New Lawyers Section Report: A Look Back at 2019-2020 and a Look Ahead

HCBA membership is in decline and it has been for years. In fact, membership is down at many voluntary local, state, and national bar associations. There are as many theories for this decline as there are objections to a 50 page long request for discovery, but the most proximate cause for membership decline is easy to identify: new lawyers today are simply not joining bar associations in sufficient numbers to replace the normal attrition of members through retirement or cancellation.

Much ink has been spilled addressing this trend nationally, but not much had been done locally. So early in the 2019 bar year, then-president Jeff Baill asked the HCBA New Lawyer Section to create the New Lawyer Engagement Task Force to explore the issue of declining HCBA new lawyer membership with new lawyers themselves.

It is the Task Force’s hope that the report and the recommendations will increase awareness of issues specific to the HCBA’s new lawyer members, and our sincere belief that adoption of the report’s proposals will meaningfully improve the HCBA’s value proposition to new lawyers, leading to a significant increase in HCBA new lawyer membership. The entire report is available at:

We hope you find the report an enlightening look at the complex issue of new lawyer bar association membership. In addition to the work of the task force, the NLS provided programming in a variety of areas, contributing to one of its most engaging and productive years in its history. The section hosted several CLEs and social events with strong attendance throughout, though events were not just the usual fare. Sure, you could still grab a drink after work at one of our pop-up socials, but the Section also embraced the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Call to Action regarding attorney wellness and worked to create new events beyond the traditional “drinks at a bar” gatherings. This past year, NLS hosted an Escape Room event, continued its popular “net-workout” series, and worked with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to host a wellness CLE. The section continues to strengthen ties with local law schools and improve connections with law students through our outstanding membership engagement efforts. NLS also arranged an in-person training so that board members, as well as all other interested new lawyer attendees, can serve their community by volunteering with Wills for Heroes.

The rise of COVID-19 derailed many of the plans we made for the
spring, but we adapted quickly. NLS hosted a timely remote-only CLE that addressed recent changes to student loans and repayment related to COVID-19, and also hosted a well-received virtual trivia event. However, arguably the most important work done by NLS this spring was not related to a planned event at all. On April 22, 2020 the Minnesota State Supreme Court established a public comment period for the petition filed by the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners that sought changes to the timing of the July 2020 Bar Exam and certain amendments to the Student Practice Rules. In response, the NLS drafted and filed its first-evercomment, urging the Court to consider cancelling the July 2020 Bar Exam due to the unavoidable dangers presented by COVID-19, move toward administering an online-only Bar Exam in September 2020, and expand the amendments proposed by the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners to be more inclusive. Submitting the section’s first-ever comment on behalf of all HCBA new lawyers to the Minnesota legal community would have been enough of an achievement by itself, but our efforts were further rewarded when NLS was specifically named in the Court’s Administrative Order as having identified issues that required further review and study.

Plans for the 2020-21 Bar Year
As law firms and companies throughout Minnesota transition to remote work due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and with no end in sight, everyone has had to adjust and learn to work differently. Though our new virtual lifestyle is still in its infancy, NLS has found an opportunity to connect its members in a new way: Zoom. As mentioned earlier, NLS has begun hosting events during the pandemic virtually with great success. Although there was initial concern that virtual events would struggle to draw significant attendance, to this point, we have found the opposite. For whatever reason, many members are finding it easier to make time to attend virtual events than in-person ones, and we believe it is more important now than ever to provide opportunities for social interaction for HCBA members during this time of isolation due to COVID-19.

In addition to the social aspect, the NLS believes that challenges presented by COVID-19 highlight the importance of bar membership from a networking and career perspective as well. With social distancing and no in-person networking, there are few opportunities for new lawyers to connect with more experienced attorneys organically for advice, networking, and possible employment. New lawyers need these opportunities to develop and grow and NLS is here to provide them. Furthermore, many new lawyers are likely feeling particularly anxious about job prospects at this time, as many firms have scaled back new graduate hiring due to the financial impact of COVID-19. We believe networking will be one of the most effective ways to successfully secure employment in the current job market and we stand ready to help new lawyers in this regard.

It is for these reasons that NLS events for the upcoming 2020-2021 bar year will focus on fostering connections between law students, recent graduates, and the greater Hennepin County legal community with emphasis on building social and networking connections in our post-COVID-19 reality. We anticipate that most events will be virtual, but where possible, we hope to have some limited in-person events as conditions allow. The NLS Board is hard at work planning this year’s slate of events right now, but here is a sneak peek at some of the events we are working on:

• One or more networking and job search event/s for recent graduates and rising 3Ls to connect and assist them in entering the job market during this challenging time.

• The return of our popular net-workout series, with events in the fall and spring. These unique events allow members to try small-group fitness classes with some of the top gyms and studios in Minneapolis, and afterwards, while you catch your breath, take the opportunity to chat and network with other members over some healthy snacks. Possible options this year include a group workout studio and a calming guided yoga session.

• We are pleased to announce we will be having a Murder Mystery dinner party—an NLS first. Keep an eye out for clues. There will be more details to come.

• Several pop-up happy hours, both in downtown Minneapolis, and in the suburbs.

The 2020-2021 bar year is shaping up to be an interesting one that will surely bring challenges for new lawyers, and NLS would like to invite all lawyers who have been admitted to the bar in the last six years who live or practice in Hennepin County, or are interested in doing so, to become involved. Attend an event, come to a board meeting, join a committee—with virtual meetings, it is easier than ever! Not sure where to get started? Email Abby Ward—

On behalf of the entire HCBA NLS Board, thank you and be well.
Roxanne N. Thorelli
Ms. Thorelli is an attorney at Fredrikson & Byron. She
advises clients regarding mergers and acquisitions,
debt and equity financing, and general corporate
matters. Her childhood dream was to become an
attorney and she has fulfilled that through her years
of legal practice. She also has been an officer of the
HCBA New Lawyers Section for three years and enjoys
being involved in the legal community.

Daniel S. Willing
Daniel is an associate vice president and senior internal
wealth strategist with RBC Wealth Management in
Minneapolis where he serves as a resource to assist
financial advisors, and their private wealth clients,
develop sophisticated wealth management strategies
related to estate planning, business succession, tax
efficient wealth transfer, and asset protection. Willing
earned his law degree from the University of Oregon
School of Law.
Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter