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Chris Messerly
Chris Messerly

Breaking the Ice: ‘Tryout’ led to medical malpractice career

Name: Chris Messerly

Title: Partner, Robins Kaplan

Education: B.A., government and legal studies, Bowdoin College; J.D., Hamline University School of Law

Chris Messerly, partner at Robins Kaplan, was just out of college when he got his start at “probably at the lowest level of support staff you could have” at the firm.

From that humble beginning, Messerly has forged a career representing people in medical malpractice, personal injury and products liability cases.

With Robins Kaplan associate Elizabeth Fors, he secured what the firm called the state’s largest jury verdict in a wrongful-death medical malpractice case, a $20 million-plus judgment in 2017. It was on behalf of the family of Nicole Bermingham, an orthopedic physician’s assistant who died of sepsis in 2013 less than a week after giving birth.

“What the Bermingham case showed is that our community — and the jury speaks for the community — values a life, values a mother and wife, and that the value of losing that is very significant,” Messerly said. He and Fors were among Minnesota Lawyer’s Attorneys of the Year that year.

Messerly’s interest in medical cases stemmed from “personal orthopedic issues” from playing contact sports and his father-in-law, a physician who “saw some injustices in the medical field and thought it would be a good thing to help right those wrongs,” Messerly said.

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

A: Probably when someone says, “Can you help me?” They’re experiencing the worst time of their life and they’re asking for help and that’s what gets my attention.

Q: Why did you study law and pursue it as a career?

A: My father-in-law is a physician, and he had worked with [the late] Solly Robins, the namesake of our firm, and he gave me an opportunity to apply for a clerical job, which turned into paralegal job. It was between college and law school. I took a couple years off. I attended a number of trials around the country as a paralegal. I soon realized that my calling was to help individuals. That kind of prompted me that this would be exciting and fun and it could help people, so that’s why I went to law school. Working at the law firm before law school was kind of a tryout for the law to see if it was the right fit for me. I’m glad I took a couple years off to help make that decision.

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

A: Two books by Matthew Crawford: The one I’m reading now is “Why We Drive” and the other one I’m going to reread “Shop Class as Soulcraft.”

Q: What’s a pet peeve of yours?

A: The misuse of the reply-all button.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: I can make a difference in someone’s life. That’s very rewarding. That’s the main reason I keep doing this.

Q: What do you least like about it?

A: I don’t like the business side or the administrative side of the law. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve seen a significant change in the legal profession. In many respects it’s become more of a business, and I’m not a big fan of that aspect of it.

Q: What do you like doing away from work?

A: I restore old cars, compete in Ironman Triathlons and play with my grandkids.

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

A: [U.S. District Judge] Donovan Frank. I admire his passion for helping those with disabilities. He’s a leader in our community in that area. I tried a case in front of him. He’s a great trial judge. I have a great deal of admiration for him. He’s a good family man as well.

Q: What’s your favorite depiction of the law or the legal profession in popular culture?

A: “Legally Blonde.” It sounds frivolous when you look at the other classic lawyer movies, but that was a great movie with Reese Witherspoon, and I found it very entertaining.

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