Bricker Lavik, director of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm’s pro bono division and fighter for the poor, has died after more than 10 years of health issues that included a heart transplant in 2000 and two cancers.
Lavik, who was 62, died Friday.
Larry McDonough, managing attorney of the housing unit at Legal Aid, said Wednesday that Lavik helped set the standard for free legal services for the poor by pushing hard on his colleagues at Dorsey to the point that firms are now competitive about how much pro bono work they do.
“That’s not what was going on 30 years ago,” McDonough said, adding that Lavik was well known behind the scenes. “His fingerprints are pretty much on everything to do with legal services for the poor not only in the Twin Cities, but in the state.”
In a notice to Lavik’s colleagues, Dorsey’s managing partner, Ken Cutler, described him as the “soul and conscience” of the firm’s pro bono work.
Lavik, who grew up in St. Paul, joined the Minneapolis law firm in 1986 after starting his career at the Legal Aid Society, where he represented clients on cases involving credit, garnishments, repossessions, evictions and government benefits. He was lead counsel in a class-action deceptive-trade practices case that resulted in rent abatement claims for tenants in a 100-unit apartment building.
He led three administrative complaints against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that led to 784 new units of low-income housing. He won the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2006.
“He remained vibrant and vital through the most extreme health challenges imaginable,” Cutler wrote.
Lavik’s wife of 30 years, Tonja Orr, said he was equally passionate about pursuits outside the office, including travel, bike riding, sailing, painting and attending puppet shows. “There are a lot of puppet things, and I swear we went to every one,” Orr said. “There was something about them he loved.”
Both McDonough and Orr described Lavik as someone who was interested in others but not a “typical extrovert.” Orr said that “sometimes you felt like you were being deposed … He’d ask a lot of questions, but he did take people as they were.”
Orr, assistant commissioner at the state Housing Finance Agency, met Lavik when the two worked for Legal Aid. She took him sailing on Lake Calhoun one day using her beginner’s skills to “put around,” she said. Her future husband decided he liked sailing, took lessons, bought a boat and started racing, she recalled with a laugh. He did the same with bike riding. “When he decided he was interested in something, he went at it all the way,” Orr said.
The couple traveled extensively from Thailand and Nepal to Greece and Spain and made three extended trips to South America. Orr said Bricker loved the Pantheon in Rome and sitting at a cafe watching the world go by. Most of all he adored Paris, she said, especially the city’s famous cathedral. “In the mornings, he would get up, walk over to Notre Dame and sit outside,” she said.
In 2000, Lavik was training for a long-distance bike ride when he was stricken with a heart virus.
He received a transplant at Mayo Hospitals and Clinics and recovered, but it was only the beginning of a long medical struggle. In the fall of 2000, Lavik beat back kidney cancer. In February 2012, he was diagnosed with an aggressive sarcoma. His leg was amputated to try to staunch the growth, but the cancer spread.
In addition to his wife, Lavik is survived by his brother, Griff Lavik.
Orr said she plans a memorial in coming weeks.