Industry Watch

David Friedman (left) and Blake Iverson

An artistic bent

If the evolution of law firm Friedman Iverson has been a bit unorthodox, that's OK — so are many of its clients

"We didn't open this business just to follow some roadmap that somebody else designed," David Friedman says from the conference room in the Northeast Minneapolis office he shares with his law partner, Blake Iverson.

Atypical attorneys who eschew ties and sometimes wear shorts to the office, Friedman and Iverson are two of the Twin Cities' most relatableand enterprisingesquires.

Their "bromance" began at Bar Review, a weekly law school drinking ritual at the University of Minnesota, where Friedman was found chatting up a classmate Iverson had taken "a shine to." Words were exchanged, Iverson got the girl, and the guys discovered they had similar tastes in music. Friedman and Iverson later became bandmates, roommates, and wingmen for one another.

After graduation, Friedman relocated to New York, while Iverson stayed in the Twin Cities to start Iverson Law Group (the "group" consisted of Iverson and his two cats). Using contacts from his former stints as a musician and writer, Iverson focused on entertainment law. There was one hitch with representing artists, however.

"I slowly discovered that those people didn't have any money," Iverson says. "You either need to help a lot of them, or you need to have some of them who have some money to balance out the ones who didn't."

By 2009, Iverson had lured Friedman back to Minneapolis. Armed with nothing but their law degrees and laptops, the two rented an 11-by-11 office furnished with an $8 table from Ikea's cafeteria. Managing bankruptcy cases kept the lights on. "Dave and I would meet clients together because we didn't have anything else to do," Iverson explains. "Dave would do the hard-core bankruptcy work, and I would charm people."

The two-for-one approach worked, but Iverson didn't feel fulfilled. Representing artists was his calling. "We started identifying the kinds of businesses that fit within the description of creative businesses," Friedman says. "Businesses that came out of the Kickstarter age."

Dubbing himself the "Broadway Danny Rose of the law business," Iverson pursued advertising and design agencies, restaurants, food trucks, and breweries. Demand for legal services grew, and this summer the firm Friedman Iverson moved from its Uptown office to an industrial-chic space adjacent to the Red Stag. Recently the firm also brought attorneys Betsy Butwin and Todd Murray on board, plus four support staff. The crew handles everything from wills and trusts to auto fraud, debt collection defense, foreclosure prevention, and intellectual property cases in addition to small business, entertainment, and consumer cases.

One of the primary concerns Friedman and Iverson address in their practice are contracts. "There is a major disparity in power between anyone offering a contract and the recipient of that contract," Iverson explains. "Companies will exploit that power inequality. So [the artists] will agree to things they would never agree to if they knew what they meant."

"If you write contracts that are in legalese, 10 pages of nine-point type, nobody's going to understand what's in there and you're bound to run into conflicts later," Friedman says. "But when you're writing a contract in a way where each party knows their rights and responsibilities up front, you're going to have a good business relationship."

Coherent contracts are crucial given how many business owners are working with their friends these days. "The best ideas are a couple of guys, a couple of girls, in a garage, coming up with some genius innovation," Iverson says. "When an idea you have when you have don't have two nickels to rub together turns into something that's worth a million dollars, people get a little more territorial. All of sudden you're doing 90 percent of the work but giving up half of the money."

Operating under the adage that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Friedman and Iverson prefer to help clients at the front-end of such arrangements. "Undoing bad deals is probably the most lucrative thing we doand the one we dislike the most," Iverson says.

Community is a cornerstone of the firm's business practices, a philosophy salient in their open-to-the-public parties, their office-cum-art-gallery, and the promotion of innovative creative endeavors on their Twitter feed. "We are engrossed in this world," Friedman says of the artistic hotbed that is the Twin Cities. "It's something that's part of our daily lives and it's a language that we speak fluently."

Given the firm's rapid expansion, Friedman and Iverson's unorthodox approach appears to meet a need in this niche customer base. "What resonates with people is that we're honest, that we don't pretend to be into things we're not into, and that we don't front," Iverson says.

As for the creative energy these two used to expend onstage? It's now funneled into building their brandthough Iverson insists, "I'll play guitar with anyone who asks."