John Cabot Benson, honored at a Legal Aid Society dinner in 1982

John Cabot Benson, honored at a Legal Aid Society dinner in 1982

The creation of Faegre Baker Daniels from the merger of Minneapolis law firm Faegre & Benson with an Indiana outfit will change all sorts of things, but  one of them intrigued me in particular: what happened to Benson? The Faegre web site offered no hint of who Benson was.

Thomas G. Morgan, a partner at Faegre, responded to my query Thursday by sending a short posthumous biography of Benson by Norman R. Carpenter and a 1986 obituary (from my newspaper!). Morgan said it was his privilege to know both John B. "Bart " Faegre Sr. and John Cabot Benson personally, who, according to the info he provided, spent most of their professional lives together.

Benson, a native of Heron Lake, Minn., supposedly met Faegre in a violent way on the football field in 1909. Benson was playing for Hamline University, Faegre for the University of Minnesota. "John Benson remembered only receiving the kick-off in that game, he was tackled so energetically, supposedly by defensive end Faegre, that he was sidelined the rest of the afternoon," according to Carpenter's bio.

While in law school, Benson worked as a clerk at a Minneapolis firm called Cobb & Wheelwright. After getting his degree from the University of Minnesota, Benson went to Chicago to study that city's new legal aid program. In 1913, he founded a counterpart back home that became the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.

A year later, Benson went back to Cobb & Wheelwright, and got his name added at the end in 1919. The names of Cobb and Wheelwright were jettisoned and that firm became Faegre & Benson in 1941. No hard feelings from the football days prevented the two from practicing corporate law together for the next four decades.  After a remarkable 69 years in the legal profession, Benson retired in 1980.

Faegre and Benson were so synchronized that they died 23 days apart in the fall of 1986. Faegre was 99. Benson was 96. For the next 25 years, their partnership lived on in the name of their firm, but business will be business, and Benson must go.