important],” says Ruohonen.
Ruohonen was chair of the MTLA new lawyers section
for his first three years of practice, and continues
to pass what Pritzker has taught him to other new
lawyers, both in his own firm and in other firms.
“I try to mentor [other new attorneys] in the same
way that Fred mentored me. I take time with them and
explain the way to do things right rather than just
how to skate by — I don’t think that’s the way law
should be practiced,” says Ruohonen.
are a lot of new attorneys who don’t feel that they
can go to their partners like I can go to Fred. I’m
still learning every day. I can always go to him and
he’s always there to answer my questions. A lot of
lawyers don’t have that luxury,” observes Ruohonen.
Though he no longer chairs MTLA’s new lawyers section,
Ruohonen still attends meetings, gives talks on various
topics, and offers advice to other attorneys.
attorneys] can learn from my mistakes and my experiences,”
In addition to Pritzker and Ruohonen, the firm has
one associate attorney, two legal assistants, two
secretaries, an accountant, a receptionist, and an
attorney administrator. Though they work very hard,
Ruohonen and his co-workers also know the importance
of having fun. “It’s a small, laid back firm. We’re
serious about what we do and we care about the people
we represent, but we also like to have fun and I really
like the people I work with. That makes it so much
easier to be here longer hours,” says Ruohonen.
Ruohonen also enjoys spending time with his family
and playing sports. He is an active member of both
competitive softball and competitive curling leagues.
His curling team took fifth place in the nation two
years ago, and last month competed in the state playoffs.
The top three teams from that competition qualify
for the final 32 teams that compete to go to the Olympics.
thoroughly enjoys being in trial, and prides himself
on always being well-prepared. “The best thing I like
about being a trial lawyer is when you get that verdict
and you win. … It really makes me feel good to help
people and it makes the 80 hours a week prior to trial
worthwhile,” says Ruohonen.
According to Ruohonen, preparation is the key to success
at trial, and as a lawyer in general. “No matter how
taxing it is on my life … it’s important to me that
I do the best job I can for my clients. If that means
staying [at the office] until 10 o’clock at night
then I do that. If that means working seven days a
week, 10-12 hour days, I do that. I never go into
a trial — or anything that I do — unprepared. …
A lot of times I’m over-prepared. Maybe I haven’t
learned yet, even after four years, that happy medium.
But I feel that the better prepared I am the better
I can do for my client,” says Ruohonen.
While Ruohonen likes most aspects of his personal
injury law, he finds it frustrating when insurance
companies view his clients as “just numbers.”
He also, not surprisingly, finds it frustrating to
lose a case. “There’s no more difficult call to make
than to tell your client that you didn’t win, even
when you know you’ve done everything you can do to
help them. Then it’s usually the facts of the case
that lost it for you, but at the same time you always
wonder if there’s something more you could have done,”
says Ruohonen. “[Still], I never have the doubt in
my mind that I could have been more prepared,” adds
Ruohonen has the following advice for new attorneys:
“If you work hard it will pay off. … Just because
you make it through law school does not mean your
road is paved. You have to go out and continue working
hard. You don’t just get [your career] handed to you
because you have a law degree,” says Ruohonen.
Ruohonen also advises attorneys to be dedicated to
their work, and to really show their clients that
Ruohonen recently received a phone call from a woman
he did not previously know. After listening to her
story and agreeing that she was being treated unfairly
by her insurance company, Ruohonen made a few phone
calls that resulted in the woman receiving over $500.
just made me feel so good that she was so happy. She
wanted to give me money and I [told her] ‘Don’t give
me anything — it’s my pleasure,’” says Ruohonen.
like to think of most of my clients as friends. What
I would do for a friend I want to do for them. There
are time constraints, obviously, but I want to do
my best,” says Ruohonen.