Bench + Bar of Minnesota

MSBA President 2024-25: Samuel Edmunds


The importance of showing up

By Amy Lindgren 

Have you ever received a piece of advice that shaped your life? For Sam Edmunds, it might have been his dad’s counsel to “always show up,” a phrase heard frequently during his childhood. John Edmunds was telling his son that people who show up are the ones who succeed in life. It’s a characteristic that friends and colleagues frequently notice about Edmunds, whose penchant for showing up paved the path to his upcoming presidency of the Minnesota State Bar Association, serving as the representative from Greater Minnesota (a territory that, under MSBA’s bylaws, includes all of Minnesota except Hennepin and Ramsey Counties). 

Parts of that path were intentionally laid out by Edmunds and he isn’t shy about acknowledging that. At 44, he may be one of the MSBA’s youngest presidents but, as Susan Holden notes, “He’s about as well-prepared an incoming bar leader as you can be. He’s been active at all levels and at all times in his career.” Holden, a partner at SiebenCarey and a former MSBA president herself (2006-07), has worked alongside Edmunds in the American Bar Association, where both have served in the House of Delegates. It’s just one of the roles that Edmunds sought in the process of better understanding the issues and challenges faced by bar associations. 

Judge Cara Lee Neville (retired, senior status) has also served with Edmunds in the ABA’s House of Delegates and has found him to be an asset. “He’s always well prepared and he’s interested in all the topics,” she notes. “He’s very well-respected.” As the founder and president of Benchmark National and International ADR, Neville also regularly sees Edmunds at meetings of the Amdahl Inn of Court. “He spends a lot of time with other lawyers and stays focused on the profession, which I appreciate.”

In all, Edmunds has held dozens of posts in three bar associations, including the First District (Dakota and Goodhue Counties) Bar Association, where he served as president in 2019-2020. For Edmunds, the goal hasn’t been leadership for the sake of the title, but as a way to have the most impact. It’s a distinction many of his colleagues have noted. Steve Messick, founder and attorney at Messick Law PLLC in Woodbury, says Edmunds is “always looking to fill a need. What I’ve been very impressed with is one, he shows up to every meeting and two, he’s engaged in every meeting. He’s not just checking a box.” Messick, who has been active in both the Minnesota and American bar associations himself, counts Edmunds as the reason for his own participation. They first met in MSBA’s New Lawyers Section in 2012 during Edmunds’s tenure as chair. “I credit Sam with my subsequent bar enrollment,” Messick says. “He was a very engaging leader. He encouraged new members to join and get involved in things they were passionate about. Sam did a great job making sure new members felt welcome.”

Michael Miller, a partner with Edmunds at Sieben Edmunds Miller PLLC in Eagan, also met him through the New Lawyers Section. Miller had already been involved when Edmunds joined in 2007 and was able to observe his approach to welcoming members. “One of the things that stands out about Sam is how interested he is in helping others attain leadership positions,” Miller notes. “He’s really inclusive and he wants people to be involved. He’s one of these folks who always has his hand out, helping someone else up.”

Edmunds eventually aged out of the New Lawyers Section, but not before making his mark on the program. He created the New Lawyers Leadership Conference to recruit and train new members, along with an award for the outstanding new lawyer of the year. Both initiatives continue to this day, 12 years later. He also got involved in the ABA’s counterpart program, the Young Lawyers Division, serving in multiple roles over five years, including a year on the senior leadership team. 

At this stage, Edmunds himself had reaped the benefits of participating in new lawyer programs in both bar associations, leading to friendships and client referrals that continue today. But instead of stepping back, he dug even deeper into MSBA activities by joining, and eventually chairing, other sections and committees. He also set his sights on the roles that would teach him more about the inner workings of the MSBA, taking turns on the Governance and Budget committees as well as the Board of Governors. By the time he put in his application for the track leading to the MSBA presidency, Edmunds had touched nearly every corner of the organization. He was also just completing the corollary track of executive positions at the Dakota County Bar Association. By all accounts, he had shown up, paid his dues, and prepared himself thoroughly to lead the state bar. 

