With some of the country’s largest corporations based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., there is plenty of work to keep lawyers busy. The area is home to Fortune 500 companies including Target Corp., U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy Inc., Ameriprise Financial Inc. and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Other major corporations maintain sizeable offices in the Twin Cities.

The work flow stays steady even when the economy drops off, according to Minneapolis-based managing partners. “The city’s firms rarely experience the highs that other areas of the country see, but they don’t see the lows either,” said Robert Rosenbaum of Dorsey & Whitney’s Minneapolis office.

Bankruptcy, litigation and intellectual property practices have remained strong, but mergers and acquisitions and transactional corporate practices have been slower to rebound. “We didn’t really feel the impact of the downturn in the financial markets. We feel like we did a lot better than some of our counterparts on the coasts,” said Alan Maclin, president of Minneapolis-based Briggs and Morgan.

He noted that Briggs and Morgan, with about 180 lawyers in Minneapolis, had its “best year ever” thanks to an uptick in litigation and corporate work. In March, the firm advised PepsiAmericas Inc. in its $2 billion purchase by PepsiCo Inc.

Minneapolis firms, many of them midsized and regional, also have benefited from pressure from clients to charge lower rates. Dorsey, for example, a large firm, has kept clients such as Ameriprise Financial Inc., 3M Co., and Target Corp. coming back because they’re “pushing back against the rates larger firms charge,” Rosenbaum said.

That trend may not last — large firms won’t let work to go to smaller firms for long, said consultant Kent Zimmerman of the Zeughauser Group. “It’s a temporary window that midsize firms were able to take advantage of,” he said.

And even midsize firms are feeling the pressure on rates. Several well-known Minneapolis partners have jumped from larger firms to hang out their own shingle. The reason? The rates charged by their firms were simply too high. In February, Keith Halleland left Minneapolis-based Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson to open Halleland Habicht. In June, Konrad “Kit” Friedemann, a founding partner of Fredrikson & Byron’s health law group, and Mary Foarde, the former general counsel of Allina Hospitals & Clinics, opened FreidemannFoarde.

SEEING OPPORTUNITY

Regardless, firms from outside the region have seen in the Twin Cities an opportunity for expansion. Minneapolis offers the benefit of being a “relatively sheltered market” that offers “a lot of savvy high-tech companies as clients,” said Joseph Altonji, a consultant with Hildebrandt.

In June 2009, Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg acquired The Parsinen Law Firm, a 22-lawyer practice in Minneapolis. In March, labor and employment boutique Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart brought on two partners from Fulbright & Jaworski and another from Flynn Gaskins & Bennett to open an office in Minneapolis.

A Minneapolis office offered the opportunity to build its intellectual property practice, said Barnes & Thornburg managing partner Alan Levin. “There’s a lot of work to keep us busy in Minneapolis.”

Contact Jeff Jeffrey at jjeffrey@alm.com.