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Todd Phelps
Todd Phelps took the Florida bar exam a few years ago to serve high-net-worth families and private businesses that tend to own commercial real estate or multifamily developments here and in southwest Florida. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Real estate practice grows with Florida expansion

Name: Todd Phelps

Title: Partner, Stinson

Education: B.A., political science, University of Wisconsin-Madison; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Stinson partner Todd Phelps’ commercial real estate and business practice has grown since he expanded to where many Minnesotans and many clients winter — Naples, Fla.

Phelps took the Florida bar exam a few years ago to serve high-net-worth families and private businesses that tend to own commercial real estate or multifamily developments here and in southwest Florida.

While some of the same shops, restaurants and professional services firms are in both cities, Phelps noted a distinct absence of Twin Cities law firms in Naples.

Phelps said his recent selection to Midwest Real Estate News’ Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame was an unexpected honor.

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

A: I easily strike up conversations with just about anyone. A smile and a hello and being positive and direct are a plus.

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

A: My father, who passed away last year, owned Phelps Farm Sales in Thief River Falls. He bought, sold and helped others buy and sell farms in northern Minnesota and throughout the Red River Valley. He had served in Army and in the Navy. I got a four-year ROTC scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and became infantry officer. I had a four-year active-duty commitment and 3½ years in I was at a fork in the road. I had this interest in law and real property in the background. My wife, Molly, and my mother said why don’t you consider law school and that was the decision I made.

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

A: A friend recommended these books — I was somewhat skeptical because they’re by Bill O’Reilly — starting with “Killing Lincoln.” I’m now reading “Killing Patton.” They’re interesting historical accounts and but acknowledge where the facts leave off and speculation begins.

Q: What’s a pet peeve of yours?

A: When people are unprepared, indirect or dishonest in their communications. I try particularly during pandemic to allow for a little bit of unpreparedness in communications.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: The clients and the deals. It’s working with client teams externally and internally at Stinson. I’m truly blessed to be able to work with such terrific people.

Q: What do you like least about it?

A: The administrative piece.

Q: What do you like to do away from work?

A: I love outdoor activities — skiing, running biking, swimming, paddle boarding. I spend lot of time with my wife and now 15-month-old English cream golden retriever. She is getting a second one in April. As a veteran I’m training it to be therapy dog and I want to volunteer with veterans. About 10 years ago a client asked me to serve on the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. We serve over 9,000 youths at 11 Twin Cities locations.

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

A: Professor Mel Goldberg, who has passed, was brilliant. I was honored to serve as his teaching and research assistant after my first-year contracts class. I then clerked for [retired] Judge James C. Harten at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, who had a tremendous impact on my professional development. Tim Welch, who has passed, hired me at then Leonard Street and Deinard and was my mentor. He was like a second father to me.

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

A: From attorneys outside of real property law, it’s that real estate and finance are “forms-based” practices where we fill in the blanks, like Mad Libs. Every client, every transaction, every situation is different. It’s really a thinking and analytical problem-solving practice.

Q: What’s a favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers or the legal profession?

A: I don’t watch much TV. I did have a guilty pleasure of a show called “Billions.”

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