Established in 1926 by law school friends Jim Best and Bob Flanagan, Best & Flanagan LLP is a firm founded on relationships. In nearly a century, the firm has grown to more than 45 attorneys who are experts in an array of diverse but complementary practice areas, including real estate, business law, litigation, intellectual property, government relations, employment and labor, family law, private wealth planning, and more. Generations of Minnesotans, from individuals and families, to nonprofits, closely held businesses and Fortune 500 corporations, have looked to Best & Flanagan for reliable counselors and attorneys at law who understand their unique challenges and local values.
At the helm of the organization is Sarah Crippen, Managing Partner and chair of the employment and labor practice group. She is an MSBA certified labor and employment specialist and previous chair of the firm’s litigation section. Crippen says that, today, many attorneys practicing in the Twin Cities legal market find themselves at a professional crossroads. The legal landscape was forever changed by the Great Recession, and there is a growing trend of local firms being absorbed by larger entities. Many lawyers inside these new mega-firms feel they are just a number among hundreds of attorneys scattered across the country and even the world.
To some, Best & Flanagan is the perfect antidote. A long-established local law firm with sophisticated practices and deep ties to the community, Best & Flanagan prides itself on identifying with the people it employs and represents. The result is long tenure of attorneys and a loyal client base with rich referral opportunities.
The firm’s Executive Committee represents a cross-section of the attorneys who have found their professional home at Best & Flanagan. Crippen joined the firm as a summer associate in 1990 while earning her law degree at the University of Minnesota, and she has remained to build a robust practice as a counselor, litigator and investigator.
Christopher Johnson is a member of the firm’s Family Law section whose practice focuses on complex family law matters. He has made notable contributions to the body of law in Minnesota as a past member of the Minnesota Supreme Court advisory committee and task force. He joined the firm as a lateral more than two decades ago and plans to finish his career there. Johnson describes Best & Flanagan as a “firm of entrepreneurs” with an excellent record of “matching client needs with the right personalities.”
Amy Conners is an experienced business litigator and counselor who joined the firm as a lateral just five years ago. She has served as co-chair of the statewide Minnesota Lavender Bar Association and has earned numerous professional honors. In her view, the firm’s strength is its flexibility that allows lawyers to grow in authentic directions.
“I like my role as a trusted advisor, and my favorite part of my day is talking with somebody about a problem and developing a relationship with them,” says Amy Conners. “The flexibility here to practice the kind of law that excites us most and build our own practice in the way we want to, lets everyone move into their own strengths. This is a great place to build your career. I don’t think of this as a place to just come to work; it’s a place to plant roots, grow and stay. I think that has value whether you’re a lateral like me or starting your career here.”
This diverse committee reveals many things about Best & Flanagan’s culture – its flat organizational structure; its inclusive and meritocratic values; its transparency; and its spirit of camaraderie. Crippen says this all adds up to greater accountability to colleagues and clients — and better results.
“Being an independent, Minnesota-based firm makes us uniquely accountable in a good way,” Crippen says. “We want our clients to be with us for decades to come. We work with a lot of small-to-medium, closely held businesses, where many are family owners. We’re usually talking to the owner or an officer of the business, and we try hard to work out an approach that is uniquely tailored to their needs. We think this is preferable to having rates and the way we staff teams dictated by management in a different city or completely different part of the country.”
Elizabeth “Libby” Davydov is an emerging leader at Best & Flanagan, elected to the partnership in January of this year. She is in good company, as nearly 40 percent of the firm’s full equity partners are women. Davydov helps closely held businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals manage their business needs ranging from structural and tax issues to M&A and employee benefit plans.
As an outside general counsel and business advisor, Davydov places a high value on the firm’s collaborative and team-centric culture. “We staff our clients with people we know and trust will be good listeners and relationship partners,” she says. “We value people who have a high EQ in addition to their expert legal knowledge.”
Personally, Davydov has benefited from strong mentorship while working alongside Daniel Grimsrud, a senior attorney in her practice group. She says, “This is truly still an apprenticeship profession. You can’t get all the skills you need to learn in law school, so you really do learn on the job. Dan has been phenomenal at providing me with guidance while treating me like an adult. There’s a period of getting to know each other, but whatever hierarchy there is breaks down over time. I will say this about my transition to partner: Nothing in my day-to-day workflow changed. I think it shows that we’re not making old-school, hierarchical distinctions between practitioners here. We’re just trying to move the ball forward for clients. I can’t say enough good about the mentor Dan has been.”
As to Best & Flanagan’s position in the marketplace, she says, “Minneapolis needs firms our size. We’re more relational and more local. When our clients have a particular need, we won’t just send them a random lawyer we don’t know. As we’re heading through a big baby boomer turnover, succession planning and transitioning is taking an increasing portion of our time. This is a process that is very personal to our clients, and they want to work with advisors who are familiar with their history and their goals.”
Grimsrud echoes, “Mutuality is a hallmark of our firm. Especially for firms our size, EQ and human skills are so critically important. It allows us to understand different clients and adapt our approach to their needs.”
Jennifer Lammers and Robert McLeod both joined Best & Flanagan as lateral hires in January 2020 after their previous firm experienced a merger. Lammers is a partner in the Private Wealth Planning practice group. She assists her clients with estate planning, business succession planning, probate and trust administration, elder law, and trust and estate litigation matters. McLeod is a partner of the same practice group and is listed as among the Top 100 Lawyers in Minnesota for his accomplished probate, trust, guardianship and fiduciary litigation practice.
“For us, it was an opportunity to review our practice and see what firm truly fit the needs of our clients,” Lammers says. “We represent individuals, and Bob is involved in a lot of family disputes that are messy and complicated. We also have relationships with banks that are trustees for our clients’ trusts. This firm was built on trusts and estates, and it’s easier for us to maintain those relationships inside an organization that is tailored for that. It’s been an easy transition for us.”
Working in a practice area that often crosses over into other legal territory, McLeod says it’s useful to be in a close legal setting where collaboration with other lawyers is natural. “It’s common for a trust that owns real estate or has business interests to have tax problems or be involved in a dispute. The people we need to work with are right next door, and everyone’s door is open. That proximity makes it so easy.”
Lammers and McLeod say that being at a smaller, local firm has posed more opportunities to grow their practices. “We have complete control over rates and who we want our clients to be,” Lammers says. “We’re still able to do complex litigation and represent large clients, but we’re also able to represent matters that don’t demand as much time and treat them with the same quality. You can do that when you don’t have a ton of overhead.”
In the current Minneapolis legal landscape, many lawyers feel like Goldilocks trying to find the right fit. For those who feel that a national firm is too big, and a boutique practice is too small, Best & Flanagan may be just right.
“There are fantastic lawyers at every size firm in this state, and I believe you can have a robust, successful and sophisticated practice at any size firm,” Lammers says, “Sometimes, you just get lucky, and find a wonderful fit.”