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Duluth law firm celebrates 125 years
Photo submitted: Employees of the firm celebrated the anniversary recently at Glensheen Mansion.
It’s been known by numerous names during its long history. The prestigious
Duluth law firm, which celebrated its 125 anniversary in 2013, began as a lone practice under founder Charles O. Baldwin. Today it’s known as Johnson, Killen and Seiler, a firm with 15 partners, two associates and three paralegals.
Baldwin ,originally from Illinois, practiced law in Duluth for 45 years. According
to one historical account, he didn’t attend law school, but as was common practice then, “read the law” while clerking for another firm. He passed the bar
exam in 1887. He was joined by his brother, Albert Baldwin, in 1897, and Baldwin and Baldwin was born. The firm retained the Baldwin name (although with different partners) until 1939.
Dozens of attorneys have worked there since its inception. Alok Vidyarthi is one
of the firm’s current partners and its president, a position rotated among the
partners. He’s been with the firm since 1994 and specializes as a transactional
“A good part of my practice is real estate and small business transactions,” he
said in an interview with BusinessNorth.
Business law is a main focus and can encompass issues like bankruptcy, business formation, contracts, e-commerce, mergers and acquisitions, software licensing and trademarks – just to name a few. But there are other major specialties including employment/labor, estates/ trusts, family issues,
healthcare, litigation and maritime/admiralty.
The original Baldwin practice was located on Superior Street in an area that now houses part of the Holiday Center. Johnson Killen and Seiler is now housed on the eighth floor of the Wells Fargo Center.
Today’s partners include: Steven J. Seiler, John N. Nys, Steven C. Fecker, Robert J. Zallar, Robert C. Pearson, James A. Wade, Joseph J. Roby Jr., Nicholas Ostapenko, Richard J. Leighton, Joseph V. Ferguson, Alok Vidyarthi, Paul W. Wojciak, Roy J. Christensen, Jessica L. Durbin and Diana Bouschor Dodge. The firm also employs two associates, Michelle L. Miller and Peter J. Rauker.
Growth has been on a slow but steady trajectory since its early days, said Vidyarthi.
There are two ways in which the firm has grown over the years. It has hired law school graduates to join the ranks and has recruited more established attorneys
– with the expectation that the established recruits will bring clientele with them. A third growth strategy – by merging – hasn’t been a factor.
“There was clearly retrenchment” at some firms in larger markets during the Great Recession, said Viyarthi. Midsized firms in mid-sized markets weren’t
impacted largely because they weren’t overstaffed.
During its long history, the firm has handled some important work.
Although not a high-profile criminal case firm, Johnson, Killen and Seiler(known then as Johnson, Fredin, Killen and Thibodeau) handled civil cases surrounding the Congdon Trusts in the wake of the 1977 infamous murder of
heiress Elisabeth Congdon. In its very early days, the firm also handled some of
the organizational work for the establishment of St. Mary’s Hospital.
Not forgetting its own history, the firm celebrated its 125 anniversary in October
of this year in the Congdon formal dining room. The evening included a catered
dinner and a tour of the Glensheen mansion.
Like history, continuity is important here. Viyarthi noted that many of those with Johnson, Killen and Seiler today were also there 25 years ago when the firm celebrated its 100th anniversary. Slow, steady growth is expected in the years to come, said Vidyarthi.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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