A year after Minneapolis law firm Lindquist & Vennum merged with Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr, the Minneapolis office has made some major changes including a new managing partner, an array of additional hires and the launch of a diversity fellowship.
The changes look even more impressive considering they all came in the first two months of the year.
"Our Minneapolis office is an important part of our firm overall," said Karla Vehrs, litigation partner and the new managing partner of Ballard Spahr's Minneapolis office, during an interview.
The Minneapolis office, with more than 110 attorneys and about 50 additional staff, is the second largest of the Ballard Spahr firm, behind Philadelphia. The firm has more than 650 lawyers in 15 offices in the United States.
When the merger became effective in January 2018, the new Minneapolis office became Ballard Spahr's first in the Midwest.
Last month, Vehrs, a former partner at Lindquist & Vennum, replaced Peter Michaud as managing partner. Michaud, a private-equity attorney, became the chairman of the business and finance department for the firm. He will still be based out of the Twin Cities.
Vehrs, who is 39 and a little more than a decade out of law school, is one of the youngest managing partners to lead any of Ballard Spahr's offices. She is also one of a handful of women to have the title of managing partner at the firm.
While there is still a ways to go in terms of including more diversity in a legal field that has traditionally been male-dominated and monolithic, Vehrs said, "I think we're excited with the progress we have made."
Earlier this month, Vehrs' office announced a partnership with financial services company Piper Jaffray Cos. to launch a diversity fellowship to provide an opportunity for first-year law students from diverse backgrounds to gain experience at a law firm and in a corporate legal department setting. Ballard Spahr will employ the student as a paid summer associate as well as provide a $5,000 scholarship. Piper Jaffray will host the fellow for an additional three-week internship.
Also in the beginning of this year, the firm added Leita Walker, a First Amendment attorney from Faegre Baker Daniels, and Benjamin Johnson, a bond lawyer from Barnes & Thornburg, who will be the firm's first public finance attorney in Minneapolis.
"Ballard is a top 10 practice nationwide in municipal bonding. … We are looking to grow the practice area [in Minnesota]," Johnson said.
Johnson, who focuses on revenue bond work for cities, counties and other local units of government, has been involved in project financing for sports arenas and hospitals, and he has worked with the Metropolitan Airports Commission and been involved with the financing of the development of the East Town area of Minneapolis close to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Walker, who has provided counsel to the Star Tribune, said currently as media outlets are under siege with critics decrying some reporting as "fake news," it is important to uphold the freedoms of the press.
"I think the concept of 'fake news' is really a travesty,' " Walker said.
Earlier this month, the Minneapolis office also added Richard Thomson and Amy Schwartz, a pair of consumer financial services litigation attorneys.
"Our growth strategy is not growth for the sake of growth," Vehrs said, about the speed of new hires.
The last year after the merger was used to "get our legs under us," she said. This year, the office wanted to hit the ground running.
The trend of law firm consolidations doesn't appear to be slowing.
There were 106 law-firm combinations last year in the United States, the highest annual total recorded in more than a decade, according to Altman Weil MergerLine, which tracks law-firm mergers.