2020 HCBA Excellence Award Winners

The Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) recognizes eight attorney members with its 2020 HCBA Excellence Awards. The awards honor members for their service to the local legal profession, the community, and the association. The HCBA selected eight members for their work from among six different categories. These members will be recognized in the July issue of the Hennepin Lawyer. The awards will be distributed during a member event during the 2020-2021 Bar Year.

Evan Berquist (Cozen O’Connor) for Providing Pro Bono Service: Berquist hasPIC - THL - Berquist SQUARE dedicated significant time to pro bono efforts involving technology education for disadvantaged youth in Minnesota and East Africa. He also won a federal court case that allowed First Lutheran Church to keep operating a shelter for individuals who are homeless.

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?
My dad often says: “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.” He got that from watching the Minnesota Twins and their former manager, Tom Kelly. Apparently, this was one of Kelly’s favorite sayings. I find this perspective helpful in my own life too. Everyone has their ups and downs. I try not to dwell too much on the past or the future, and just focus on how I show up each day.

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?
My clients inspire me.  Just meeting people and hearing their stories. Through pro bono and volunteer work, I’ve gotten to build relationships with some truly remarkable people. I learn so much from my clients.  They give me hope.   Most of my pro bono clients are very service-oriented.  They dedicate their lives to helping others, wherever they’re at.  There’s a multiplier effect in working for that kind of client.  Whatever assistance you give them, they pay it forward tenfold in the work they do for the community.     

What’s one “big idea” for the local legal community you’d love to see take hold?
I would love to see more attention paid to the 100 million (annual) legal problems in this country that never receive any attention ever from a legal professional of any kind.  Specifically, legal problems involving basic needs: things like landlord-tenant disputes, access to benefits, custody and divorce matters, etc.  If these really are “access to justice” problems (and I think they are), then we need some big and bold thinking about how to address them.  Tinkering around the edges just won’t work.
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Rachel Hughey (Merchant & Gould) for Mentoring in the Profession. Hughey has beenPIC - THL - Hughey a steadfast advocate for advancing women in the profession through mentoring, board service, and inviting newer attorneys to take part in meaningful work.

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?

As a law student, I had the incredible fortune of externing for Chief Judge James Rosenbaum of the District of Minnesota. That experience had a profound impact on me and my career, including motivating me to clerk for Federal Circuit Judge Alvin A. Schall after law school—another extraordinary experience. I have continued to learn so much from Judge Rosenbaum over the years, and he has given me a lot of excellent legal/life advice. Something he told me that I remind myself of often is, and I'm paraphrasing, “You can only do your best.”

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.

I recently worked with a team of newer attorneys on a pro bono immigration case, representing a family from El Salvador in their asylum matter. I supervised three associates over many months as we prepared the case and presented it before the immigration judge. Two of the associates had never presented evidence at an evidentiary hearing, but all three of them did a masterful job and we ended up winning the case and securing our client and her children's safety. I felt so proud of the amazing work my team did, and it was so wonderful to be able to achieve justice for our client and her family, who would otherwise have been sent to their deaths. I think that will be a hard moment to top in my career.

What made you want to become a lawyer?

I come from a family of engineers. Both my grandfathers were engineers, and my mother is an engineer. So, from the time I was little, that was my expected path. When I entered high school, I realized I really liked to read, write, and debate, so I made the decision at that point to do both science and law as a patent lawyer. I never looked back.

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Kathryn Johnson & Kirsten Schubert (Dorsey & Whitney) for Providing Pro Bono Service: Johnson and Schubert are pro bono leaders at their firm. They devoted nearly a decade of work to overturning the death sentence of a man, Bruce Webster, with an intellectual disability who was wrongly put on death row.

Kirsten Schubert

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?

Don't doubt yourself.PIC - THL - Schubert

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?

My partner Steve Wells brought me into the Webster case when Dorsey was first retained. He has said from the beginning that people who push back on injustice will eventually prevail. This principle has driven me to push through each loss (and we've had many) and remain focused on our ultimate goal—to free an intellectually disabled man from death row. In every aspect of my practice, he has driven me to look for creative answers, craft novel arguments, and to find each client's compelling story.

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.

We were sitting in the Seventh Circuit ceremonial courtroom, waiting to begin our en banc argument in the Webster matter. I was a senior associate, and when I looked around at the 15-foot tall portraits of all of the judges who have served on the Seventh Circuit, I realized that I was in a special moment that few people experience: we were about to argue to a panel of 11 judges for the adoption of a new, precedent-setting rule which would allow our client to test the constitutionality of his death sentence, after 20 years on death row. Winning the appeal changed the life of my client, but that moment in the courtroom changed my life as a lawyer.

Kathryn Johnson

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, orPIC - THL - Johnson loved one?

A mentor has frequently reminded me that we are people first. It is a reminder to take care of myself - my physical, mental, and emotional needs - but also a reminder to consider the human motivations of witnesses and factfinders as I seek to persuade.

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?

"Not if - when" is something one pro bono client always tells us when we discuss the trajectory of the case. This perpetual hope and faith—in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers—is a constant source of inspiration. It is a reminder to remain hopeful, get creative, and never give up on a righteous cause.

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.

I will never forget the feeling of telling our client that, after more than 10 years of litigation and more than 25 years on death row, his death sentence was overturned by the court. Until that moment, I understood intellectually what we were trying to accomplish, and passionately believed in the importance of our work. That moment made clear the human impact of the work we do, and the importance of remembering that and seeking opportunities to use the skills and immense resources at my disposal to make a real difference.

What made you want to become a lawyer?

