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Minnesota Law and Lawyers in the News

We're pleased to bring you our own selection of current Minnesota news stories about law and lawyers. When we find related links or follow-ups, we include them so you can examine the story from different angles.

Note: Because this page links to current news, the links we include may be particularly volatile and may be removed or archived by other web sites.

July 2000
Another Year: One in Six "SuperLawyers" Still Lacks E-Mail
Law and Politics publishes a a recognition / marketing brochure every year identifying those deemed prominent in their field.

Last year, 35% of them didn't list any E-mail, which some might consider a minimum criteria for such a "super" label. (See story below.)

Things are somewhat improved this year but it's surprising that 15% of them still rely exclusively on the post or delivery services.

May 2000
Leonard Street and Fredrikson Law Firms Talk Merger
According to Leonard Street president Lowell Notboom, as quoted by Minnesota Lawyer, the two firms, which we rank as third and fifth largest Minnesota law firms, have been engaged i merger discussions for two to three months.
Minnesota Supreme Court Spiffs Up Web Site
May 15: Even the Minnesota Supreme Court appears to be susceptible to a little Internet hype. Its press release boldly announces the "launch of a new website for the judiciary."

Mostly, it appears that the site has an incremental look and feel enhancement and some new features (not all of which are not working yet).

But we wish the Court's redesign would have removed the annoying promotion for Internet Explorer. In our view, this key public law site should strive for an accessible, standards-compliant, "vendor neutral" site.

Those who use Netscape, Opera, etc. are entitled to know the law just as much as Internet Explorer users are.

April 2000
Minnesota Bar President's Report Raises Questions about Lawyers' Monopoly over Legal Services?
Who would have thought it? In his April President's Page column in Bench & Bar, Minnesota State Bar President Wood Foster Jr. observed that an American Antitrust Institute report challenges the right of the organized bar to monopolize the legal services market. Foster said Minnesota's unauthorized practice of law statute is "very broad" but is "probably also largely toothless, and has not been enforced."
Local Lawyer Salaries Jump
The Minneapolis StarTribune reported April 23 that "starting salaries for first-year lawyers are reaching an eye-popping new stratosphere."

Schwegman Lundbert Woessner & Kluth is paying $120,000; Merchant & Gould, $115,000; Dorsey & Whitney, Faegre & Benson, and Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly $90,000; Lindquist & Vennum, $80,000; and Fredrikson & Byron, $75,000.

According to the report, first year Twin Cities associates rates currently range between $100 and $125 per hour.

Meanwhile ... State Spends $240 Per Case on Public Defenders
According to Cliff Paylor and James Schafer's article in the May 2000 issue of Hennepin Lawyer, the "average" Minnesota public defender handles 44 felonies, 104 gross misdemeanors, 179 misdemeanors, and 90 juvenile cases per year.

Total average cost per case: $240!

The Minnesota State Board of Public Defense employs 418 full-time equivalent attorneys. According to the authors, 190 additional attorneys would be needed to bring public defender case load per attorney levels into compliance with American Bar Association recommendations.

"[The] cost of public defense ... is ridiculously low compared to the average rates charged by the private bar."

According to the authors' survey, private practitioners charge $500 to $2,500 for misdemeanors, $1,000 to $4,000 for gross misdemeanors, and $5,000 to $100,000 for felonies of varying severities.

March 2000
First Amendment Right to Publish vs. Right to Protect Confidential Information
According to a March 24 article in the Minneapolis StarTribune, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad is suing former employee and South St. Paul, Minnesota resident William Purdy in federal court over his publication of railroad payroll information he accidentally received.

Purdy and his attorney, Norman Friedrichs, Minneapolis, are reportedly arguing the documents are in the public domain. The railroad is reportedly arguing they contain trade secrets and are copyrighted. Purdy's site http://www.bnsf.org contains more information about the case, including the court docket. The railroad seeks an injunction for information appearing on his site.

Note: Links above do not contain the controversial data.

Not the publicity you probably hoped for ... questioning your deponent's sexual preference -- in a trademark suit -- a surefire way to get your name in the papers!
Amazon vs Amazon: James Romenesko broke the story in his October 18 St. Paul Pioneer Press Netcetera column. The Minneapolis StarTribune followed with its own story two days later, and there will probably be more.

A domain name dispute between Amazon Bookstore of Minneapolis and Amazon.com has morphed into a question of intrusive discovery tactics involving questions about the bookstore owner's sexual orientation.

Reportedly the motion for protective order to stop this line of questioning asks how Amazon.com founder Bezos would feel if similarly questioned.

Note Subsequent: In the days that followed our posting of this story, Amazon.com's tactics generated national negative headlines.

November 4, 1999 Update: Suit suddenly settles!

Thinking about a Career in the Judiciary? Warning: Stress Ahead
The October 16 Minneapolis StarTribune reports that in the wake of the hospitalization of District Court Judge Dale Wolf for emotional distress during the pretrial proceedings in the Donald Blom case, the Minnesota Supreme Court plans to bring an expert on judicial stress to speak to a upcoming Minnesota state court judges conference.

