St. Paul-based boutique law firm focuses on students

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 7:04 PM

High school friends Alexander Wainberg and Kevin Morrison have opened a St. Paul-based practice that has a niche clientele.

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Alexander Wainberg, left, and Kevin Morrison share a small office on Snelling Avenue. Their firm specializes on issues that are pertinent to college students, such as landlord-tenant disputes, social media and alcohol-related concerns.

Photo: Renée Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Birthplaces of some young entrepreneurships are famously humble -- garages, dorm rooms and basements.

Twenty-something lawyers Alexander Wainberg and Kevin Morrison have added a new one to the list: an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast on the rooftop of an Uptown eatery.

That's where Wainberg sprang the idea on his best friend, Morrison, of starting their own firm focusing on the needs of college students.

"I was excited but hesitant," Morrison said. "It was a good idea, but any time you start your own business, there's a lot of risk you suddenly take on."

Wainberg and Morrison would have to quit their jobs at local firms and start from scratch. Atop it all, they'd be earning their money from a demographic known for having very little of it.

But the legal issues facing college students -- tenant rights, drinking violations, expunging minor offenses that could influence job prospects -- were important to the Edina natives, both 28 and just a few years out of law school.

Wainberg was sold on the plan, which had routinely popped up in his head since law school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It took a few months for Morrison, his high school debate and mock trial partner, to come around.

"We saw this hole sitting there," Wainberg said. "There are a lot of students who get in legal trouble who don't know they can seek counsel."

Although large schools often provide legal services for students, many smaller institutions don't. Morrison said students might also want outside counsel when dealing with legal matters involving their school. It's a lesson he learned as an undergraduate at Georgetown University when he tried to get the school's insurance company to pay for items stolen from his campus apartment after a maintenance worker left it unlocked. (He wasn't successful.)

In February, Wainberg and Morrison moved into a 475-square-foot office at 627 S. Snelling Av. in St. Paul. It's convenient for students, on major bus lines near three small private colleges.

The Wainberg Morrison LLC office is furnished by Craigslist finds, including a behemoth conference table that eats up nearly half of the tiny office even when shoved against a wall. It has to be dragged out when guests arrive and shoved back when they leave.

The attorneys charge discounted rates and regularly hold free consultations at coffee shops near campuses (called Lawyers at Large). Many issues they field are resolved with simple advice.

"A lot of times their legal troubles are that they just need someone to tell them that they can do something," Morrison said. "Sometimes it's being told not to worry, it's not the end of the world."

Morrison blogs on the partners' website, www.wamolaw.com, on issues pertinent to their clientele, recently focusing on First Amendment rights, social media and rental scams. In one post, he breaks down the costs of drunken driving -- fines, higher insurance rates -- and makes the case that taking cabs is the cheaper and obvious alternative.

Working mostly with students (they also work with nonstudents) means being flexible with time and money, but they said they don't foresee themselves leaving the niche.

"Having your own firm offers flexibility, a higher level of control," Wainberg said.

"And how many people get to work with their best friend every day?" asked Morrison, who will serve as best man at Wainberg's wedding. "It's the best thing I can describe."

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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