Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Family, it’s time we had a talk

By Paul D. Peterson 


I swear that I will support 
the Constitution of the United States 
and that of the State of Minnesota, 
and will conduct myself 
as an attorney and counselor at law, 
in an upright and courteous manner, 
to the best of my learning and ability, 
with all good fidelity 
as well to the court as to the client, 
and that I will use no falsehood or deceit, 
nor delay any person’s cause
for lucre or malice, 
so help me God.


On October 28, 2022, I heard hundreds of new admittees swear this oath to the ranks of our newly licensed attorneys in Minnesota. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at the induction ceremonies for our newest members of the bar. The event was held in the beautiful chamber of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Spending that day with the members of our Supreme Court and the leaders of our bar admission process was one of the highlights of my first six months as your president. It was inspiring to see all these new professionals take the next step in their careers. Throughout that day I was reflecting on my own career and the oath that I took several years ago—the same one I heard hundreds pledge that day. The same one you took.

In my initial President’s Page, I described our association as a family. But we are first and foremost a profession. Well, fellow professionals, it’s time we had a talk about our association and our profession. This is the first of just a few more President’s Pages I can share with you. We need to discuss several different points over these final months. The first thing we need to talk about, as a family, is that our association is strong. We have a very dedicated and talented CEO and staff that have worked hard to deliver services in a cost-effective manner. Our reserves are strong, and the future of the association looks bright for years to come. But that’s not what we need to talk about today. While our association is in strong shape, we can be so much better and even more effective in our work on behalf of the profession. So what we need to talk about now, and going forward in the coming years, is membership. Simply, the more members we have, the stronger our association.

I routinely get to deliver remarks on your behalf and on behalf of our organization. I accurately describe it as the voice of the profession. But it pains me to say that over the past two decades we have seen the percentage of licensed attorneys who are members of our bar association decreasing. What was once a penetration rate of members to total licensed attorneys of upwards of 70 percent has dropped below that mark over the years. As most of you know, we are a voluntary association. Membership in our organization and the related district bar associations is not required to practice law in Minnesota. But it’s vital to our individual practices and careers and to our profession as a whole.

I have heard many reasons offered for why our membership numbers aren’t stronger as a percentage of all licensed lawyers. Some of those reasons involve an assertion that bar association membership is not a good “value.” I must admit I have a hard time understanding when I hear those comments. I don’t understand because my own experience has been the complete opposite. Membership in the MSBA and related bars has delivered value for me personally again and again. Value that is far greater than my cost. My experience has been so fulfilling and helpful to my practice that I can’t imagine not being a member.

Chief Justice Gildea and Justice G. Barry Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court provided thoughtful remarks that October day, and each of them emphasized to our newest lawyers the incredible opportunity and responsibility that comes with being granted a license to practice law in the state of Minnesota.

Opportunity and responsibility. We’ll come back to those in a minute.

I consider myself an optimistic and enthusiastic person. We are all aware of the many inspirational quotations about the importance of enthusiasm. As we begin this journey together to talk about membership and other important issues facing our profession and our association, I want to let you know that I don’t view life as a zero-sum game. I don’t believe that the other person must lose for me to win. To quote the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.” That’s my outlook. I want you to know those things about me if you don’t already, because I believe that if our members set a goal to increase membership, put a plan in place, and then invest in and work that plan, we will be successful. I’ll also let you in on another secret—our greatest selling point is our members, their talents, their enthusiasm. Now we need you, the current membership, and all your collective talent to help us sell the association to more of our potential members.

We have responsibility to use this license we’ve been granted to make our system the best it can be. We are at our best when a large percentage of the licensed lawyers are members and active in the bar association. More importantly, we all have an opportunity. We can connect and impact the people in our social network and our sphere of influence. In my next column I will be describing, with more specifics, the membership plan that we are putting in place. This plan is intended to become a core function for the association in the years to come. Our goal is to have all our members thinking and acting about increasing membership in the bar associations. We want our members to help sell the benefits of membership to others in their respective spheres of influence. We are asking each member to become an ambassador for membership in the MSBA. Our Ambassador Program will be introduced in the coming weeks and months, and there is a commitment from our leadership through the next number of years to implement and develop this program. We see it as a great opportunity for the MSBA and its individual members to “Step Up, Step In and Stand Out”! We’ll talk again soon. 

Paul Peterson represents families in personal injury and wrongful death cases. His office is in Woodbury and he is licensed in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. He is the proud papa of four above-average children and one outstanding dog.

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