New hire puts Ballard Spahr in Minnesota public finance mix

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Bond lawyer Benjamin Johnson has joined Ballard Spahr LLP’s Minneapolis office, establishing an on-the-ground Twin Cities public finance presence for the firm.

Johnson started at the firm last week as a partner. He spent the last four-and-a-half years at Barnes & Thornburg LLP where he was co-chair of the charter school and school innovation practice. He spent 12 years previously at Kennedy & Graven.

Johnson is a generalist with experience on general obligation, revenue and tax-increment financings who does work as both bond counsel and underwriters’ counsel for local government, schools, senior living facilities and on affordable housing transactions. His focus has been on transactions in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas.

"We are delighted that Ben is bringing his considerable skill and reputation for strategic problem-solving to Ballard Spahr," Emilie Ninan, chair of the firm’s public finance department, said in a statement. “He will play a key part in our service to clients in the Midwest and throughout the country."

The Philadelphia-based firm has a national business with about 650 lawyers, including 50 public finance attorneys in 12 of its 15 offices. Johnson’s hiring follows previously announced additions in New York, Denver, and Washington, D.C.

Ballard ranked eighth last year nationally on bond counsel work, credited by Thomson Reuters with 98 issues valued at $6.3 billion. It ranked 13th among underwriter’s counsel on 76 issues valued at $4.2 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. It did not rank in the top 10 among Midwestern bond counsel league tables.

The firm’s Minneapolis presence was established after its merger with Lindquist & Vennum LLP which was announced in 2017 and closed in early 2018. The merger extended Ballard's physical presence to Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, South Dakota and expanded its Denver office.

The Minneapolis office is Ballard’s second largest now but Lindquist had just one attorney there that did some limited public finance work and she retired after the merger. Johnson’s hiring establishes what the firm considers its first full-time physical public finance presence there.

Johnson called Barnes a great firm and said he was content in his position there but Ballard offered the opportunity to expand the depth of his practice given its more expansive base, range of experience, and tax expertise. “

Ballard does more of the work” in the areas he specializes in, so “that was attractive and made it a good fit,” Johnson said in an interview.

Johnson said he will work with firm leaders to broaden the firm’s bond counsel work and is looking to add to the public finance team locally.

“We will be looking to add but in a deliberative way in Minnesota,” Johnson said.

The firm last year hired Mark Norell and David Fernandez in New York with the goal of expanding its municipal client base in the New York region. And last spring, Vicky Tsilas rejoined the Washington office for the fourth time after three stints at the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department.

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Career moves Bond counsel Ballard Spahr Minnesota