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The first months of 2013 were a busy time for national and international firms expanding to the Twin Cities.

Twin Cities a bull’s-eye for national firms

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Area’s corporate mix is a draw for Big Law players

The first months of 2013 were a busy time for national and international firms expanding to the Twin Cities.

In January, Dykema Gossett opened a Minneapolis office headed by a former partner at Briggs and Morgan. That same month Hogan Lovells announced it was opening a Minneapolis office headed by two former lawyers at UnitedHealth Group Inc. Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman will split his time between the firm’s Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis office.

These two firms join what is becoming a crowded roster that includes full-service behemoths like DLA Piper, Fulbright and Jaworski, Littler Mendelson and firms that specialize in one or two practice areas like Fish & Richardson and Kutak Rock.

Despite the growth, the market is far from saturated, industry analysts say. The number of national firms mirrors the fact that many Minnesota-based companies are expanding across the country and across the globe. Firms that can staff matters in Southern California and northern Minnesota for the same client are often at a competitive advantage because they can offer price discounts and hyper-specialized legal services.

Jodi Standke, the CEO of legal staffing company Talon Performance Group, said the general counsels of the large Minnesota-based companies have helped drive the expansion. Companies in the Twin Cities don’t consider themselves an afterthought to their bigger city counterparts.

“If you have clients in the Twin Cities, a Chicago office isn’t close enough anymore,” she said.

Further driving the move is that clients are available. Many in-house legal departments have attorneys from all over who moved to the Twin Cities for a job. Those attorneys don’t have a connection to the local firms like someone who started in practice here and won’t default to a Minnesota firm when hiring outside counsel.

“The in-house legal departments are a lot more sophisticated,” Standke said. “They bring in their own teams, and they want partner-level expertise on a fee schedule. The bigger firms are sometimes in a better position.”

Cynthia Bremer started at a boutique firm in Minneapolis and then moved to Fulbright and Jaworski’s local office. A few years later she and a few colleagues started a conversation with Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak and Stewart about opening a Minneapolis office. They opened in April 2010.

She said Ogletree was enthusiastic about the idea because it has Minnesota clients and also clients based elsewhere who do business here. They saw an opportunity to expand business. For her group, the idea was attractive because the firm focuses on labor and employment work for big and small businesses. She could use the specialized resources of Ogletree to provide more value.

“What the firm was doing prior to the Minneapolis office opening was staffing a lawsuit nationally but requiring a local counsel,” she said. “Now the clients benefit from all the depth and resources that come from an international firm. A Minnesota company might not have the same issues that an employer would in Atlanta, but they benefit from that firm-wide knowledge.”

Working for a non-Minnesota-based law firm has not put Bremer at a disadvantage here when going after clients. Her firm started as a group that had practiced together, but they have added attorneys, both new and experienced, to balance out the roster.

“Minnesota clients don’t always need Minnesota lawyers. But what they do need is a trusted relationship and expertise,” she said. “It takes time to grow a practice from scratch to reflect the firm, the clients and the individual lawyers.”

Herbert Kritzer, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, said St. Paul and Minneapolis are unique locations for national firms. There are parallels to other midsized markets like St. Louis, Denver and Phoenix, but the Twin Cities stands out. The profitability of several key practice areas has also contributed to the growth of national firms.

“Denver and the Twin Cities are comparable in population, but you have a lot more IP, med tech and agriculture work with Cargill and General Mills here than you do in Denver,” he said. “For a larger firm it’s not about opening an office here just to open one. What do you want to do when you get here is just as important.”

Kritzer said there a few ways to open a new office. Firms can send attorneys to the new town, but that is tough to do without any local contacts. Firms can also buy an existing practice, like Barnes & Thornburg did in 2009. The most popular move now is to hire away a lawyer or practice group from an established firm with its own reputation and book of business. Dykema Gossett is the most recent example.

