At the end of this month, John Hinderaker will retire from the practice of law at Faegre Baker Daniels (formerly Faegre & Benson) after 41 years. He’s not simply retiring, however, he is also moving on to take over as president of the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis. John has had an illustrious and accomplished career at the firm.
I overlapped with John for 16 years, working next door to his office and side by side with him on many of his big and interesting cases. He was an ideal colleague, gladly sharing his knowledge, teaching his skills, and giving the benefit of his experience. John recently gave me some personal advice drawing on worker’s compensation defense work he had performed in the first days of his career. I will just say that I don’t think anyone has ever gotten more out of worker’s compensation defense work than John, but that applies to every phase of his long, varied, distinguished career.
I was grateful that John invited me to his retirement party last night at the Minneapolis Club; the party was mostly confined to his immediate family and his Faegre colleagues. I took the opportunity to take a photo capturing the moment with John. I also took the opportunity to thank him for the privilege of working with him over my years at the firm. It was a highlight that turned into one of my deepest friendships.
John called on his colleague Jim Hartnett to preface his own remarks looking back at his career. Both Jim and John have given me the okay to share Jim’s remarks with readers. I thought some of you might enjoy this look at John’s career courtesy of Jim:
First of all, I want to thank John for inviting me to speak at his retirement party. I was planning to speak whether he liked it or not, but it was nice to be asked. I want to welcome John’s family: his wife Loree, his son Eric, and his daughter Ali. John’s oldest daughter lives in Australia, and could not be here and his youngest daughter is still off at college, but I am sure they are both here in spirit.
It is with a touch of sadness that I offer these remarks on the occasion of John Hinderaker’s retirement from the practice of law. On the one hand, I am happy to honor John’s forty-one year legal career, all of which was with Faegre & Benson and Faegre Baker Daniels. And I am also happy to wish John well as he embarks on his post-legal career of political advocacy on behalf of the Center of the American Experiment. But this occasion also means that in a matter of days our firm will lose one of its top litigators and I will lose my regular interactions with a colleague, friend, and mentor of twenty-two years. So, it is a bittersweet occasion for me in some respects.
On the 22nd Floor of our Minneapolis office is the “Faegre museum.” In it you can see copies of old firm letterhead from the early 1980s that list the name of every lawyer in the firm at that time. The so-called “letterhead order” of lawyers reflected their seniority in terms of years engaged in the practice of law. Looking at that letterhead today, only three lawyers currently active in the firm—Steve Rosholt, Tom Morgan, and Joe Price—are listed ahead of John Hinderaker. Bob Schnell—John’s classmate at Harvard Law School—started with the firm at the same time as John, but appears later alphabetically.
These lawyers, along with a few others at the firm (myself included), are among the last of a dying breed. We are all lawyers who have dedicated our entire careers to a single law firm. When John starts his job at the Center of the American Experiment, it will be his first new full-time position since he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1971.
1971. I don’t pretend to have Tom Morgan’s gift for the attorney roast, but 1971 is a long time ago. It was the year that 18-year-olds first got the right to vote; the year Intel invented the first commercial microprocessor; and the year Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters was both the number one song and number one album. 1971 is beyond the memory of many of the people in this room. And it is remarkable to think about how much the practice of law has changed in that time.
John’s dedication and loyalty to a single law firm stand in contrast to the diversity of his practice. John is among the last of the big-firm litigators who can honestly say they have tried more than one hundred jury cases across nearly the entire spectrum of litigated disputes. The following is a short list of the types of cases that John has handed that I know about, and probably excludes quite a few cases that were before my time: Insurance-defense automobile cases, punch-press cases, fire-loss cases, serious workplace accidents, a forest-fire case in Alaska, unfair competition/Lanham Act cases, patent cases, large antitrust litigation, cotton and soybean seed genetics litigation, corporate negligent homicide, and of course, a wide variety of construction disputes involving hospitals, pipelines, composting facilities, leaking water heaters, nuclear and coal-fired power plants, and stadiums, including the Metrodome and Miller Park. Basically, if the case involved representing a client in a courtroom, John was happy to help you.
Occasions like this call for some reflection on the things that you learn from your mentors, and John was certainly one of those to me. John prided himself on being tough. In any “good-cop, bad-cop” legal scenario, John wanted to be the bad cop. But John also taught me that you can be a tough, aggressive advocate for your client, while still being a consummate professional. John never mistook meanness or coarseness for toughness—an error that is all too common today.
