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R. Ann Huntrods (left) and Dennis Knoer
R. Ann Huntrods (left) and Dennis Knoer, Taft Stettinius & Hollister

The POWER 30: R. Ann Huntrods and Dennis Knoer

Mergers of nonprofit organizations are not uncommon, but one in 2015 caught the attention of every lawyer and judge in Minnesota.

Two venerated law schools combined to become Mitchell Hamline on Summit Ave. in St. Paul in 2015. It was William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law that combined to form Mitchell Hamline, which offers full-time, part-time and blended in-person and online curriculum as well as a wide variety of institutes and special programs.

Helping to shepherd the faculty, administration and students through the schools’ process of combining were Taft attorneys R. Ann Huntrods and Dennis Knoer. Huntrods is an employment lawyer who is of counsel with Taft and also represents nonprofits, included educational institutions. Knoer is a partner in corporate law, including mergers and acquisitions.

There are two critical components to a merger or combination of nonprofits, said the two, who worked together on Mitchell Hamline.

One is the participation and buy-in of the organizations various constituencies — students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the legal community as a whole, said Huntrods.

“That’s critical to success,” she said. “You spend a lot of time ‘socializing’ issues in nonprofits.”

If a for-profit merger’s process is to do a deal and announce it later, a nonprofit is the opposite.

The organizations need to let the process work its way out so that the various groups are heard, the attorneys said. The word “combination” is significant to Mitchell Hamline, Huntrods said. “It wasn’t one school taking over another.”

The client relationship is very important, Knoer and Huntrods agreed. “You are a counselor and not just a scrivener,” said Huntrods.

Also unique to nonprofits is the importance of the board members, who are volunteers and making a big-time commitment, the lawyers said. In addition, “boards have to envision a new future.”

The boards at the schools were actively supporting the transition and making it happen, Huntrods said.