“You make them an offer they can’t refuse and hope the clients come with. They usually start out small, but those firms have been growing quickly,” he said.

Standke said she has noticed more older attorneys are open to the challenge. She expects more national law firms will open offices in Minnesota. There is a lot of business here and good lawyers, she said.

“It used to be the rain-making partners would stay at the firm for 40 years and retire there, but now there are a lot of good offers out there,” she said. “If someone hasn’t moved in 20 years, there are some recruiters who start to wonder what’s wrong.”

National players in Minnesota

Several national and international firms have a Minnesota presence. The firms are drawn by the concentration of large, corporate clients in the Twin Cities and by the state’s location to regional clients throughout the Midwest.

Here are some examples. Practice areas are a sampling and not intended as a complete list:

Kutak Rock

Offices in similar markets: Denver

Address: 1750 US Bank Plaza, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: 2011

Minnesota lawyers: 6

Total lawyers: More than 450

Minnesota-based practice areas: public finance, litigation.

Hogan Lovells

Offices in similar markets: Denver

Address: 1200 IDS Center, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: April 2013

Minnesota lawyers: 3

Total lawyers: More than 2,400

Minnesota-based practice areas: mergers and acquisitions, private equity/ venture capital, class actions, litigation, arbitration

Barnes & Thornburg

Offices in similar markets: Indianapolis, Columbus

Address: 2800 Capella Tower, Minneapolis 

Minnesota debut: 2009

Minnesota lawyers: 35

Total lawyers:  More than 600

Minnesota-based practice areas: business, intellectual property, litigation

Fulbright and Jaworski

Offices in similar markets: Denver

Address: 2100 IDS Center, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: 2000

Minnesota lawyers: 17

Total lawyers: 3,800

Minnesota-based practice areas: business transactions, labor and employment, litigation, intellectual property

Stoel Rives

Offices in similar markets: Salt Lake City

Address:  4200 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: June 2007

Minnesota lawyers: 22

Total lawyers: 387

Minnesota-based practice areas: litigation, energy development, corporate finance, tax, intellectual property

Littler Mendelson 

Offices in similar markets: Denver, St. Louis

Address: 1300 IDS Center, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut:  May 1998

Minnesota lawyers: 29

Total lawyers: Approximately 1,000

Minnesota-based practice areas: represents management in every aspect of labor and employment law

Fish & Richardson

Offices in similar markets: Austin, Texas

Address: 3200 RBC Plaza, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: 1994

Minnesota lawyers: 31

Total lawyers:  353

Minnesota-based practice areas: patent, copyright, trademark, litigation

DLA Piper

Offices in similar markets: Phoenix, Raleigh

Address:  2800 IDS Center, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut: 2005

Minnesota lawyers:  10

Total lawyers: 4,200

Minnesota-based practice areas: finance, corporate, litigation

Jackson Lewis 

Offices in similar markets: Denver, Omaha

Address: 3850 Capella Tower, Minneapolis.

Minnesota debut:  April 1997

Minnesota: lawyers: 8

Total lawyers: 760

Minnesota-based practice areas: all areas of work place law

Ford Harrison 

Offices in similar markets: Memphis, Cleveland

Address: 3150 Capella Tower, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut:  December 2005

Minnesota lawyers: 8

Total lawyers: 190

Minnesota-based practice areas: labor and employment law

Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak and Stewart

Offices in similar markets: Denver

Address:  3800 Wells Fargo Center, Minneapolis

Minnesota debut:  April 1, 2010

Minnesota lawyers: 11

Total lawyers: 650

Minnesota-based practice areas: labor and employment

Dykema Gossett 

Offices in similar markets: Charlotte; Grand Rapids, Mich.

Address: 4000 Wells Fargo Center

Minnesota debut: January 2013

Minnesota lawyers: 9

Total lawyers: 354

Minnesota-based practice areas: corporate finance, commercial lending, intellectual property

About Patrick Thornton

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