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William M. Burns
William M. Burns, Hanft Fride

The POWER 30: William M. Burns

William Burns says he has a unique M&A practice. That’s not just because while you’re talking to him on the phone, the resonant boom of ships on Lake Superior can be heard in the background.

Burns’ practice covers northern Minnesota, about as far south as Hinckley and Wisconsin south to Eau Claire. He’s done deals from $500,000 to $30 million. Most of the lawyers he works with are outside of Duluth.

“Even though the deals may be smaller, we’re still working with lawyers in Chicago, New York, Boston or Philadelphia,” he said. The firm takes pride in keeping up with lawyers from larger cities, Burns said. “If there’s a sophisticated antitrust consideration, I know who to call.”

Because of the firm’s market and its approach to deals, it gets them done as efficiently as possible without skipping steps they need to take, Burns said. Hanft’s fees tend to be a small percentage of large firms’, Burns said.

Burns’ practice reflects its home. His clients include resorts, hospitality businesses, restaurants, and some manufacturing businesses up to 300 employees.

The clientele also represents the aging population that is all over the state but is notable in Duluth and on the Iron Range.

A growing business is Duluth is health care. St. Luke and Ascensia have acquired private medical practices, many of which were represented by Hanft. There are hardly any independent medical practices left, he said.

When it comes to M&A, doctors are different, Burns said. The buyer is acquiring mostly personnel and their licensure. “It’s not unlike the acquisition of other personal service businesses. I’ve done at least 20.”

As in other businesses, merging the cultures is of the utmost importance. “It’s especially true of doctors, it may be even more true in a smaller community. They’ve made the decision (to merge), everybody knows about it.”

“They all know each other. I find that to be a plus,” he added.

Burns has been practicing law since 1968, mostly at Hanft. He has clients who are the children of his clients, Burns said. “So many of our clients are over 60, I might have to retire because all my clients have.”


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