From April 1970 through June 2001, I practiced law with the Minneapolis office of the eminent Faegre & Benson law firm, first as an associate and then as a partner and of counsel. I was in its business litigation group and handled many kinds of cases, including dealer/distributor terminations, securities fraud, antitrust, copyright, trade secrets and contract. I also assisted in drafting dispute resolution provisions for contracts prepared by others in the firm.
When I joined Faegre in 1970, the firm, as I recall, had approximately 50 lawyers in its only office in Minneapolis. Today it has nearly 500 lawyers in Minneapolis and five additional offices (Des Moines, Denver, Boulder, London and Shanghai). This year it celebrates its 125th anniversary. (www.faegre.com.)
I particularly liked being in a large law firm. Large firms tended to get the more challenging and remunerative cases. I could easily obtain assistance from other lawyers who specialized in different aspects of the law or who could discuss difficult tactical and strategic problems. Faegre also encouraged its lawyers to provide pro bono legal services. Moreover, I did not have to participate in managing all of the firm’s many business details. Practicing law itself took a large hunk of my time, and I did not want to pile on the additional time necessary for management. I, however, did participate in the work of some of the firm’s committees–Alternative Dispute Resolution and Legal Assistants.
Over 31 years there are too many fellow lawyers at the firm with whom I had excellent professional relations to mention them all. Instead I will just call out a few of my seniors from my group in the firm: John French, who had been President of the Harvard Law Review, a U.S. Supreme Court clerk for Justice Frankfurter and a leader of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party; Larry Brown; Gordon Busdicker; Norman Carpenter; and James B. Loken, who had clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White and been an assistant to President Richard Nixon and is now a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1982 Minneapolis had the largest fire in its history. It started in the demolition site of a former downtown department store and soon engulfed most of the adjacent Northwestern National Bank Building that housed the Faegre offices. That bitterly cold night my wife and I went to watch the fire and saw flames shooting out the windows of my office on the 13th floor. (The next week we in hard hats were escorted to my floor where I found my completely destroyed office and here and there a few fragments of papers from my files. For several weeks thereafter I had nightmares of being caught in the fire.) Amazingly the firm opened for business the following Monday in new offices in the nearby IDS Center. The other attorneys and I immediately set out to recreate the files in our active cases and files by requesting copies from clients, other attorneys and the courts. Luckily by then the firm used computers to record and manage the firm’s billable hours, i.e., its inventory of unbilled time, and stored a duplicate set of the computer records in another building. Previously the firm’s records of unbilled time had been manually recorded on heavy-stock paper and maintained in three-ring binders all over the office; they probably would have been destroyed in the fire. Such unbilled time is a major asset of a law firm, and the loss of such an asset probably would have doomed the firm.
Some of my cases over these 31 years cases are memorable and important and will be discussed in future posts. They include cases involving issues of constitutional law and contract, auditor’s liability, international arbitration, securities fraud, copyright, patents and trade secrets. In addition, in the mid-1980’s I became a pro bono (no fee) lawyer for foreigners seeking asylum in the U.S.; as will be seen in a subsequent post, this has had, and continues to have, an enormous impact on my professional, political and religious life.