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Chris Sailors
Chris Sailors

2021 Attorneys of the Year: Chris Sailors

In 2009, when the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe started its own legal aid department, Chris Sailors, only two years out of Hamline Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law), was hired to create the law office from scratch.

Sailors knew that many of his clients were historically disenfranchised from the legal system and didn’t always think their lawyers acted in their best interest. He brought on four attorneys and built a practice that focused on consistent representation. “In order to completely trust someone, you have to know their reputation and know they will fight for you,” Sailors says. “We can have just as much success as someone who spends thousands of dollars and has a private attorney.”

In 2016, Sailors left that job to become a part-time public defender and start his own firm, SailorsAllen Law, with partner Ethan Allen. He also continues to take criminal defense cases for Mille Lacs Band members.

Sailors always knew he belonged in public defense because fighting for the underdog is important to him. “A lot of times your social or economic situation stacks the justice system against you,” he says. “I want to give people who don’t usually have a chance to experience a fair justice system.”

He’s had solid success fighting for his clients. From January 2019 to April 2021, Sailors tried and won 16 cases including two reversals, even with in-person hearings shut down for 13 months due to the pandemic.

One of those cases involved a 25-year-old member of the Mille Lacs Band who faced 40 years for aggravated robbery, kidnapping, assault and false imprisonment. The state’s case included DNA evidence and a cooperating witness. The prosecution’s offer was a straight-up guilty plea, which Sailors advised his client to reject. In court, Sailors chipped away at the evidence, and won an acquittal, changing the trajectory of the young man’s life.

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.

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