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Elizabeth Kniffen

Breaking the Ice: Virus next chapter of commercial, insurance litigation

Name: Elizabeth Kniffen

Title: Partner, Zelle

Education: B.A., geography, University of Minnesota; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Elizabeth Kniffen, partner in Zelle’s Minneapolis office, deals with disputes involving everything from damaged pears to massive tunnel boring machines. Up next may be cases stemming from the coronavirus shutdown.

Kniffen, whose practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, insurance and reinsurance disputes, was a co-presenter of a recent Zelle webinar on virus-related issues.

“Now as we move into what’s happening in the insurance world the impact of COVID-19 is front and center,” Kniffen said. “We’re seeing claims for business interruption coverage. But there are a lot of complicated issues primarily related to the existence of property damage and various policy exclusions.”

Kniffen is a board member of Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, a nonprofit association of legal employers supporting efforts to recruit, advance and retain attorneys of color.

“I can’t say enough positive things about the work they do,” Kniffen said.


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

A: I think of myself as pretty approachable. I’m usually happy to chat about anything and am likely to start a conversation myself.

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

A: After college I briefly went to grad school and then worked as an employment counselor for about three years at a nonprofit. I spent a lot of time helping other people figure out they what wanted to do next in their career. Taking assessments, talking about their goals. And that is what interested me in going to law school.

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

A: “Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes,” written by my friend, Kathleen West. It’s about drama at a suburban Minneapolis high school. I have a teenage daughter that goes to high school that might be similar to the one that’s depicted.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: I can be impatient, particularly if whatever is causing my impatience is going to make me late. I really hate being late.

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

A: I like the work, but I really love working at my firm and the people I work with in Minneapolis and our other offices.

Q: Least favorite?

A: I dislike when opposing counsel is unnecessarily contentious, almost to the point of being unprofessional. There’s no reason to be rude or obstructionist with routine litigation issues.

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

A: I love to travel and love the outdoors. If I can combine the two that’s just about perfect.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: Taking someone to my favorite places to go for a walk. Here, that would be around the lakes. Similarly, where I grew up, around a lake in a rural area in central Wisconsin.

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

A: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The work she did with the ACLU moved the ball forward for gender equality and equity in a way that I think is incredible.

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

A: Very few people understand how much reading and writing is involved in the work we do.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A: “The West Wing,” which I recently rewatched. Many of the characters are practicing attorneys but many who are not practicing attorneys also have a history of having gone to law school and having been lawyers. The idea that you might go to law school and pursue a different type of profession is one of the more realistic depictions of law. Many of my friends who I went to law school with don’t necessarily practice law.

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