Inside View: We've Been Everywhere, Man

If we could have a theme song for this bar term, it would be Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere because the HCBA and I have been everywhere, man, this year.

The theme of my presidency has been “Championing the Profession, Championing the Community.” It has been my goal this year as president to remind us all of the HCBA’s roots and to challenge people to stretch their imaginations and to realize that sponsors and champions—the ones you may think of as advancing your career and providing you with opportunities—do not only have to be individuals. The HCBA, as an organization, can be a champion. And indeed, the HCBA was created for this very purpose. That is why I challenged all of us to commit to being a champion of someone else in our community. So what did we do this year to meet that challenge? We focused our attention on diverse attorneys, newer attorneys, and attorneys who have been practicing 7 to 15 years.

Diversity & Inclusion
Turning to diverse attorneys –
• We were at galas for the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association.

• We attended the Celebration Honoring Minnesota’s Asian-American judges, in partnership with MNAPABA and the Minnesota Hmong American Bar Association.

• We attended the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association’s Annual Indian Law Conference.

• We attended and spoke at the National Association of Women Lawyers Annual Conference.

• We were well-represented at the MSBA’s annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference, where HCBA bar leaders (such as myself and Esteban Rivera) spoke on the topics of toxic resiliency and increasing the diversity pipeline of our future attorneys.

• We partnered with the Fourth Judicial District to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Racial Bias in the Courts Task Force Report.

Aside from attending and sponsoring events, we also reviewed some of our policies and governing documents to make sure they reflect the HCBA’s mission of advancing diversity and inclusion.

For example –
• We instituted a subcommittee to evaluate our current bylaws to see if we can improve our governance process in order to allow more affinity bars to have a voice on our board given the growing number of affinity bars in Minnesota.

• We have a new rapid response policy to help us decide when and how to weigh in on issues of the day more effectively and to make the HCBA’s public advocacy decision-making process more transparent to our members and the public.

• We have a new governance tool to help us recruit and retain a board of directors that reflects the diverse characteristics of our membership, in age, gender, race, years of practice, and practice settings.

• And this summer, I will be speaking with the MSBA’s Counsel to see if the HCBA can have a seat on the MSBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, which should help the associations collaborate more on D&I issues that affect all of our members, instead of trying to tackle these issues alone.

And of course, we have had our A Table for 10™ events this year. I am so incredibly proud of this presidential initiative that was designed to address the “I” of D&I: inclusion. These meals, held over breakfast, lunch or dinner, allowed ten HCBA members at a time to connect at minority-owned restaurants with no agenda, other than to get to know each other and have a nice meal. Simply put, we worked to break down barriers, one meal at a time.

The first A Table for 10™ was on Wednesday, January 30—many of you may remember that day because it was part of the Polar Vortex. Several offices, including my own, were closed that day, and parking meters were nonfunctioning because of this historic cold. Josh Franklin, Ben Gisselman, Isabelle Chammas, and Judge Bill Koch were the brave souls who joined me that day.

Since the first meal, our tables have been full. We have had representatives from diverse and non-diverse attorneys alike and have had participation from each of our affinity bars. We have had newer attorneys, vintage attorneys, law students, judges, big law attorneys, government attorneys, and solo and small firm practitioners. This is exactly what I had envisioned. Thank you to them and thank you to everyone who has supported A Table for 10.™

Newer Attorneys
Turning to newer attorneys, the HCBA has a very strong and impressive New Lawyers Section (led by Stephanie Willing this year) with over 3000 attorney and law student members. The newer attorney voice is well represented on our board, executive committee, Finance and Planning Committee, Bylaws subcommittee, A Table for 10™, Law Firm Leadership, Attorney Wellness and Well-being Task Force, among other sections, committees, programs, and initiatives. And while we encourage newer attorneys to participate at all levels of the HCBA, they need our continued support. The HCBA officers and sections continue our outreach to newer attorneys through programming. Brandon Vaughn, Esteban and I spoke at the New Lawyer Experience Program in partnership with MNCLE in January. Sections are encouraged to organize at least one CLE a year focused on issues affecting newer attorneys.

And this year, I required the HCBA’s officers, including myself, to attend at least two of the New Lawyers Sections meetings a year. This was a small change, with a large impact. It is important that newer attorneys know that we value their contributions, we value their voice, we want them to have a seat at the table and climb up the HCBA’s leadership ladder. By showing up and attending the New Lawyers Section meetings, the officers and I have in turn learned so much from these emerging leaders.

Attorneys with 7 to 15 Years of Experience
And for our last group of attorneys, those who have been practicing 7 to 15 years, the HCBA has regularly focused on newer lawyers and those we call “vintage” or “seasoned” lawyers, but not a lot of attention has been paid to those who fall in the gap. This year, the HCBA has taken a more focused, career-staged approach to member programming. For example, the HCBA currently offers an assortment of soft skills programming. Several sections have also moved the start time of their programs to accommodate the schedules of attorneys who have childcare obligations or other after-work commitments typical of those who have been practicing 7 to 15 years.

Attorney Wellness & Wellbeing
With these three initiatives underway, you may think that the HCBA’s work was complete for the year. But, not true. On February 28, I had the distinct honor to attend the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Summit on Attorney Wellness and Well-being, which was a call to action to stakeholders in the legal profession across the state to discuss ways to improve and promote attorney well-being and mental health. The numbers do not lie. As a profession, attorneys experience depression, alcohol-use problems, anxiety, chronic stress, divorce, suicide, and suicide ideation at significantly higher rates than the general public. The numbers for law students fare no better.

It is about time that we end the stigma and get comfortable talking about mental health. Mental health is a diversity and inclusion issue. Mental health is pervasive. Mental health affects all of us. And I’m proud to say that the HCBA is answering the Supreme Court’s call-to-action with a two-prong approach (one immediate, the other long term), which I detailed in the March/April issue of the Hennepin Lawyer.

As you can see, we have been here, we have been there, we have been everywhere, man. With that, I leave you with these words from Plato, “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” With Jeff Baill, Esteban Rivera, Brandon Vaughn, Landon Ascheman, and Dan Willing, we have an outstanding upcoming leadership team who understands that our work is not done. Let us channel the HCBA’s roots, let us champion others, let us serve our community, let us commit to increasing access to justice, let us do good, and let us inspire good actions in others. Thank you for letting me serve you. Here’s to another 100 years!

Adine S. MomohAdineMomoh
2018-2019 HCBA President

Ms. Momoh is a partner in the Minneapolis office
of Stinson Leonard Street where she represents
clients in matters involving banking litigation,
estates and trusts litigation and creditors’ rights
and bankruptcy before state and federal courts
across the country. As a trusted advisor, she
helps clients navigate the entire lifecycle of a
case, from case development and strategy, to
discovery, to motion practice, to trial, to appeal.
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