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Heidi Neff Christianson, shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis, says, “It’s a strategic advantage for firms that have a good balance in both shareholdership and in firm leadership among genders.” (Submitted photo)
Heidi Neff Christianson, shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis, says, “It’s a strategic advantage for firms that have a good balance in both shareholdership and in firm leadership among genders.” (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Firm president eyes ‘next generation of lawyers’

Name: Heidi Neff Christianson

Title: Shareholder and firm president, Nilan Johnson Lewis

Education: B.A., economics, Concordia College; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

 

Heidi Neff Christianson, shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis, this year began serving what traditionally would be a four-year term as the first female president in the firm’s 22-year history.

More significant, Christianson said, is that women are managing partners at only eight of the Twin Cities’ 25 largest law firms.

“It’s a strategic advantage for firms that have a good balance in both shareholdership and in firm leadership among genders,” Christianson said. “It makes us stronger, smarter.”

Christianson, who represents health care and nonprofit entities, previously regulated charities and private foundations as an assistant attorney general.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Ask me about how you retain the new generation of legal talent. Trying to figure out what they want and how they will practice law is something I love talking to people about. The next generation of lawyers probably wants more flexibility and open-endedness. … If you don’t offer them a diverse workplace, they will find it somewhere else.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. As I was finishing four years at Concordia, a mentor suggested taking the Law School Admission Test. My incoming year at the University of Minnesota Law School was the first year that females made up 50 percent of the law school class. I was recruited partly to help achieve that metric.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’m reading, “That’s What She Said,” by Joanne Lipman. The subtitle is “What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together.”

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. I hate when I’m running late. It stresses me out so bad.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. I’m able to form partnerships with creative, energetic, forward-looking, problem-solving nonprofit leaders and bring this piece of the puzzle, the regulatory tax information that they need to accomplish their mission.

Q. Least favorite?

A. Sending bills. I think every attorney would say that. I don’t have anything that I really don’t like about it.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. My family likes to Nordic ski. We’re a family of cross-country skiers. We spend the winters chasing down snow in the Twin Cities at a snowmaking venue, or my favorite place to go is a cross-country ski resort in northern Minnesota called Maplelag Resort.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. Sheila Fishman. She was my first manager at the attorney general’s office. I worked for her when I had two small children, both boys. What she did was give me permission to not be a perfect parent or a perfect attorney and continue to persevere knowing that my kids when they were adults, which they are now, would look back and draw upon watching me struggle and persevere.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. People assume that all attorneys are in court regularly. I generally say that if I’m in court something’s gone badly wrong. But that’s not true. I’ve actually been to court three times and I know where to stand. I bring a litigator to tell me what to do. Every once in a while nonprofits have to go to court to obtain an order to do something different with their assets and I have done that for large nonprofits in the Twin Cities.

Q. What, if any, is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture (books, films, TV)?

A. I don’t watch TV at all. I don’t have any TV shows. I don’t have any popular culture in my life. There’s no time. I have three teenage children (who) provide all the drama you could ever wish for in your life. If you can face the tribulations of three teenagers before you go to work there’s hardly anything a client or an opposing counsel can do to you that’s worse.

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