I was proud to read in the National Law Journal that my friend and law school classmate, Chris Messerly, led a unique consortium of 17 pro bono law firms to settle the lawsuits resulting from the August 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
Chris is with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, the Minneapolis-based litigation firm that agreed to handle the case pro bono. Chris was president of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association at the time of the collapse, which led him to orchestrate the group of firms to handle the matter without compensation.
According the interview with Chris in the National Law Journal, the unique group of firms worked well together for the benefit of the victims:
We had teams focused on various aspects, such as brief writing and experts, and we coordinated all that. [Robins Kaplan Minneapolis partner] Phil Sieff spent a great deal of time essentially managing this consortium. The regular meetings would usually be telephone conferences so everyone was up to speed, and we'd have periodic meetings where all of the clients would come to our firm and meet all together. There was a joint prosecution agreement amongst all plaintiffs' lawyers to protect confidentially. We would also make assignments to various lawyers. [For example], there were millions of documents to review. So we'd coordinate schedules, and lawyers would spend a day or two or three doing that over the months that we reviewed millions of documents. Over 130 people in our law firm contributed over 20,000 hours to the pro bono effort. That kind of tells you the effort it took to coordinate, oversee, manage and provide direction to the work done for all 103 of our clients. [Also], every consortium lawyer had the ability, with password-protected access, to access any and all documents [online]. Although not all [documents] were produced electronically we made them so. We would send out a notice weekly of all the additional things that had been placed in the repository. We also paid over $2 million in costs, [including] expert costs, travel and depositions.The representation not only included a court battle, but a risky and time-consuming strategy to get the state legislature to enact a 9/11 type fund. Although the firm may ultimately recoup the $2 million in costs, it was never the expectation of the firm. That's a commitment to the victims. It's also a snapshot of the way they do things in my home state of Minnesota. It also reflects the core values of the lead attorney who has always exemplified compassion and professionalism ever since we were in a first year law study group almost 25 years ago.
Way to go Chris!