Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

King, Peterson move practices to a smaller firm

Barbara L. Jones//May 15, 2019

King, Peterson move practices to a smaller firm

Barbara L. Jones//May 15, 2019

Two of Minnesota’s most noted personal injury litigators have left their big-firm law practices to join Ciresi Conlin, bringing that office to 16 lawyers.

Robert King and Kathleen Flynn Peterson are reveling in the change, although they also emphasize that their old firms are great places and their partings were amicable.

King decided to leave Briggs and Morgan, which he joined in 2014, because Ciresi Conlin presented a “marvelous opportunity” to join a firm that specialized in injury and contingent fee cases. He recalled that he started his practice in a small firm, Hvass, Weisman and King, one of the state’s first plaintiff’s injury firms.  “I would have joined the firm 25 years ago if I had the opportunity,” King said.

Peterson’s narrative is a little different. She started with Robins Kaplan in 1988, having been with its predecessor, Robins, Zelle, Larson & Kaplan since 1981.  At age 65, she embarked on a reset, which she describes as questioning “what are the things you want to do to make sure you can do what you want to do for as long as you can do it.”

Her first idea was to start a new law firm but then decided to join her former colleagues Jan Conlin and Michael Ciresi at Ciresi Conlin. It allows her to pursue two passions: injury law (usually medical malpractice) and mentoring younger lawyers. The latter includes the two she brought from Robins, her son Colin Peterson and Brandon Thompson.

The move allows her to do what she’d been doing in a smaller environment, something she has in common with King. King’s move was amicable and the business quickly worked out, he said. He noted that he was the only contingent fee lawyer at Briggs and “it’s a different business model in an hourly rate firm.”

Peterson has a similar point of view. “Big Law changed, by necessity, after the [2008] recession. There’s a lot more business structure to it, we’ve got analysts and specialists and business people,” she said. Also like King, she said it was a peaceful transition, although Robins was disappointed.

“I was a big income producer there. For the last part of my career I wanted to be the very best I could personally and professionally and I needed to be in a smaller place. I know myself well enough that I needed to be in a place where I could effect more change (in the office) and have a hands-on approach to my practice,” she explained. “I have a really high energy level but now I feel renewed and re-energized.”

King said the “big firm focus” at Briggs was not a problem for him, but he also enjoys the smaller firm where everybody knows everybody and celebrates birthdays on the actual day.

Both lawyers are involved heavily in  trial lawyer organizations where, Peterson said. said, there are not many women senior trial lawyers. She serves as a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Board of Trial Advocates, the International Society of Barristers (where she is presently secretary-treasurer), the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Foundation. She is also the past president of the Minnesota Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice.

King is also a former president of the Minnesota chapter of ABOTA currently serves on the national ABOTA Board of Directors. He is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and is a former dean of the Academy of Certified Trial Lawyers of Minnesota. He is also a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the International Society of Barristers.

The organizations are affected by the changes in legal culture, Peterson said, and additionally there are few senior women trial lawyers. (That is consistent with statistics that show that “The representation of women declines significantly as she rises in seniority at law firms [to] 20 percent of equity partners,” according to the National Association of Women Lawyers.)  Additionally, the mean age of members of these peer-selected organizations is about 60, she said. The groups would like to have more newer lawyers, but it is harder for younger lawyers to amass the necessary trial experience, she said.

King and Peterson both say there are in general fewer civil trials than historically has been the case, but medical malpractice cases are more likely than others to get tried. King said he has about one trial per year, or possibly two in three years. (He also recalled the “old days” when courts didn’t schedule jury trials in the summer.)

The 2008 recession played a role here, Peterson continued. “During the recession businesses saw litigation as a cost expense, they were not taking a risk on litigation. The more serious cases are getting tried, but corporations don’t want to take a risk on a young person. So we have a responsibility to work at opportunities to give people trial skills,” she said.

This responsibility gives Peterson an opportunity to mentor newer lawyers. She introduces young lawyers to clients early in the representation and develop the client’s trust in the attorney.

“I love mentoring because I see it as a way to keep sharp. Its also important that we have a future generation with trial skills.”

King agreed, and said a “key theme” of his joining the firm was to help manage and mentor the young lawyers at Ciresi Conlin, so that when Peterson came, “it was a perfect fit.”

One reason Peterson knows the importance of this step up is that it shaped her career. She recalled going to a client meeting with John Eisberg, who is now of counsel at Robins. The client told Eisberg he wanted a “real lawyer.” Eisberg said, “Kathleen’s a real lawyer.” The client replied, “I meant a man.”

Peterson’s practice is consistent with that espoused by the federal judiciary in the state, which encourages and sometimes insists on new lawyers trying or arguing cases. The commitment to bringing newer lawyers into the courtroom will only succeed if it comes from the bench down, Peterson said.

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony