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Minn. law firm at center of massive new bank settlement

After years of litigation, a Minneapolis law firm has the nation’s biggest banks crying uncle.

In what might be the largest antitrust class-action settlement in U.S. history, Visa, MasterCard and 13 of the country’s leading banks have agreed to pay $7.25 billion to settle claims made by 7 million retailers that the banks fixed the prices that they charge to retailers on credit card transactions, the Star Tribune reports.

The law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., with offices in Minneapolis, filed the case in 2005. A U.S. district court appointed the firm, along with two other law firms, to represent the class in the case.

The deal, filed Friday in New York, comes after weeks of intense negotiations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Star Tribune reports.

“I am so tired,” K. Craig Wildfang, the Minneapolis lawyer who led the case for the plaintiffs, said in an interview with the newspaper. “It’s been just a grueling month of negotiating.”

In the New York Times, Wildfang called the victory “historic.”

The reforms achieved in the case will shift a competitive balance from the banks to merchants and consumers, Wildfang said in a press release about the record settlement.

“Over time, the reforms induced by this case and in this settlement should help reduce card-acceptance costs to merchants, which in turn, will result in lower prices for all consumers,” he said.

But the jury is very much out on that point – consumers could now end up paying more. The deal would also let retailers add fees for credit card purchases, Reuters notes. So it could potentially raise prices for some goods and services for consumers who prefer using cards to cash and checks, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The 250-lawyer Robins Kaplan, with six U.S. offices, claims to be one of the top trial firms in the country, with clients that include numerous Fortune 500 corporations.

Here’s how the story played on the NBC Nightly News:

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