For more than 30 years, the attorneys at Bernick Lifson, P.A. have provided trusted counsel to Minnesota’s business owners and executives in matters relating to business, corporate and real estate law. Mitch Chargo joined the firm in 2016, bringing over two decades of experience in the areas of commercial real estate and commercial account receivables recovery, along with the business management skills he acquired as an owner of a large, multi-state law firm. Elected managing partner in June 2018, Chargo is honoring Bernick Lifson’s heritage of providing top-tier legal representation while strategically positioning it for future growth.
Chargo grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley and earned his undergraduate degree in history, magna cum laude, from the University of Minnesota. An avid researcher and writer, Chargo relished every opportunity to dig for new discoveries that would corroborate his working theories. His thoughtful approach as a historian provided a clue to who he would become as an attorney. “My goal was never to rewrite history, but to bring new facts to light that would support a thesis. It paved the way for me to become an advocate. Studying and practicing law has helped me to further develop critical and logical thinking that I can apply when helping my clients pragmatically solve problems.”
My goal was never to rewrite history … “
After graduating from William Mitchell College of Law, magna cum laude, Chargo continued the momentum he had created as a member of the school’s national trial team by clerking for Judge Gary Larson in the Minnesota Fourth Judicial District. “I wanted to litigate, and I got a bird’s eye view of courtroom activity day in and day out.” Chargo went on to practice in the areas of construction lien litigation and commercial real estate lending. He eventually joined forces with a debt collection attorney who was seeking to diversify his firm. “He was representing banks and creditors in the recovery of debt, and I was representing lenders. It was a good fit since we worked with compatible business platforms.
For the next 10 years, Chargo helped grow the firm to six offices across six states with, at one time, nearly 200 employees. “It taught me more than black letter law. It was some of the most valuable business experience I could have had. But as time went on, I became as much, if not more, a business operations manager as a legal practitioner. Working with clients on a daily basis is an area I really enjoy, and I missed it.”
Chargo’s desire to be more hands-on with clients is one of the elements that prompted his move to Bernick Lifson, where he provides commercial real estate representation on behalf of regional and community lending institutions, and owners and developers of commercial real estate. Chargo’s expertise extends to all facets of commercial real estate transactions, including drafting real estate loan documents and lease agreements, reviewing title and surveys, and handling matters related to loan closings.
“I also represent commercial lessors and tenants in negotiating and drafting lease agreements for office, retail, industrial and warehouse space. I had spent so much time representing lenders who were refinancing commercial space and reviewing leases as part of due diligence, that it was natural for me to move into negotiating and drafting leases. Part of my passion for representing parties in leasing arises in the retail sector where there exists the multifaceted nature of the retail business — the intersection between marketing, advertising, consumer products, law and technology. After all, I am a consumer and each time I walk into a retail space, I have this unique perception of the connection between commerce, advertising and the law.”
The second part of Chargo’s practice is representing commercial clients in recovering outstanding accounts receivable. These are commercial litigation cases where the goal is to maximize recovery through efficiency. “It sounds odd, but I enjoy this area of practice a lot. The reason is that having a lot of money sitting in unpaid accounts can be the death knell for a business. Helping a client take action to get their accounts receivable can inject much needed capital back into the business, so they’re usually very happy when we’re done.”
While seemingly distinct from transactional work, Chargo maintains that these two practice areas do intersect. “On the one hand, the litigation experience helps drive better negotiating and drafting of transactional documents. On the other hand, understanding the nuances of transactional documents helps drive a more focused and well-rounded approach to litigation.”
When litigation is necessary to recover accounts receivable, Chargo works collaboratively with colleagues at Bernick Lifson to achieve swiftresolution in court. “Another reason I came here is because we have the resources in a team that can take these files on and run with them. We have talented partners here who are in court every single day, and young lawyers who like the opportunity to get trial experience.” Chargo’s law partner, Scott Lifson, has worked in the area of accounts receivable recovery for a very long time. “Scott is an outstanding practitioner with a wonderful reputation in our legal community and is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area.”
Chargo commented on the various ways in which the attorneys at Bernick Lifson are providing thoughtful business representation. “I am surrounded by partners who have expertise in their practice areas. I mentioned Scott Lifson’s expertise in receivables recovery. Marv Liszt is a highly regarded commercial real estate attorney and certified real property law specialist. Malcolm Terry is a certified labor and employment law specialist. Jack Pierce is a certified civil trial law specialist. Sally Forbes Friedman is an outstanding estate planning attorney. Dan Greenstein is a highly regarded CIC specialist. We are well stocked with resources in the law. Expertise notwithstanding, I would describe our firm as down-to-earth. I think we’re very pragmatic in that we strive to give sound, practical advice to our clients. They come to us for a reason — to help get the deal done or pursue their rights — and we want to do it in a way that makes them feel at ease, so they are comfortable in confiding matters to us. But while we may be comfortable and relaxed, it should not be mistaken with not working hard. We just choose to work in a way that is more collegial and less buttoned up than the traditional business law firm.”
As managing partner, Chargo is continuing to nurture the firm’s human-centric culture and setting the stage for expansion and succession planning. “I love people and developing relationships. It’s a nice honor to be working on behalf of such a talented group of attorneys, some of whom are 15 or more years my senior and well-known in their areas of law. Our firm has been around for 30 years, and I’m excited to have a hand in looking ahead to the next decade and identifying our next generation of leaders and practitioners. Right now, we have 13 lawyers, and we are always looking to add talented professionals. Our goal, though, is not simply to grow, but to grow strategically and add the right members to our team.”
He continued, “We recognize that with growth comes responsibility. We take the training and supervision of young lawyers seriously, and we consider it a big responsibility to take on younger lawyers and make sure they learn good habits and skills while getting the experience they need to be effective.”
We recognize that with growth comes responsibility.”
Chargo and his wife, Susan, have been married for 26 years and have three children ages 23, 21 and 17. He remains a keen reader and writer, and he is also the lead singer in a cover band with a huge following in the Twin Cities. On weekends, you may see this self-proclaimed “nerd” donning chains and boots and taking to the stage to belt out rock hits by artists from Billy Joel to Aerosmith. “If it gets people dancing, we’ll play it,” he said. “Who as a kid didn’t go home after school and put a tape in the boom box and rock out in front of the mirror? Now I do that with a bunch of other adults and have the time of my life. I tell young lawyers all the time that you have to find something to do outside the law. You can’t take work home every night because it’s draining. You have to broaden your horizons and find an outlet that ultimately makes you a more well-rounded professional.”
Chargo’s broad practice experience in both litigation and transactional law, along with his business competencies across general operations, risk management, facilities management and human resources, enrich the counsel he gives to clients and inform the leadership he provides to his firm. But it is Chargo’s compassion for those he serves that stands out most of all. “I try to put myself in the client’s position when navigating counsel for them,” he stated. “I look at the context of the given circumstances. Every person, every business and every piece of real estate has its own story, and I am passionate about helping people reach their goals.”