Rider Bennett has employed such notables as Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his wife Judge Mary Pawlenty.
Rider Bennett's managing partner Steve Plunkett says the firm was having difficulty competing not only in the Twin Cities legal market but also the Midwest legal market.
It's like seeing a landmark disappear.Law professor Daniel Kleinberger
"Clients are becoming more sophisticated and more demanding of the services that the law firm needs to provide," Plunkett said. "I think it's just become more of an international market, so it becomes more difficult, not just from the Midwest but across the nation."
That sophistication can mean legal problems associated with a growing global market. Rider Bennett only has offices in the Twin Cities, whereas some of its competitors have offices in Europe, Canada, and China. Rider Bennett was a traditional law firm. It performed trial work, business law, and handled trusts and estates.
When told of the news that Rider Bennett was folding, William Mitchell law professor Daniel Kleinberger was shocked.
"It's like seeing a landmark disappear, Kleinberger said. "This has been an excellent, high class, operation; a lot of energy, lot of integrity, lot of intelligence, a lot of great people have worked there."
Kleinberger studies business associations including law firms. He says about 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the first of a series of decisions that said the practice of law is not immune from anti-trust laws. He says that meant law firms now had to compete in the marketplace like any other business.
"And if you think of a lawfirm as a business organization within a market, what's remarkable is that occasionally a firm like Rider Bennet will go out of business. What's remarkable is how rare this is," he said.
One of Rider Bennett's former partners said it was a sad day that her old firm was closing its doors. Sheryl Ramstad who is now a judge on Minnesota's tax court says the firm was known for its humane culture.
"It was one of the first firms in which women were allowed to go part-time; it established a sabbatical program for partners to ensure that they could avoid burnout by doing something for themselves personally; it encouraged its partners to be involved in things beyond the law," she said, adding that she hoped the firm's shutdown isn't a sign such practices are out of fashion.
Managing partner Steve Plunkett says the firm's attorneys will continue to serve the firm's clients -- either as independent practioners, as employees of other law firms or attorneys who will choose to form their own firms.