Isaiah Zimmerman, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., is quoted as saying, "It's a very peculiar profession. Judges work in isolation, they cannot consult about a case, they see horrific crimes, make weighty decisions and have to keep their mouths shut about everything."

Isaiah reportedly believes overstressed judges may make hostile remarks and inappropriately sanction lawyers appearing before them.

"Minnesota Nice" in U.S. District Court?
The Minneapolis StarTribune reported September 27 that civil filings dropped 29 percent in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota compared to a year ago. The decline in filings spanned nearly all case types. Only copyright, patent and trademark claims increased.

Minnesota's reported drop compares to a modest 3.7% decrease in federal civil filings overall.

Speculation about what caused the drop ranged from a favorable economy to increased use of alternative dispute resolution to the high cost of litigating in the federal forum to the availability of new forms of insurance coverage.

West Group: Digital Certificates Still a "Solution in Search of a Problem"
An article about digital certificates in the August 9 issue of InfoWorld reports the technology has proved "too immature and proprietary for the group's lawyer customers."

InfoWorld cites West's technology business development manager as believing that "Interoperability snafus, such as e-mail clients that do not support certificates and the overall immaturity of digital form-processing technology have left The West Group with a solution in search of a problem[.]"

Some Super Lawyers Slow to Discover E-Mail?
The August issue of Minnesota Law & Politics (featuring convicted former "Super Lawyer" David Moskal on its cover) announced the latest crop of Super Lawyers. 280 of them opted to purchase individual profiles. 65% list e-mail addresses; 99+% list fax numbers.

Bottom line: If you are hiring an attorney and you want to be able to communicate with him or her by e-mail, it still pays to inquire whether the firm has the capability.

Thinking of Starting a Law School?
Talk to your accountant first. University of Minnesota Law School Dean E. Thomas Sullivan reported in a letter to alumni that that school's total budget increased from $13,000,000 in 1995 to $20,000,000 in 1999. That's up 53% in just four years.

Technology and computer spending totaled $643,000 in 1999, representing 3.2% of overall expenditures, up 38.5% in four years.

Faculty costs accounted for 37.5% of the 1999 budget, while the library accounted for 16%.

Dorsey & Whitney Reports Partner Profits
The June 14 National Law Journal reports that profits per partner at Dorsey & Whitney L.L.P., headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were $327,000 for the 1997-98 year.
Faegre & Benson Web Site Garners Two Awards
Faegre & Benson marketing director Brian Freeman advised us by E-mail that the Faegre & Benson web site won a Gold Medal in business-to-business marketing from the Midwest Direct Marketing Association in May.

Of Minnesota law firms participating in our own April web site traffic survey, Faegre's site had more page views than any other for April.

Hatch Axe Falls on AG Staffers Again
As we recall, when new Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch arrived in his office on January 5, he spent some of his day terminating some of the folks he found on premises. Now, he's at it again. (See prior story from March below.)

According to the A.G.'s spokeswoman, 8 attorneys and 4 legal assistants have been dismissed in an office "reorganization." Affected staffers, who are out of jobs, come from health, commerce, criminal, human services, and natural resources areas.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported June 3 that Hatch's spokesperson compared "the changes to those made when a new CEO comes into a corporation and wants to restructure and reorganize."

Follow-Up Note: We confirmed numbers of cuts with the AG's office on June 3. On June 5, the Minneapolis StarTribune reported signficantly higher numbers. Did the "reorganization" continue through the week?

Doherty Rumble & Butler Law Firm to Close June 30
When we checked in to the firm's web site on June 3, everything looked like business as usual. The home page still said "Today we are an expanding national firm...."

But the headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press read: "Doherty law firm will close its doors." The article quoted Doherty president Sue Ann Nelson as saying firm loyalty is becoming a "scarce commodity in the profession." Previous press reports had alluded to merger talks with other Twin Cities firms. Now 90 lawyers and 141 non-lawyer employees are looking to land on their feet elsewhere.

(Press articles did not separately identify how many of the firm's remaining 90 lawyers practice in Minnesota. The firm's web site lists 80 lawyers' names. Until recently, we ranked the firm as tenth largest in Minnesota.

The Minneapolis StarTribune reports Doherty's Nelson as saying she "hope[s] that the legal community can help us mourn the passing of an era and celebrate the rich and fabulous past of a great and proud institution."

We suspect the closure will cause more talk than ever about whether mid-size law firms can remain competitive in an increasingly competitive legal marketplace.

Update: At June 10, the web site is still unchanged.

Update No. 2: The web site that refuses to die! At August 6, the former Doherty web site is STILL unchanged, frozen in time, promising the firm is expanding. Did someone forget to pull the plug on the web site?

Memo to law firms planning for dissolution: add "turn off web site" to your to do list!

Eighth Circuit: Counsel Sanctions Must Be Supported by Proper Findings of Fact
In Thomas J. Lyons v. Credit Acceptance, issued June 2, 1999, the Court vacated sanctions against counsel and remanded because the District Court made no Findings of Fact. Sanctions had been ordered under 28 U.S.C. 1927 (sanctions against attorney who ?multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously.?)

