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Introducing Brandon Vaughn: 2021-2022 HCBA President

0921_Vaughn1_400On July 1st, Brandon Vaughn became the 103rd president of the Hennepin County Bar Association. Vaughn is a partner at Robins Kaplan, where he represents victims of medical malpractice, and individuals injured by others due to no fault of their own. In this interview, Vaughn shares what brought him to the HCBA, reflections on the last year and a half, and his vision for this bar year. 


What are some of your priorities as HCBA president?

My biggest focus will be membership engagement. Today, there are several things competing for our members’ time. That can be other bar associations, nonprofit organizations, family, or other hobbies and personal interests. We have learned that a lot can be accomplished with virtual activities when you reduce or remove travel time. Last year we saw an increase in the number of CLEs offered, as well as the number of members attending CLEs in the midst of a global pandemic. I intend to see how we can keep members engaged virtually while still affording members the opportunity to interact with each other through in-person gatherings.

I also will focus on collaborating with the leadership of the MSBA and RCBA. It is my goal to have open conversations with bar leaders to make sure we are providing attorneys in this state the best member value for their dues.

Finally, it is important for me to continue the conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to justice. The HCBA has an obligation to be stewards for the community we live and practice in, and it is my hope to make a difference in Hennepin County through encouraging our members to continue the conversation about inequities in our legal system and how we can improve them, and more importantly getting engagement from all areas of practice, location, and age within Hennepin County.

How did you first get involved with the HCBA?

I have to thank HCBA Past-President Kim Lowe for getting me involved with the HCBA. We were working together on a Strategic Planning Committee for Twin Cities Diversity in Practice when she encouraged me to get involved with the HCBA. She appointed me to the Finance and Planning Committee at the time and I have been involved ever since. All it took was an invitation to get involved. 

What’s been your proudest moment as an attorney?

I have had two moments I am particularly proud of as an attorney. The first is having the opportunity to advocate for those who have been injured due to no fault of their own on the daily basis. I find it extremely rewarding to achieve justice and improve the quality of life for those who have been injured or lost loved ones due to car crashes, medical malpractice, and other unfortunate life events. I am proud to know I can make a difference for families even against the toughest odds at times.

The second moment I am most proud of has more historical significance as an African-American attorney. Given the lack of representation of Black Supreme Court Justices in the country, I am proud that I was sworn in by Justice Louis Butler in Wisconsin and Justice Alan Page in Minnesota. Both Justices were the first African-American judges to serve on the Supreme Court in their respective states. While that isn’t a personal achievement, I felt honored to start my legal career being sworn in by trailblazers like Justices Butler and Page. I don’t think many people in the country will be able to say they share a similar experience when discussing their admissions to the highest court of multiple states. To make the experience more special, my late father, who recently passed on November 26, 2020, was able to move for my admission in both states. I will look back at both those experiences fondly. 

As a partner at a big law firm, what were the biggest challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to you?

One of the biggest challenges was impromptu communication and isolation. When everyone is in the office, you take for granted the opportunity to just walk across or down the hall to discuss work. I wanted to be respectful of the competing responsibilities various team members had throughout the day working from home, so a little more planning for team meetings was required to be respectful of individual schedules. 

I also learned from some team members that they really valued being in the office because it provided an opportunity for human interaction they were unable to get at home. This led to an increase in virtual meetings and “check-ins” to provide some opportunity for continued interpersonal interaction.

From a practical standpoint, I am a trial lawyer. COVID-19 essentially brought all trials to a halt. Without trial dates, it essentially removed me from having the opportunity to do the thing I love: trying cases. 

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How have the events of the past year surrounding calls for racial justice made you reflect on your role as a lawyer? 

I’m not certain the calls for racial justice over the past year have caused me to reflect on my role as a lawyer. I have always firmly believed in equal access to justice, I have also been keenly aware that everyone does not have the same resources and outcomes in our justice system due to a number of factors. I think the events of last year have actually pointed out more than ever we need to continue the conversation and education to fight the racial inequities in this country. What is most disappointing is it appears the conversations and interest in making change have significantly died down in society. It was a hot topic and interest for many individuals and corporations immediately after George Floyd’s death, but now a year later the same efforts and energy to make systemic change has died. It is my hope that everyone can figure out a way to make a small contribution individually and hopefully collectively we can improve the racial inequities in the country.

