The largest Black-controlled law firm in the country, Blackwell Igbanugo, has been dissolved effective November 1 according to one of the leading partners, Herbert Igbanugo. Mr. Igbanugo told Mshale during an interview at the Blackwell Igbanugo offices in Edina that he has formed Igbanugo Partners International Law Firm which will be headquartered at the Marquette Plaza (former Minneapolis Federal Reserve building) in downtown Minneapolis. The firm will occupy 8,500 square feet of office space on the 10th floor.
Mr. Igbanugo cited diverging interests as one of the reasons behind the splitting of the firm. He new firm will have five attorneys and six support staff. He would not reveal names of any partners that will be joining him at the new firm because negotiations were still going on. But he did say during the interview that “Our Sub-Saharan African law group will feature an experienced team of U.S. and African educated, African born lawyers that are experienced in handling a broad spectrum of matters and who will bring a wide range of legal, cultural, linguistic, and geopolitical skills and experience to bear when serving clients in this region.”
By the time of the breakup, Blackwell Igbanugo had grown to a firm of 40 lawyers with a staff of 70 and had opened satellite offices in Troy, Michigan and Washington, DC. Mr. Igbanugo said the expansion was a strain on the form and only served to amplify differences between the partners. The other partner was Jerry Blackwell who focuses on corporate litigation. He was quoted in the local press after news of the dissolution became public that his new firm Blackwell Burke will still be the largest firm with a majority of Blacks as shareholders. He is also moving his new form to downtown Minneapolis.
Mr. Igbanugo, one of the most distinguished African lawyers in the country in the area of immigration law said besides immigration, his new firm will focus on international trade law with a narrow focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. He said with American corporations taking advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Africa is now the final frontier of untapped potential. He said he believes his new firm will unravel Africa for the corporate clients he serves as “we have fashioned strategic alliance counsel relationships with exceptionally talented lawyers in key markets of Sub-Saharan Africa to help with this venture.”
Igbanugo also stressed that the individual immigration clients he has served in the past can continue to expect excellent service from his new firm. All the immigration lawyers that worked under him at Blackwell Igbanugo are moving to his new firm. It is the question of partners that was yet to be resolved as we went to press. “The exclusive column my team pens for Mshale, will also continue uninterrupted”, he said during the interview. Other than a change of location, clients should not expect any major changes. Both partners are retaining their separate corporate clients according to Mr. Igbanugo. Some of the clients that Igbanugo has had include the musician Prince. Mr. Igbanugo also became a familiar face in Twin Cities television broadcasts when he was retained to represent Francisco Javier Serrano, the Mexican student who was arrested for turning his former Apple Valley High School into his sleeping quarters.
Blackwell Igbanugo was formed in 2000 by four partners, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Saffold, David Engen, Jerry Blackwell and Herbert Igbanugo. Saffold and Engen left early on during the partnership with Blackwell and Igbanugo remaining to be the two main partners.
Igbanugo told Mshale that Blackwell Igbanugo had a strong impact in the increased hiring of minorities in top Twin Cities law firms as these firms hired minorities to compete with his firm for corporate clients that wanted to steer business to law firms committed to diversity.