More than 40 attorneys crowded into a conference room in the Minneapolis City Center last week for what the Minnesota State Bar Association billed as the "Great Arbitration Debate," an hourlong discussion about the merits of arbitration vs. litigation.

Bland, it was not. Anyone who caught just a few minutes of the heated exchange stayed for the whole event.

Squaring off were Marshall Tanick, a former journalist and attorney since 1974, known for his tireless work on behalf of ordinary folks; and Alain Frecon, a Paris-educated business lawyer and longtime arbitrator with the accent and demeanor of someone straight off a French movie set.

Tanick argued that arbitration panels had an institutional bias in favor of large corporations, because corporations represent repeat business. "Institutional bias is the 2,000-pound gorilla," Tanick said. "Few will admit it, but everyone knows it's there."

Frecon shot back with a metaphor. "Litigation is like a four-wheel-drive vehicle that goes off-road," he said. "Arbitration is like a sports car. It isn't meant to go off-road."

When Tanick complained of the limited access to appeals in arbitration, Frecon grew testy.

"Those are the rules of the game," he said. "Once parties agree to arbitrate, it's unconscionable for them to try to appeal."

The debate was timely, in that mandatory arbitration has come under attack recently from consumer groups, and several bills are pending in Congress that would restrict its use and apply more uniform standards.

Though both sides landed blows, neither claimed victory.

"That Mr. Tanick, I tried to defeat him," Frecon said, looking a bit drained. "But, as you can see, he is very good."

Family suit settled

Without fanfare, the bitter lawsuit between Marilyn Carlson Nelson and her son, Curtis Nelson, has quietly gone away. According to records in Hennepin County District Court, the case has been dismissed. Company officials said last week that "the action has been resolved and there will be no further comment."

In recent months, Marilyn Nelson has hinted that some patching up has occurred between her and her son. She noted publicly at one event that he had spent the Christmas holiday with her.

Curtis Nelson sued for a slice of the multibillion-dollar-a-year company after he was told that he would not succeed his mother as chief executive of the company built by the late Curt Carlson.

Awards ad up

Carmichael Lynch Spong (CLS) brought home a top honor last week at the annual SABRE (Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation) awards ceremony in New York. CLS won a gold SABRE for its "From the runway to your hallways" campaign on behalf of Sherwin Williams paint stores, and picked up a silver SABRE for its "On your bark, get set, Petco," for its work with the retailer of the same name. The annual awards are sponsored by the Holmes Report, a public-relations trade journal.

Now that's a shingle

Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi isn't the only Twin Cities law firm to advertise its services in the concourses of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, but it may now have the largest ad. The Minneapolis firm commissioned a three-dimensional sculpture measuring more than 9 feet by 22 feet to promote the firm's foundation as well as its law practice. "We want to make a bold impression," says the firm's Mike Ciresi, no shrinking violet himself.

No burger relief

In-N-Out Burger, a 60-year-old California fast-food icon, was rumored online recently to be putting its first Minnesota restaurant in Woodbury. Officials of Woodbury and Washington County hadn't heard about it, so we asked In-N-Out spokesman Bob Emmers in Los Angeles, who checked it out with the privately owned burger chain's management.

"When the vice president stopped howling with laughter, he said, 'No, no way,' " Emmers reported.

The gist: In-N-Out Burger is what you might call fussy about its restaurants.

Emmers said the chain pays store managers six-figure salaries, and only puts restaurants within less than a day's drive of its fresh-food warehouses in Southern California and Nevada. That has limited In-N-Out locations to California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.