I decided I wanted to be a lawyer while sitting on a criminal jury in college. The process of serving as the factfinder in a criminal proceeding was eye-opening, but the piece that stuck with me was how the attorneys framed their cases and presented the evidence, and the way their arguments framed—or didn't frame—our deliberations. I knew I wanted to do that.

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Luke Grundman (Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid) for Improving Access to Justice. Grundman has been instrumental in growing the work of MMLA’s Minneapolis HousingPIC - THL - Grundman Unit and increasing representation for low-income clients in housing matters.

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?

Put a picture of your loved one next to the brief you're writing, or tuck one into your notebook before trial. It will remind you, when you need it most, why you're working so hard.

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.

My client brought me five neckties after a successful outcome in a long, drawn-out case to save her home and prevent her homelessness. She said that all the others I wore during the course of her case were covered with pizza sauce and coffee stains.

What made you want to become a lawyer?

I want to make the world a little more just. Our judicial system expects parties to have lawyers; it creates uncountable roadblocks for those who do not. But when people face profound, life-altering events—the loss of their homes, their children, their rights to be in this country, their freedom from violence and fear--they are left to deal with the judicial process alone. To them, in those moments, courthouses are threatening, scary places. But they're not scary to me. I owe the privileges I've received to do everything I can, spend every moment I can, to make things better for them.

What’s one “big idea” for the local legal community you’d love to see take hold?

Civil Gideon—the right to counsel—at least when it comes to major, life-altering events: The loss of children in custody disputes, immigration deportation, the loss of homes in evictions, and lawyers to help break abusive relationships. All these require complicated legal proceedings. But most parties lack lawyers. Judges and everyone else will benefit if we provide them. Taxpayers will save money; lives will be protected.
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Satveer Chaudhary (Chaudhary Law Office) for Mentoring in the Profession.PIC - THL - Chaudhary Chaudhary is a dedicated mentor to new attorneys through involvement with community groups, bar association activities, and job shadowing.

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?       

I am grateful for every piece of advice received from colleagues, mentors, friends, and loved ones. It all has shaped who I am. But one standout is from Bob Burg and John Mann in The Go-Giver, "Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment."

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?              
Legal Aid lawyers and Public Defenders. I feel small every time I watch them work. Handling a pro bono case is the very least I can do compared their sacrifices.

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.              
A client once said, "I never even realized I deserved justice until you helped me."

What made you want to become a lawyer?  

I wrote this in my law school application and am gratified it still applies today, "I want the tools to operate within society, and learn to how to use them, so I can bring justice to those who need it."

What’s one “big idea” for the local legal community you’d love to see take hold?        To be a good mentor, one must have a mentor. I'm so lucky to have had mentors who've guided me through thick and thin. Because they themselves want no renumeration, I can only repay my mentors by passing on what I've learned.
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Cheri Templeman (Templeman Law) for Improving Access to Justice. Templeman hasPIC - THL - Templeman provided numerous hours of legal services to persons civilly committed at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

What is one piece of cherished advice you have received from a colleague, mentor, or loved one?

My grandfather moved to the United States as a young man and worked as an engineer. He was kind, open-minded, and showed compassion to all. His advice was to have a positive attitude and to not judge others—advice I have taken to heart and that has served me well throughout my career—both as a nurse and a lawyer.

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?

My inspiration for pro bono work dates back to my days as a law student at William Mitchell, where Professor Eric Janus accepted me into their Law and Psychiatry Clinic. This clinic uses a team model of medical and legal professionals to provide free forensic psychiatric and psychological examinations to civilly committed persons. This experience was life-changing for me and inspired me to join the civil commitment Resident Advisory Committee. This committee worked to address issues involving indefinite commitment. Here I learned several civilly committed persons had never filed a petition for a reduction-in-custody hearing—the process that evaluates whether the client can be moved to a lesser restrictive environment or discharged entirely. The petition also triggers the process for client risk assessments and evaluations. I started my pro bono work by filing these petitions for clients and helping them to understand the process. I continue my pro bono work with civilly committed clients; last year alone I provided over 100 hours of pro bono legal services to clients in need.

What’s one “big idea” for the local legal community you’d love to see take hold?

I’d like to see that children and young adults receive increased access to needed mental health assessments, services and monitoring so issues can be addressed and treated before they become overwhelming. Hopefully this will result in fewer criminal and civil commitment cases.

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Allison Plunkett (Henson & Efron) for Serving the Association/Foundation. Plunkett has created connections in the HCBA through running the summer softball league and serving on the HCBF Golf Classic Committee.

Who (or what) inspires you in your pro-bono or volunteer work?PIC - THL - Plunkett

My father, Pat Plunkett. My father is also an attorney and has always been very generous with his time. For years, he has dedicated his time and helped various and diverse communities, including churches, schools, nonprofit organizations, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. He has instilled in me the value of giving back to your communities. Volunteering has allowed me to meet many people with unique backgrounds and stories to share and I have found the local impact very rewarding.

Share one meaningful moment that you have experienced over the course of your career.

I recently received a handwritten thank you card from a client. It is meaningful when someone makes the extra effort to let you know that they appreciated and found value in your guidance.

What made you want to become a lawyer?

I enjoy solving problems in diverse fields of business. In my undergraduate history and economics classes, I was intrigued by business strategy and drawing on past events to learn and predict patterns. It is interesting to use history and previous experiences as tools to assist in solving today’s challenges. Working with diverse clients and industries brings new insight and never makes my practice monotonous.

What’s one “big idea” for the local legal community you’d love to see take hold?

I would love to see a “Lawyer and Judges” weekend softball tournament with the proceeds going to the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. The Hennepin County Bar Association softball league has grown from 13 teams in 2016 to 20 teams in 2019 and consists of teams comprised of law firms in both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties and the local law schools. It has been fun to meet other attorneys outside of work in a spirited and relaxing way.