Carol Rolf of Rolf & Goffman is a real pro at health care law--and at finding common ground.
It all started with an irreverent Minnesota legal magazine
By Adam Wahlberg
Photography by Larry Marcus
In 1990, Bill White was in his first year running Minnesota Law & Politics, a monthly magazine known for its off-beat covers, irreverent tone and cheeky slogan ("Only Our Name Is Boring"), when he held a meeting with a local freelance writer. Steve Kaplan was there to pitch a profile on perennial presidential candidate Harold Stassen. The two immediately bonded, and Kaplan soon joined the magazine as editor in chief.
It was a dynamic pairing of opposites. Both men were raised on Russell Avenue in Minneapolis, and in retail clothing environments (Hubert White menswear and Kaplan Brothers workwear, respectively), but politically White tilted right and Kaplan leaned left. White, who practiced law before becoming a publisher, was the charismatic face of the publication: tall and amiable, with wavy brown hair. Kaplan, short and blunt, was renowned for reading eight newspapers a day, giving local freelancers their first byline, and having zero sense of traffic direction. Yet the two men always agreed on what would make a great magazine.
"Our goal was a combination of gravity and levity," White says.
"We knew you could have a smart magazine for a smart audience that also didn't take itself too seriously," Kaplan adds. "We never had to discuss the mission of the magazine. It was always just obvious to us."
An early cover sent up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with a male lawyer posing provocatively in a swimming pool in a three-piece suit. Another cover satirized the slow pace of law-firm diversity with five confused-looking white men under the headline "Celebrating Diversity."
Out of that madcap environment, Super Lawyers was born.
In 1991, ruminating on all the city-magazine guides for "best restaurants" and "best doctors," White thought, "Why couldn't we do one for lawyers?" That first list appeared in the magazine's August edition. Since the concept of "supermodels" was breaking at the time, White, with a wink, called his list "Super Lawyers."
It became their best-selling issue-in terms of ad revenue-that year and every year. "If we were in retail, August was considered our holiday season," says White. "It paid for the rest."
In 1996, Vance Opperman, a Twin Cities publisher who owned MSP Communications, bought L&P and expanded it into Washington state. One day, looking across the floor at MSP Communications, White had a brainstorm. What if Minnesota Law & Politics gave the Super Lawyers list to sister publications Mpls.St. Paul and Twin Cities Business to run in their magazines, and they split the sales? It worked. Better than he could have imagined.
Texas Monthly had seen the list in Mpls.St. Paul Magazine and wondered if Super Lawyers could do the same in Texas. It was decided to not only develop a list for Texas Monthly but also run it in a stand-alone magazine, along with articles featuring top listees.
"We wanted to give validation to our expansion into the market and not just deliver a list," says Kaplan. "We wanted to publish a magazine that told good stories, and which would be welcome on lawyers' desks year after year."
Expectations were modest, but the response was overwhelming. City magazines around the country suddenly wanted to partner up, and Super Lawyers began annual mags in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia and Southern California.
Throughout the expansion, White and Cindy Larson, the director of research, continued to refine the selection process. White wrote 17 criteria for what defines a lawyer who makes the cut, including scholarly writings, leadership positions and community engagement. They weighted votes from outside the firm heavier than those from inside the firm. They sent surveys to managing partners and initiated a blue-ribbon panel, in which top performers gave input on the quality of nominees. The process was so sophisticated, they successfully patented it.
Today, Super Lawyers, which was bought by Thomson Reuters in February 2010, employs 70 people across its research, production, data, editorial, online and marketing departments.
The research team handles more than a quarter million nominations and more than 200,000 blue-ribbon panel evaluations annually. The list is seen in nearly 100 magazines across the country, with a total readership of more than 24 million.
For those who remember the early days, it's all a bit surreal.
"When we first started expanding, I had the entire schedule on the front and back of one sheet of paper," says Larson, the current publisher of Super Lawyers. "Sometimes I sit back and wonder, 'Did this really happen?'"