John also set an example with his hard work. Although I can’t quote him exactly, John analogized litigation to the myth of Sisyphus—the king doomed to push a boulder up a hill all day, only to find it back at the bottom of the hill each morning. John’s philosophy was that if you didn’t keep pushing and pushing in litigation, you would end up falling behind.
And despite his seniority, John never shied away from doing the dirty work of litigation—and by that I mean document review. John taught me that you can’t really know a case if you don’t know the documents, and the only way to know the documents is to actually look at a lot of them yourself. This is not a view commonly held by lawyers sitting in corner offices.
John always took the time to make everyone working on his cases feel like they were part of the team. John routinely handled huge cases where there might be dozens of temporary staffers reviewing literally millions of documents. The actor who played Kevin on the T.V. show “The Office” was once a document reviewer on one of John’s cases. These folks might spend all of their eight-hour days staring at computer screens. John always personally met with his teams to introduce them to the case and to explain the types of documents he was looking for. And he would continue to meet with these folks on a regular basis to update them on the progress of the case. A senior partner in John’s position easily could have assigned a senior associate or junior partner to manage the document review staff. That senior partner might never meet any of those people. But that was not John’s style. He always felt that it was important to make everyone who worked on his cases feel like they were part of the team and invested in the case. And he achieved better outcomes for his clients as a result.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, John taught me how to be resilient in the face of adversity. Litigation is a tough business and judges and juries are inherently unpredictable. John had many notable victories over the course of his long career—he was Minnesota’s Super Lawyer of the Year in 2006 and Construction Litigation Lawyer of the Year in 2015—but like all litigators, he also had some losses.
When I was a young associate, I remember asking John how he could be so unflappable after having suffered a serious litigation defeat. He said to me: “Well, it could be worse; it could be my money.” There was a deeper truth behind that somewhat flippant remark. All we can offer our clients is our best efforts. But sometimes the facts or the law or the vagaries of a judge or jury mean that those best efforts yield results that are worse than expected. You can’t be in this business for twenty years, much less forty years, if every reversal of fortune is emotionally devastating. That is a lesson that John taught me that I will never forget.
Now, when you’ve worked with someone for twenty-two years, you end up spending a lot of time together. In thinking back on the many cases that John and I have worked on over the years, it occurred to me that I’ve spent more time traveling with John than anyone other than my wife. The list of places that John and I have traveled to includes, from closest to farthest: Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Alaska, London, Hawaii, and Japan. And although John worked incredibly hard, he would still try to find some time to see the sights in the places we traveled. Having the opportunity to spend a little extra time with our respective families in London and Japan certainly made those trips memorable for me.
While John has been a pretty good travel companion over the years, there’s one pet peeve of his that I won’t miss: his preference for hotel restaurants. It didn’t matter if we were staying at a Hampton Inn or the Waldorf Astoria; the only place John ever wanted to eat was the hotel restaurant, for every meal, regardless of how many days we were in town or how wide the disparity between the hotel food and the food available elsewhere. It was as if he’d lost his sense of taste.
I will conclude by mentioning the biggest thing I will not miss upon John’s retirement: My often being mistaken as the older of the two attorneys when we travel together; this due to my premature grey hair and John’s Dorian-Gray-like youthful appearance. Our former colleague Quynh Sperrazza once had us both pegged at around 50, when I was 36 and John was 53. And John even went so far as to describe me as “the gray-haired gentleman” to a jury during a trial. That comment is in the official trial transcript. So, while I will miss John, I won’t miss that.
There’s an old Faegre legend that on your first day of work they engrave your name on a clock and then put that clock on a shelf until the day you leave the firm. I know that’s not true in John’s case, because his original clock was destroyed in the infamous Northwest Bank Building Thanksgiving Day fire of 1982, so the one I am now tasked to hand over to him is, sadly, a much more recent replacement.
PAUL ADDS: I wish I had practiced law with John, whose towering intellect and arguing skills are matched by his generosity of spirit.
JOHN adds: Thanks to all for the kind words! I will have more to say about my new role in the weeks to come. I am hopeful that we can make a real difference in Minnesota and the nation.