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Posted April 18th, 2011 in Top Stories

Lake Wobegon Begets the Modern Law Firm

Where all the attorneys respond quickly to clients, all fees are reasonable, and all work product is way above average.

Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis eschews East Coast pricing for Midwestern value(s) – and has the sophisticated clientele and winning results to prove its model works.

Minneapolis, Minn. (April 18, 2011) – In its 2011 Client Advisory, the multidisciplinary consulting firm of Hildebrandt Baker Robbins clearly suggests, in a sobering tone, that the legal industry is in the early stages of a seismic shift regarding law firm cost structures and service delivery models. The report concludes that many corporate clients are looking to their law firms to provide not just competitive rates, but genuine value through their services.

When Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis (NJL) opened its doors 15 years ago, in 1996, as the largest start-up firm in Minnesota, it rejected the traditional law firm “pyramid” leverage structure – where a minority authority rules from the top and legions of entry-level associates slave at the bottom – as outdated. Instead, the firm sought to couple developing technology with an emphasis on expertise and experience, creating a “diamond-shaped” organization in which the widest band consists of seasoned professionals providing maximum value to clients by virtue of their collective experience, expertise and relevance. This allows NJL to nimbly meet increasing client demands for efficiency, along with reasonable rates and alternative fee arrangements, without compromising its long track record of winning cases in the courtroom.

A Model that Wins and the Companies We Keep

Despite the major shift within the legal industry, NJL’s managed approach has generated a 450 percent growth rate in its client base since the firm’s inception 15 years ago. This growth rate is due largely to the successful results delivered to its clients. Nilan Johnson Lewis has taken its place in the national litigation spotlight with a track record of corporate defense victories including six consecutive trial victories in a fourteen-month period by one shareholder.

Over the years, NJL has successfully defended billion dollar claims for the likes of Lockheed Martin and Unisys. The firm received national recognition in 2008 after obtaining a landmark victory for lead paint industry client, Millennium Chemicals, against the State of Rhode Island, reversing a statewide public nuisance jury verdict and rejecting a multi-billion-dollar abatement remedy. Recognized as national experts in the area of the public nuisance doctrine’s application to mass tort claims, NJL recently contributed to an amicus curiae brief submitted in the US Supreme Court case, American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut.
Other trial victories include the successful defense of a $100 million trade secret lawsuit against client Siemens Westinghouse, prevailing on behalf of the National Football League against a variety of claims arising out of administration of the NFL’s drug testing program, and a complete defense verdict in plaintiff-friendly Madison County, Illinois for a major industrial client against claims that a worker had contracted cancer due to trace benzene exposure.

NJL proves equally strong with its business transactions practice. The firm was heavily involved in the redevelopment of one of Minneapolis’ largest commercial properties, the Sears Building, into a unique mixed-use space at the heart of an urban revitalization program. NJL also assisted a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar health insurer with the acquisition of a prominent public policy research group, and the firm acts as primary investment counsel to a multi-billion dollar medical device company in connection with strategic transactions.

Nilan Johnson Lewis’ Secret to Success

According to NJL President Matthew Damon, “The firm’s success directly reflects our expectation of excellence in every interaction, something we strive for in everything we do, on a day-to-day basis. We have prospered because of our people, our attitude, and our expertise, and we will continue to deliver top-tier results to our clients at fees that can be half what a comparable East or West Coast firm would charge. That’s how we define ‘value’”.

Damon adds that NJL attorneys and staff abide by a concept of excellence that breaks down into four components: attitude, quality, collaboration and responsiveness, the latter trait being one that, according to a BTI survey, almost all corporate counsels want more of, but less than half believe they receive. When Nilan Johnson Lewis surveyed their clients, 93 percent said that NJL lawyers either meet or exceed their expectations in a variety of areas including responsiveness.

Other Innovations

While Nilan Johnson Lewis’ successful client work has brought the firm attention, NJL has also been recognized for its standout approach to recruiting and retaining women. Currently, 50 percent of attorneys and 53 percent of shareholders at NJL are women, well above the national average of 19 percent. The firm has also received diversity awards from the Hennepin County Bar Association three times in the past seven years and most recently, in 2010, won the Minnesota Women Lawyers’ Leadership Award.

NJL’s new office space is another testament to its modernization of the traditional law firm model. All shareholders, associates and paralegals have the same-size offices to assure efficient usage. No corner offices exist; those spaces are reserved for collaborative team rooms where client work is done. A large percentage of the offices are also interior, affording maximum natural light to staff and attorneys alike. Rather than investing in artwork, the firm has channeled its resources into state-of-the-art conference rooms and technology for use on behalf of clients. NJL’s Minneapolis office was recently LEED certified, signifying the organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

About Nilan Johnson Lewis

Founded in 1996, Nilan Johnson Lewis has built its reputation by putting clients first, building a practice centered on excellence and defining the next generation of law firm. The firm’s practice focuses on five areas: product liability/mass tort litigation, commercial litigation, labor and employment, health care and business law.

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