Law Firm of the Month Cousineau, Waldhauser & Kieselbach P.A.

James Waldhauser2

A Distinguished Legal Presence

By Haley Freeman

The law firm of Cousineau Waldhauser & Kieselbach P.A. continues a distinguished legacy of legal service in Minnesota that began nearly 70 years ago, and has endured from generation to generation. In 2016, Cousineau McGuire split its two successful practice groups into separate firms; the civil litigation group became Cousineau, Van Bergen, McNee & Malone P.A., and the workers’ compensation group became Cousineau Waldhauser Kieselbach P.A. Each firm retained the Cousineau name in honor of their shared heritage.

Named partner Jim Waldhauser’s own legal heritage is closely entwined with that of the firm. After completing an internship with then-Senator Walter Mondale, Waldhauser was accepted to William Mitchell College of Law. During law school, he worked at the Department of Labor and industry worker’s compensation division, paving the way for his lifetime practice in employment law. He was invited to join Cousineau, McGuire & Anderson nearly 40 years ago, and during his tenure he has reinforced the firm’s reputation as one of the preeminent workers’ compensation firms in the region.

Today, the firm is made up of 17 attorneys who are diverse in age and years of experience, all of whom provide the highest caliber of representation in workers’ compensation matters. Among the firm’s many attorneys with more than 20 years of experience in this area of law are Thomas Kieselbach, John Thul, Mark Kleinschmidt, Richard Schmidt, Thomas Coleman and Craig Larsen. Each conveys the insight and leadership that accompany decades in the practice. Attorneys with fewer years of experience, like Michael Johnson, Zachary Chalgren, Joseph Klemann and Parker Olson, bring a fresh outlook and vibrancy to the firm. Together, they serve a wide and varied contingent of clients spanning employers, insurance companies, third-party administrators and public entities. Its client list includes such notable names as the Minnesota Vikings, the Minnesota Wild, Target, WalMart, SFM Companies, Berkley Risk, Gallagher Bassett, Sedgwick, the Metropolitan Council, and the state of Minnesota, to name a few.

The firm’s award-winning lawyers are also diverse in gender. More than a third are women, and three are shareholders. Among them are shareholders Lisa Kinney, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Whitney Teel, officer Natalie Lund, and associates Elizabeth Cox and Emily Johnson. Kinney is also the firm’s sole attorney directing its Ironwood, Michigan office. These women lawyers contribute a diversity of perspective that enhances the firm’s ability to deliver innovative client solutions. “We’ve been very proactive in hiring female attorneys,” Waldhauser said, “and they’re all doing great work. In fact, our previous firm had a female president from 1998 to 2000, one of the first women attorneys in the state to hold the position in a firm of that size. We’re proud of our legacy of inclusion. This is especially important in our practice area, since many insurance adjustors are women, and it helps us relate more personally to the people we work with every day.”

In 2016, Waldhauser and attorney Natalie Lund won a striking victory before the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court’s decision in Ryan v. Potlach changes the law with respect to the closure of future consequential injuries in a stipulation for settlement. Waldhauser commented, “Natalie had the opportunity to argue orally, and she was well-prepared and did a great job. We got a significant reversal of what the courts had been holding prior.”

This win is not only an example of the firm’s consummate legal prowess, but also its culture of cultivating diverse legal talent. “After I passed the Bar in 1978, I was in court from day one and trying cases on day two. The practice of law has changed to become more mediation and arbitration-oriented, with less courtroom activity. With our younger attorneys, we try to get them to attend pretrial and settlement conferences, and let them take discovery and depositions to get experience in that fashion.”

Committed to providing first quality legal representation while taking into consideration each client’s bottom line, the firm also utilizes younger associates to handle less complex matters and keep billing to a minimum.

The firm’s proactive approach to workers’ compensation law is another hallmark of its outstanding client representation. Rather than wait for problems to arise, the firm makes a practice of keeping clients up-to-date about changes in the law and best practices for avoiding litigation while keeping attorneys in tune with changes or concerns inside a client’s organization by offering periodic seminar training and client consultations. When problems do arise, the firm is then poised to achieve the swiftest and most favorable resolution, whether it involves a skillfully negotiated settlement agreement or strategically crafted litigation.

A living example of the value of this approach is Waldhauser’s representation of the Minnesota Vikings, whose unique business environment requires constant vigilance to manage liability, cost and the well-being of its players. “Working with an NFL team has taken an interesting turn in recent years with issues involving concussions and head injuries coming to the forefront. The league is doing quite a bit to make the game safer by developing better equipment and even changing some of the rules. But it’s still a very violent sport, and guys get hurt.”

He continued, “It’s interesting from a legal standpoint, since we’re dealing with income and contracts that are not the norm for a workers’ compensation case. The law is not carved out to deal with exceptionally high-income cases and the exposure to liability we face. Insurance companies aren’t willing to write policies for a professional sports team without large concessions from the employer. It’s a very costly item on their bottom line. At the same time, we want to treat injured players and properly get them the care they need. The Vikings do a fantastic job of taking care of these guys when they get hurt. We have more than annual meetings about these cases and how a player is doing. We stay very involved in the process, even in cases not in litigation. This is the sort of roundtable discussion we have with any number of our clients on a quarterly, biannual or annual basis to minimize loss while making sure employees are getting the proper treatment.”

The firm’s long-standing reputation for exceptional legal representation at a fair price continues unabated under the banner of Cousineau Waldhauser & Kieselbach P.A. It remains an integral part of the business community, a forward- thinking legal presence, and a contributor to numerous causes that make Minnesota a better place to live and work.