Attorney of the Month Donald R. McNeil

Ronald McNeil

A Champion of Justice

By Haley Freeman


In his professional realm, Donald R. McNeil is a leading light in the Minnesota legal community and managing partner at the business and commercial litigation firm, Heley, Duncan & Melander, PLLP. In his personal sphere, he is a husband, father and resounding voice for vulnerable children and adults.

McNeil grew up in the Nicollet County seat of St. Peter, Minnesota, where a splendid Victorian courthouse presides over downtown. He distinguished himself as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College and then at Hamline University School of Law, where he was the managing editor of the Law Review and graduated third in his class with high honors.

McNeil began his legal career serving as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Mary Jeanne Coyne of the Minnesota Supreme Court before going on to practice with the notable firm of Popham, Haik, Schnobrich & Kaufman, Ltd., P.A. “It was quite an experience to work for such a large, international firm, and I’m proud of that background. Through my colleagues there, I developed a network of hundreds of attorneys. When the firm dissolved in the late ’90s, it was a blessing for me to segue to a smaller firm and receive business litigation referrals from my former colleagues.”

In his good-natured way, McNeil describes his colleagues at Heley Duncan as “a very collegial group. Many of our attorneys have come from larger firms to this smaller setting. We have a fun-loving group here and a collaborative work environment. We operate by tribal council; a partnership vote is almost always unanimous. If somebody feels strongly against an issue, we drop it. My role here as managing partner is to find out what others want to do.”

McNeil’s distinguished practice record over nearly a quarter century includes representation in a broad array of business matters, representation before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA, previously NASD) and the presentation of seven significant cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court. One of these, Watson v. MTC, resulted in a landmark governmental immunities decision in 1996.

“Upon coming to Heley Duncan, I switched from representing large corporations and broker-dealers to smaller companies and individuals. Our firm generally represents companies with revenue less than $75 million per year, from small retail entities owned by a family to large businesses that have grown to be very successful companies. We handle corporate formation, employment matters, real estate matters, buy-sell agreements and business litigation. My focus tends to be on financial services, representing financial advisors in their employment disputes with broker-dealers or within their own partnerships. I also assist with shareholder and business disputes and resolution of noncompete and non-solicitation disputes.”

McNeil also has the tenacity and compassion to act as a champion for vulnerable individuals. He is especially alert to cases involving the disabled and elderly. “I pick up cases mostly as referrals from good financial advisors who see something suspicious being done on an account and ask me to have a look at it. The disabled and elderly are often taken advantage of and need someone to protect them from financial fraud.”

McNeil is also known for bringing ingenuity to his work as a mediator and arbitrator. “I always recommend mediation before going to arbitration or trial, with a limited number of exceptions, and you will find that judges in the Twin Cities require it. I think I’m known for being a straight shooter. When I get a hold of a matter, I like to get on the phone with people right away to try to resolve it. I’ve seen so many clients with litigation fatigue. They start out all emotionally fired up, but it takes about six months, and they start looking for a way out. That is a good time for mediation.”

McNeil regularly appears before FINRA, where he represents customers, as well as registered representatives in employment and regulatory matters. He is a recognized authority on matters pertaining to securities arbitration.

McNeil is a former 400-meter track athlete who likes to say “the older he gets, the faster he was.” His son, Evan, shares his father’s passion for running. He is a student at Carleton College where he is a decathlete who shattered the Carleton pole vault record in February of this year. “Running is a lifetime sport, and I’m the number one fan of my son’s college team.”

McNeil also enjoys running with his colleagues at work. “Some of us run together over the noon hour. Our office is located in a 24-story tower overlooking Normandale Lake where we are surrounded by trails. Sometimes a run around the office turns into a partnership meeting, and we have clients in the building who go out with us too. It’s been a great way to develop relationships.”

McNeil’s family consists of his wife, Julie, and their three children: Megan, Evan and Ethan. Megan is 26 years old and was born with Williams syndrome. Ethan is 18 and has classic autism. The McNeils care for their disabled children at home and are dedicated to helping all of their children reach their greatest potential. “My wife, Julie, is a superstar. She gives our children the best possible life. Our children each make strides in their own way, and we are proud of what they are able to do.”

Though sleep is a limited commodity at his house, McNeil is passionate about giving his time and expertise to improving the lives of people with disabilities. “Advocating for children with disabilities is not always popular, but it is the right thing to do. Minnesota has more to offer families who are caring for the disabled, in part due to the work of advocacy groups who are well-organized here.”

In addition to his participation in state and national taskforces to improve education, housing and social resources available to people with disabilities, McNeil is a long-time supporter of the PACER Center. “PACER is a national parent support center based in Minneapolis. We like to call ourselves champions for children with disabilities. Typically, we are the first phone call for parents when a child is born with a disability and provide many free resources and a network of information and support.”

PACER is a place where families can find assistance with issues including health care advocacy and special education laws. The center has a tech center where families can take assistive devices out on loan and test them before buying them. The center is also credited with starting the national bullying prevention movement, springing from the fact that disabled kids are two to three times more likely to become victims of bullying.

PACER’s executive director, Paula Goldberg, expressed her appreciation for McNeil’s support, “Don is a wonderful spokesperson for PACER and always upbeat and generous with his time. He’s done so much work pro bono – reviewing contracts, helping on our board and working with the corporate sponsor committee, to name a few. His optimism defines him. He is one of the most fantastic people I know.”

“One of my life principles is to surround myself with good people,” McNeil said. “When you keep good people around you, good things happen.”


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