Drop by the individual law offices of Michael Biglow, Mark Biglow, Eileen Bergmann, John Biglow and Douglas Biglow around lunch time, and you’re likely to encounter a scene that resembles one you’d find around any family table. These five attorneys – four of whom are siblings, with one son/nephew thrown in for good measure – break for lunch together every day. It’s a chance to relax, share in some good-natured ribbing and talk about whatever is top of mind. It’s clear to the outside observer that these attorneys genuinely like each other. And while each is an independent practitioner, they say they are better lawyers for practicing alongside some of the people they respect and trust most in the world.
The Biglow family can trace its legal roots back generations, beginning with great-great-grandfather Samuel, who was appointed a federal judge by President Abraham Lincoln. His affection for the president was so great, he named his own son Abraham Lincoln Biglow. Abe went on to pass the Bar in Wisconsin, where he served as a state legislator.
Two generations later, Robert Biglow, a WWII Army Air Corps fighter pilot, returned home and attended law school at the University of Minnesota. After answering the call to serve a second time during the Korean war and a third time during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert settled down with his wife, Genevieve, a surgical nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. The two had eight children in whom they cultivated the old-fashioned values of faith, family and service to others. It is no surprise that their children followed in their footsteps, opting for helping careers in law, medicine and science.
Over the years, each of the Biglow lawyers joined Robert’s office as solo practitioners. Mark explains, “We always worked independently. I remember asking when I was fresh out of law school, ‘How much are you going to pay us?’ My dad said, ‘You’ll get paid when you bring business in.’ That was a wake-up call.”
Today, these five attorneys honor what they believe is a family legacy of duty and service.
Mark’s practice is comprised of personal injury; workers compensation; wills, estates and probate matters; and general business and civil litigation. “I think what ties these generations together from our great-great-grandfather to the present is that we’re all engaged in problem solving,” Mark says. “Identifying problems and resolutions is something we all learned coming from a family of eight children.”
Mark’s wife, Jenny, is in psychology, as are daughters Elizabeth and Mary Kathleen. His sons are both lawyers. Son John practices at Meagher & Geer in Minneapolis, and Douglas practices in the Biglow office. Douglas focuses on criminal defense, personal injury, contract litigation, Social Security disability, landlord/tenant matters and Department of Human Services licensing hearings.
“When boys are growing up, I think they always think they will grow up and do what their dad does,” Douglas says. “I can remember coming down to the office when it was across the street, and the orange couch we had. I feel fortunate I not only had my father Mark in the law, but also my aunt and uncles. It’s great to be able come in and work with everybody, and bounce around ideas with more experienced attorneys who are also family.”
“We see ourselves in Doug as a young attorney and what is our responsibility to pass on the same wisdom we received from our dad to the next generation,” Michael says. “It’s very exciting to have him with us.”
Michael’s practice includes probate, family, civil and criminal matters, with an emphasis on mental health.
He explains, “Over time, my work narrowed to more crisis intervention matters in child protection and other crisis management where people lose capacity to make decisions, and others who are invisible to the public until something happens because they are mentally ill or mentally ill and dangerous, resulting in community safety or personal harm and liberty issues. Many of my clients are confined in hospitals, secure facilities and treatment programs. My first objective is to establish rapport and confidence in my ability to represent their interests. I attempt to do that in the most charitable way possible and at the earliest possible moment. Many have gotten a lot of bad news by the time they see me. I meet them at the crisis and listen to them, instead of doing the talking. They automatically see you as part of the system, so it’s important to let them know you’re in their corner and advocating for them, and then to stay in communication through the crisis. If it doesn’t turn out in their favor, at least the client knows you’re with them through that process.”
Michael’s eldest child, Lauren, graduated from law school and now works in KPMG’s tax import/export tariff department. Daughter Kelcey is an RN and son Robert is a psychologist.
Eileen’s practice includes criminal defense, civil litigation, real estate and probate. “I don’t know how 33 years have gone by so fast. I took some time off when my kids were little, then came back to continue in criminal and civil litigation. Most of my clients are charged with criminal offenses, but I still handle civil matters as well. My desire overall is to be in court. We all practice law because of our desire to assist people. I think what we all have in common is that we’re good listeners, and people feel that. When they feel listened to, no matter the result, they know somebody is doing everything they can for them.”
Eileen’s two sons, Gabriel and Max, are both recent college graduates with careers in public health and service. “I truly believe it is no mistake that our children have followed the path of helping others.”
John’s general law practice is concentrated in the areas of estate planning, probate and real estate. “When I came into the practice, our mom would be down at the office with us at the front desk,” he says. “She was the first contact when people called or walked in. Because of her nursing background and her faith, she was awesome for people who were hurting or in need, scared or mad. We were so fortunate to have this great matriarch with a kindly spirit. By the time they talked to us, they had settled down a little bit. For me, the real lesson was what a neat opportunity it was to have that continued family involvement. We all got along. As I continued to practice and got married had children, my wife, Emily, came down and worked with me. She passed on after a battle with cancer, but it was a real treasure to have her presence. I probably never would have thought of something like that if it wasn’t for the experience we all had working together and being supported by each other.”
John is a proud father of three daughters. Lilly and Grace attend the University of Minnesota, where Lilly is a biology major on a pre-med track and Grace is pursuing art and graphic design. His youngest, Audrey, is in high school and is a promising young scientist.
Robert was an old-school attorney who hung out a shingle as a general practitioner and built his reputation by working hard and caring for his neighbors. When the phone rang in the middle of the night, the Biglow children remember that their father always answered the call.
Eileen recalls, “I remember Dad, when we were young, would get phone calls at home a lot. He’d always take the call. One client was always in custody, and Dad would get in the car and do whatever he needed to do to get him out. Mom would say, ‘Now Bob, maybe you should leave him there and take care of it in the morning.’ And he’d say, ‘No individual should stay any longer in custody than they need to. If I can get them out, I’m going to do that.’ And he’d get him bailed out. Now I get those calls in the middle of the night, and that always goes through my mind when somebody calls me from jail.”
Michael adds, “Dad did not shield his work from us. When he had to go see someone at the jail, sometimes Mom would say, ‘Mike, go with your father, please,’ just to be with him. I think she worried about him doing this alone, so I did go on a ride-along once in a while. It was a front-row experience even before law school.”
As the eldest of the Biglow clan, Michael remembers his dad’s office as a “fun place to be.” He also remembers Robert’s love of watching “Perry Mason” and how it sparked a “steady, friendly and constructive conversation about professionals and the law.”
Robert used to say being a Biglow meant having “big thoughts.”
“We hold our parents and ancestors in high esteem for all they have accomplished and only hope to try to do the same for our clients,” Michael says. “Our family was always present for us, we are present for each other and try to practice that same mindset for our clients.”
When the Biglow children were growing up, dinnertime was not the chaotic event it so often is for families today. Back then, it was a regular and orderly occasion. At the dinner table each evening, the family would gather and talk about their day. Robert frequently talked about his cases (while protecting his clients’ confidentiality), and Eileen recalls, “It’s how we learned about the law. He would quiz us. He’d call it home school before home schooling was even a thing.”
Mark says, “The things I hope people think of when they hear the Biglow name are people who are professional, thoughtful, fun and honest. I reflect on what is a unique hallmark of our office. We have a lot of fun here. Our lunches are a great way to share ideas and laugh. This is really important, because the work is hard. To have that outlet every day makes us all want to come back in the next day.”