Your dad was also a lawyer, what’s the best piece of advice you got from him?

He shared a lot of advice, but the most memorable is likely surrounding work ethic. He frequently would remind me that there may be other people who are smarter, but don’t let anyone out work you. You can determine how much effort you put in to accomplish a goal, and don’t let lack of hard work be the factor that prevents you from achieving your goal. I apply that advice almost daily in all aspects of life.

You are involved with the Black Big Law Pipeline organization, could you share a little bit more about the organization?

A group of friends around the country were sitting at a conference and decided we wanted to try to make a difference and reshape the landscape of Black attorneys in big law. Rather than sitting around talking about the problems with big law and the challenges in retention and advancement, we thought it would be best to try to develop an organization that strives to support and train Black lawyers in big law.

The Black BigLaw Pipeline, Inc.’s (BBP) purpose is to serve as a powerful and unique resource for reshaping diversity and, specifically, the experience of Black attorneys in the legal profession. The organization is comprised of senior Black attorneys, including law firm partners, senior associates, in-house counsel, government lawyers, and consultants. BBP was established to promote positive outcomes for Black attorneys working in large law firms through training, mentoring, and career planning.

We conduct an annual boot camp that focuses on practice skill development (litigation and transactional skills), interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, and an open and honest dialogue about challenges in big law and how to navigate some of those challenges. In addition, our faculty serve as mentors to a number of the participants in the Pipeline devoting hundreds of hours on mentoring. The group also serves as a network to share job opportunities and a referral source given our connections with in-house legal departments.


Brandon’s favorites

Movie: 
Most comedies and suspense movies

Television Show:
Survivor and Amazing Race (Or really any reality TV show with competition)

Vacation Destination:
Any destination that offers an opportunity for a new passport stamp or involving a beach

Read: 
Native Son By Richard Wright

Twin Cities Restaurant: 
Brasa and Soul Bowl

Thing to do on the weekend: 
Compete in something (usually softball or tennis)

To talk about (non-work related): 
Sports and family

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Vaughn on Style

Vaughn is known to have a great sense for style. He shares some of his favorites here

What’s your favorite place to shop for clothes?
I actually hate shopping, so my favorite place is the internet generally. Nothing like a good mail day with packages being delivered to you. The only drawback is having to make time to return something if it doesn’t work out.

Who is your style inspiration? 
My Dad

What’s your favorite fashion accessory?
 Lapel pins and pocket squares

Favorite non-work outfit?
Joggers and hoodies

How has work from home influenced your style? 
I have purchased more joggers and hoodies instead of suits and ties. My flannel pajama pants wear increased drastically too.


Brandon E. Vaughn at a glance

  • Education
    2008 University of Wisconsin Law School
    2005 University of Illinois

    Bar Admission
    U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
    U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin
    U.S. District Court, Minnesota
    U.S. District Court, North Dakota
    Minnesota
    Wisconsin

    Employment
    2008-Present: Robins Kaplan

    Professional Activities

    • American Association for Justice
    • The Black in Big Law Pipeline (Founder, Board Member 2018-Present)
    •  Minnesota Association for Justice (Board of Governors 2017-Present, Executive Committee 2020-Present)
    • Twin Cities Diversity in Practice (Board of Directors 2018- Present, Young Lawyers Board 2011-2016)
    • Hennepin County Bar Association (Finance & Planning Committee 2012- 2016, Board of Directors 2014-2018, Secretary 2018-2019, Treasurer 2019-2020, President Elect 2020-2021, President 2021- 2022)
    • National Bar Association (Young Lawyers Division Secretary 2016-2017, Vice-Chair 2017-2018
    •  Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (Board Member 2010-2012)
    • American Bar Association
    • American Bar Foundation, Fellow
    • Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (2017 Fellow) 

    Community

    • Minneapolis Public Schools: 100 Strong Who Care - Guest Speaker
    • Big Brothers, Big Sisters - Mentor
     
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