Attorney of the Month, Andrew Birrell

Criminal Defense Attorney Incorporating Many Facets of Expertise Into His Cases

By Lynette Carrington

Andrew Birrell of Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP has emerged as a legal force to be reckoned with in one of the most powerful firms in the state. What makes Birrell’s practice increasingly unique is the interplay of legal areas that perfectly mesh with his other partners in the firm. The combination of experience in a variety of legal areas is a great asset to those that he serves.

Some attorneys stumble into the field of law and others are inspired by those working in the industry. Meeting legal legend F. Lee Bailey when he was young was very inspiring to Birrell when contemplating pursuing a career in law. Birrell heard Bailey speak on a radio program in town. “He was signing books, so I went down and bought one of his books and got a chance to talk to him. Obviously I already had an interest in law, but that was a big thing for me,” stated Birrell.

Synergy at the Firm
Every partner at Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP brings something to the table. “When I joined, it was a way for the firm to get white-collar criminal expertise and trial experience. It was a way for me to work with people at the top of their areas in a way that I could participate in those cases too. I’ve been a lawyer for 31 years, so I’m always looking for a new challenge,” said Birrell.

Birrell joined Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP about three years ago. Birrell has been a part of the American College of Trial Lawyers (limited to 1 percent of all lawyers) for nearly 10 years. The other three main partners at the firm Steve Gaskins, Bob Bennett and Tim Schupp are also members of the American College of Trial Lawyers and that is how they all came together under one roof. “There are a lot of natural synergies among our practices. Bob Bennett is the top civil rights lawyer, at least in the Midwest. Using a criminal law background Bennett sues the police for violations of constitutional rights, so he and I are able to work together on cases because part of what I do involves examining police conduct,” said Birrell of his initial move to the firm to work in conjunction with Bennett.

Steve Gaskins primarily handles commercial litigation. Birrell works with Gaskins on a number of matters. They are currently lawyers for a special litigation committee of a local, publically traded corporation. “This is a long, involved process where we represent a special litigation committee of the company composed of a law school professor at the University of Minnesota named John Matheson and retired judge, George McGunnigle. We actually represent them in this investigation and these are two of the best legal minds around,” said Birrell of the interesting branchout from his practice.

Partner Tim Schupp is working with Birrell on a number of civil cases ranging from cases involving RICO and fraud allegations to alleged violations of the securities law. “Tim and I are currently handling a case where a major corporation sued a number of paving contractors. It’s sort of a translation of white collar criminal type claims into a civil cause of action. That’s been interesting,” noted Birrell. Working with his partners allows the attorney to bring new dimensions to his white-collar criminal work.

The Whole Picture
As a lawyer with in-depth experience in white-collar crime and access to other lawyers who can augment his practice, Birrell recognizes the value that the unique combination offers to clients. Birrell usually juggles in several white-collar criminal cases on the federal level and is active in criminal law related bar association activities. “I’m the chair of the criminal law certification committee for the Minnesota State Bar Association. We put that together in the last few years and I have some really outstanding people working on that with me,” noted Birrell. He is also on the board of directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It’s a powerful voice for the defense bar. Minnesota has quite a tradition of working in it,” noted Birrell.

Birrell has handled appeals; most notably a case in the United States Supreme Court. “It was a case where we were asserting that the federal bribery statue was an unconstitutional exercise of the Congress’ spending clause power.” Ultimately the court found the law constitutional on other grounds, but “the entire experience was an amazingly interesting and challenging one,“ Birrell said.

Burden of Proof
The burden of proof can be daunting, but Birrell welcomes the challenge and the very different ways of looking at facts. “One of the other challenges that I’ve looked for in the law is to have cases where I had to build the case and I had to overcome the burden of proof. The civil plaintiff has to prove the case. When you’re the defendant you’re looking at what’s wrong with the case. When you’re prosecuting a case whether it’s a civil case or a criminal case, your orientation is what’s right with the case. It’s more of a legal building process,” stated the attorney.

Constructing a solid case is a challenge that Birrell embraces. “We have a lot of tools here at the firm. We use jury consultants and we have very skilled IT people and top notch investigators we use. We have some of the smartest young lawyers around. They’re amazing. My partners are very experienced trial lawyers who are very happy to tell you when you’re on the right track and happy to tell you when you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Although Birrell enjoys working either side of a case, most often he’s called upon to work the defense side of the table. He has tried and won jury trials in many different kinds of criminal cases in state and federal court. Most frequently he’s working on white-collar criminal cases, but he also handles business and commercial disputes, personal injury and civil rights matters.

Expertise to Serve a Variety of Clients
As a board–certified criminal law specialist, Birrell gets a special distinction not shared by many other lawyers. “I was first certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in 1989,” Birrell noted. Initially, he had to have letters and recommendation from others in the field, including judges. “Once you’re certified under the NBTA, you need to apply to get recertified every five years. That’s based on continuing to work in that area and keeping your nose clean,” Birrell said.

“The Minnesota State Bar Association certified criminal law specialist certification comes from the committee we developed and provides a way to be certified here in Minnesota. To become certified as a criminal law specialist you have to take and pass a written examination,” Birrell explained. “You have to have a certain number of trials, submit writing samples, examples of your work, transcripts of your direct and cross exams, you have to get references from a couple of judges and a couple of lawyers you have worked with, and a couple of lawyers on the other side. “It’s a long process, but a prestigious group that includes outstanding lawyers.

With such a lengthy career, Birrell has had some interesting cases. “I took a case from the federal defender panel where the defendant was being considered for the federal death penalty. We had to try to convince the attorney general’s people not to seek the death penalty. It was quite an interesting experience— very time consuming and nerve-wracking. Ultimately, we were able to persuade them not to do it,” Birrell stated.

“I represented a man who was riding a bicycle and was hit from behind. His head hit the windshield of the car and he lost his senses of taste and smell,” noted Birrell. “He also had lost some of his executive reasoning too. I tried that case in Hennepin County.”

That was the first personal injury case that he had tried and it resulted in a $1.8 million verdict for his client. “Throughout my career I’ve considered myself to be a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, but I like to try other things,” Birrell stated. “I’ve tried personal injury cases and I’ve won them. I tried and won a paternity jury trial. I tried and won a business jury trial. I’ve tried and won a case in tax court. I try to get into different cases.”

“I’ve represented lots of different types of people including doctors, police officers, lawyers and business people. You get to see every slice of life doing what I do,” Birrell explained. His expertise in criminal law is only one area where Birrell’s service to his clients shines. His determination and dedication create a solid foundation on which to build his cases for his clientele. “I like being a lawyer, it’s the greatest job you could ever have,” finished Birrell.

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