John Koneck would like to be busting heads as a pro football player. “I’m competitive by nature,” says Koneck, 52. “But if you take a look at me, you’ll see why I couldn’t have done that.” Lacking the mesomorphic physique of a professional athlete, he became a real estate and bankruptcy attorney instead. And he’s darn good at it –– he’s the second top vote-getting Minnesota Super Lawyer.
Koneck’s biography on the Fredrikson & Byron Web site is so long, one risks carpal tunnel injury scrolling down the list of his accolades. He’s president of the firm. He’s on the executive committee and board of directors. He’s shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron’s Real Estate Development and Finance client service group. And he does a lot of pro bono work—most notably he represented Dobie Gillis Williams during post-conviction hearings in the famous Louisiana death sentence case. “When I retire from this law firm,” he says, “I hope I live long enough to do pro bono work full-time.”
Today most of his clients are real estate entrepreneurs, and his skills are in demand from as far away as England, Spain and Italy. He deals with commercial and industrial sales and acquisitions, brokerage agreements, franchising, mortgages and foreclosures, and eminent domain.
Koneck began practicing law in 1978, when Congress passed bankruptcy and tax reform acts. The high interest rates of the Carter and Reagan administrations meant opportunity for lawyers who represented real estate developers or lenders. “You learned to do workouts or related bankruptcy work, or you didn’t have a lot to do,” Koneck says.
As a kid, he watched The Defenders and was inspired by the legal skills of Lawrence Preston as portrayed by E.G. Marshall. Nevertheless, he was planning to pursue social work when he left North Dakota State University with degrees in sociology and political science, but one of his professors encouraged him to take the LSAT. He scored “real well,” and he began a life filled with Latin words and litigation. “I was born to be a real estate lawyer,” he says.
And he’s OK with the fact that he never made it to the NFL. “The best indicator of whether someone likes their job is how fast the day goes by,” he says. “I blink once or twice, and it’s seven o’clock.”