125 years and counting

Published 9:36 am Monday, November 5, 2012

The law office of Adams Rizzi Sween, which opened in 1887, is celebrating 125 years in business this month. Today the lawyers are Megan Burroughs, from left, Steve Rizzi, Dean Adams, Paul Sween, Michael Schatz and Adam Houck. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Adams Rizzi Sween law office celebrates past, looks to future

Being in business for a century and a quarter, the Adams Rizzi Sween law office is bound to have some stories.

Like the one firm partners Steve Rizzi and Paul Sween heard about one of the practice’s earliest lawyers, Samuel Doak Catherwood, playing poker with Hormel Foods Corp. founder George A. Hormel.

Catherwood, it turns out, became a close friend and legal council for George Hormel from his company’s inception in 1891 until the founder’s death in 1952, according to a 1987 article in the Herald. Catherwood, and the law office now known as Adams Rizzi Sween, even incorporated the meatpacking company.

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“The man who has been my legal counsel all my business life has earned his way many times over in the law suits he kept me out of,” George Hormel said, according to the 1987 Herald article.

The stories go on for Adams Rizzi Sween, which is celebrating 125 years in business this year with an open house from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14. To Rizzi and Sween, the longevity comes down to satisfied clients.

“For any business, you’ve got to have loyal clients who are satisfied with the service you’re providing, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing that provides us with our stability,” Rizzi said.

The firm, now at 300 First St. NW, is the longest-practicing in Austin, and Sween believes it’s one of only a handful in the state that old. The firm’s three partners, Rizzi, Sween and Dean Adams, have been there for a combined 92 years; Sween started in 1972, Rizzi began in 1983 and Adams joined in 1990. The firm also has three associates, Megan Burroughs, now a junior partner who started in 2006, Michael Schatz, who joined in 2010, and Adam Houck, who has been there for about a month.

Sween, who has been at the firm for 41 years, said the fact that the firm has been there three times as long as him shows its endurance.

“At a time when firms in cities are going by the wayside, to have a firm of that stability, being around for 125 years is pretty impressive,” he said.

The firm — started in 1887 by Nathan Kingsley and R.C. Shepherd, who relocated from Chatfield, Minn. — has had many distinguished lawyers over the years. Several went on to judgeships, including Kingsley, who was appointed judge for the Minnesota 10th Judicial District, and Glenn Kelley, who became a Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice.

“It’s been that caliber of attorneys here for a long time,” Rizzi said.

The firm has also had two printed cases — one in family law and another in personal injury — that Rizzi knows of.

Today, the firm runs the gamut of law, dealing particularly in business and corporate law, but also working in myriad areas like real estate, school law, estate planning, personal injury, family law, and especially for Sween, agriculture.

“Paul is the king of agriculture in southern Minnesota,” Rizzi said. “His background and farm following is second to none.”

The firm works with clients in Austin, Mower and surrounding counties, and throughout Minnesota.

So what adjective best describes the firm’s lawyers?

Hardworking, Rizzi and Sween agreed.

“But Paul works harder than he should,” Rizzi quipped. “He’s supposed to be slowing down, but he doesn’t know how.”

That dedication from the partners and the younger associates, Rizzi said, will keep the firm going for years to come.

“Our younger attorneys are going to grow and evolve,” he said. “And maybe years from now they’ll [be running the firm] talking about 150 years or 175 years.”

Adams Rizzi Sween open house

3-7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14