The Court also said: "Because section 1927 is penal in nature, it should be strictly construed so that it does not ?dampen the legitimate zeal of an attorney in representing his client.?

University of St. Thomas Announces Plans for Law School
The Minneapolis StarTribune reported on May 15 that University of St. Thomas officials plan to open a law school focusing on ethics and social responsibility in downtown Minneapolis in the fall of 2001.

The paper also reported that: "The heads of other Twin Cities-area law programs greeted St. Thomas' big announcement with mixed reactions."

Tuition is estimated to be $20,000 per year for the first year class of 90-100 full time first year students.

Schwegman Firm Plans Rapid Growth, Reports Annual Billings
The May 14 CityBusiness reports Steven Lundberg, managing partner of Schwegman Lundberg Woessner & Kluth, as saying that the firm, currently with 46 lawyers, has added 10 in the previous twelve months, and plans to add 20 more in the next 12 months.

CityBusiness also reports Lundberg disclosed the firm has annual billings of about $16 million. (That equates to just under $350,000 for each of the firm's 46 lawyers).

Battle of the Amazons
According to BizReport.com, Amazon Bookstore of Minneapolis has sued Amazon.com in federal court in Minneapolis, seeking unspecified damages and cancellation of Amazon.com's federal trademark registrations using the word "amazon."
U.S. Supreme Court: Mille Lacs Band Did Not Relinquish 1837 Treaty Rights
At issue: hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.
Ventura Appoints First Judge: Bruce A. Peterson of Hinshaw and Culbertson, Minneapolis
Read the Ventura administration's March 18 press release.

And while you're at the new Governor's web site, check out the new mottos on his home page.

Star Tribune Reports Disbarred Lawyer Said Pathological Gambling Disorder Caused Her to Steal from Clients
Mar. 19: Story recounts Helen Dovolis' luxuries and gambling, partying and shopping. The Court sentenced her to two years.

Related: The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the "compulsive gambling" defense when it ordered Dovolis disbarred in January, 1998.

Minnesota Judiciary Asks for Eighteen New Judges
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on March 15 that in the last ten years:
  • major criminal caseloads rose 74%,
  • juvenile cases doubled,
  • major civil case filings rose 41%,
  • but judgeships increased by only 11%.
City Pages Covers Hatch
Mike Hatch seems to be getting more press than any other Minnesota attorney lately. The latest: he's the March 3 cover guy on City Pages.

(That over the shoulder cover pose suggests he's keeping a sharp eye out for those health insurers.)

Lawyer Ethics in the Digital Age
Lawyers Board to lawyers: E-mail is OK. Analog cellular is a different story.

Could the Board sanction technologically unaware lawyers?

Dorsey Opens New Offices in Anchorage and Vancouver
Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney adds Anchorage and Vancouver offices with lawyers formerly of Seattle's Bogle & Gates. Current Dorsey lawyer head count: 600 attorneys.
Merchant & Gould Starts Associates at $85,000; Other Traditional High Paying Minnesota Firms Set Beginners' Compensation at $70,000
The March, 1999 issue of Minnesota Law & Politics contains a compilation of data from Minnesota's fifty largest law firms. It reports Merchant & Gould leading the pack -- so to speak -- on beginning salaries, paying new associates $85,000 right out of the block.

Kinney & Lange reports paying a somewhat mysterious $70,000+, while Dorsey & Whitney, Faegre & Benson, Leonard, Street & Deinard, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, and Doherty, Rumble & Butler all come in at $70,000.

We're sure the new associates are excited at the prospect of actually being able to pay off their student loans and that their mothers must be proud -- and amazed -- indeed.

Diet Advice from Mike Hatch! An Expansion of A.G.'s Jurisdiction over Consumer Stomachs?
We stopped in at Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch's web site looking for legal news. We found an article filled with fast food nutrition tips.

Do Minnesotans want the A.G. to "teach" them about nutrition? What next? Preventing cavities by brushing your teeth?

Related: The March issue of Minnesota Law and Politics reports the new A.G.'s personnel practices did not follow principles generally codified under the label: "Minnesota nice." According to L&P: "The goners had an inkling something was up when their voice-mail and e-mail were canceled. ... One of these staffers continued plugging away before receiving notice, dated 24 hours earlier, that she had been terminated. She remains rudely stunned."

Dorsey & Whitney/Bogle & Gates Merger Talks Fail - Bogle & Gates Partners Opt for Free Agency
Bogle & Gates partners vote to dissolve. Dorsey may add more individuals as attorneys go separate ways at end of March.

The firm, the 182nd largest according to National Law Journal rankings, had dropped in position from 1997, and never moved to the Web although nearly all other large firms have done so.What lessons will others draw from Bogles' closing?

Minnesota Tobacco Fee Litigation Lives On in Cyberspace
CityPages reports (so far) losing Minnesota tobacco fee challengers have posted an "endless cyberstream of court pleadings, affidavits, newspaper editorials, and magazine articles" to the Web.

If you visit the site, you'll find an unusual blend of a bearded Abraham Lincoln, American flags, Magna Carta, and Battle Hymn of the Republic playing (if you have sound), and lots and lots of papers.

Don Quixote on the Web? You be the Judge.

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