Sidebar: Super Lawyers Through The Years
· 1990: Minnesota Law & Politics publishes its first issue
· 1991: Minnesota Law & Politics publishes its first Super Lawyers edition
· 1996: Vance Opperman buys Minnesota Law & Politics
· 1998: Super Lawyers list appears in Mpls.St. Paul and Twin Cities Business
· 2003: Super Lawyers appears in Texas Monthly
· 2010: Thomson Reuters buys Super Lawyers
The 2008 edition of Mid-South Super Lawyers magazine featured a deep dive into the world of criminal law, as we took a close look at Leslie Ballin's intense, high-stakes, high-profile and sometimes even hilarious defense practice at Ballin, Ballin & Fishman in Memphis. When we spoke with him, Ballin had already handled more than 150 murder cases, involving everything from abused spouses to tough guys named Snake. An excerpt:
Ballin's first jury trial involved an alleged gas station burglary and a client named Snake. "Snake's record was so bad that if he had gotten convicted his sentence would have been life. I was so nervous I could hardly catch my breath. I can remember Snake telling me, 'Mr. Ballin, calm down, it's gonna be all right. Whatever's gonna be is gonna be,'" he says, mimicking the defendant's raspy, Mob-style voice. "And lo and behold, it was OK. He was acquitted."
In 1991, when FedEx pilot Michael Mullins allegedly murdered his wife shortly before the couple's divorce hearing, Ballin teamed up with Steve Farese for the first time. The defense team argued that Mullins' ex-lover killed the victim in a jealous rage.
"During the early motion period of the trial I was wondering exactly where [Ballin] was going and it ended up he was going the same place I would have gone, except he went by a different route," says Farese. "I could tell he had an excellent grasp of the law. He had a good presentation, a good demeanor, very calm, very direct. ... He had an almost matter-of-fact way about getting to the issues during cross-examination. The way he crafts his questions, the only thing you can do is agree with them."
The trial lasted eight days and the jury deliberated for less than an hour. The verdict: not guilty. "If Court TV would have been available then, that would have been the trial of the century," says Ballin. "It had sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, everything that sells news. That was a wild, wild case."
When it comes to an attorney or law firm marketing their services to an ideal client base there are a multitude of ways to get in front of potential prospects. For a family law attorney it might be radio spots on a local station during rush hour. If you're an attorney that focuses on DUI representation maybe its television ads around Christmas and New Year's when arrests tend to trend upward. The point is the type of practice area and overall marketplace often dictates what type of marketing opportunities attorneys pursue.
For attorney Daniel V. Carsey, partner at the Oklahoma City law firm of Rischard & Carsey, PLLC, getting in front of small and medium sized businesses that were priced out of representation from larger law firms is a major initiative. The business litigator and perennial Rising Stars list selectee partnered with Super Lawyers to highlight the honor with a Premium Online Attorney Profile. In the last year alone, Carsey can trace back significant earnings derived by his personal profile through Super Lawyers.
"We are trying to get the message out to small and medium sized businesses through online media that we are a cost-effective and value added option for their legal needs," says Carsey. "Not only did that happen, but we've been able to sustain longstanding partnerships with certain clients who contacted us through Super Lawyers."
Staking your claim in the SuperLawyers.com directory is the quickest avenue for your hard work to be recognized. In addition to the high ranking of our directory in search results, there are several other good reasons to incorporate legal directories into your online marketing strategy. From direct referrals, to backlinks to your website, to managing your reputation online, directories are the place to see and be seen.
And the numbers prove it. Roughly a year ago we continued to make enhancements to the SuperLawyers.com attorney directory result pages to provide a more relevant search for consumers and referring attorneys using our online directory. Since May 2015, SuperLawyers.com received over 15 million page views and directory traffic has increased 310 percent since that time. In addition, visits to SuperLawyers.com profiles have increased by 46 percent year-over-year.
Overall attorney Daniel Carsey receives about ten inquiries per month that he can directly relate back to his Super Lawyers profile. These leads are qualified and many of the legal consumers cite the ease of working with the directory. Now's the time to reap the rewards of a SuperLawyers.com online presence by learning more today.