Showing up a bit too much?

If Edmunds looks like he’s perfected the art of participating without overdoing it, that’s because he had a chance to practice in his youth—when he might have been taking his father’s advice a bit too literally. As a teenager, he showed up for just about everything a kid could try until bumping into the hard reality that you really can’t do it all. These aren’t necessarily sequential, but the short list provided by his parents, John and Twila Edmunds, is dizzying. Starting with sports, he showed up for baseball, flag football, wrestling, basketball, and karate. 

Then there was music. A natural musician credited with perfect pitch, he earned first chair playing trumpet in his high school’s concert band as a freshman and kept the spot all four years, leading to countless solos requiring extra practice. He also played the piano and taught himself guitar, then added marching band, jazz band, and choir to his activity list, resulting in trips around the United States and overseas to Norway, the U.K., the Bahamas, and Hawaii, among others. 

At church, he regularly played instruments and sang duets with his sister Jessica, in addition to which he took part in multiple summertime mission trips. Not to mention the part-time jobs at gas stations and pizza parlors, which Edmunds jumped into as soon as he was legally able to work.

If that weren’t enough, Edmunds developed a habit of buying and selling cars, which he purchased with his father’s help at city auctions before fixing up and selling them. There were at least a half-dozen that the duo remember, ranging from an ’86 Ford Tempo to a turbo-charged Chevrolet Monte Carlo Super Sport with T-tops. The cars would sometimes end up with the engine suspended from the garage rafters while the repairs were underway. 

There’s more, but you probably get the idea. Aided by a reservoir of energy that seems unfathomable, Edmunds showed up everywhere. Things finally came to a head when band practices started consuming entire evenings and he realized his sports coaches would require similar commitments. Then it was goodbye to sports, hello to precision marching under the watchful eye of the very exacting Dr. Earl Benson. As director of the music program at Bloomington Jefferson High School for 26 years, Benson was recognized worldwide for his 260-person high school marching band ensemble. Showing up for him was going to take commitment, which Edmunds gave, earning his place on the trips to England and Norway, not to mention the national competitions and televised bowl games and parades.

Reviewing those years, Edmunds doesn’t talk about the time or effort he gave to music. Instead he speaks enthusiastically about Drs. Benson and Orzolek and the program overall: “People talk about the sports, but the best thing about Bloomington Jefferson High School was the music. The bands were the best,” he says with obvious pride. “I was a freshman in high school going on band trips to Norway. It really was extraordinary.”

Losing something, finding something

When Edmunds left for college at the University of Minnesota, the plan was to live in the dorms and earn a degree in orchestral trumpet. Neither of those things happened. Instead, he stayed one trimester and headed back home to take general classes at the nearby community college while coming up with a new idea. As it turned out, life at the university hadn’t offered what Edmunds wanted. When he realized he was spending most of his free time driving back to Bloomington to be with his friends, the decision to change schools was clear. And the trumpet? Not a priority once he decided not to be a professional musician. He kept his guitar but stowed the brass.

If Edmunds gave up an expected career in music in leaving the U, he also found something: the path that eventually led to his becoming a lawyer. After a few quarters at Normandale Community College, Edmunds enrolled in Metropolitan State University, a Minnesota state school known for its degree-completion programs. He majored in business administration while juggling an impressive series of part-time jobs, ranging from limo driver and DJ to serving at TGIFridays in the trademark red-striped shirt covered in pieces of “flair.” 

Edmunds also started looking for friends and something to pour his energy into. Both goals were answered when he spotted a small ad in the school paper for student government volunteers. “I started showing up,” he remembers, “and then I got elected and became vice president and then president the next year.”
Once again, his father’s advice was proving true. Only this time, the things Edmunds was showing up for turned out to be part of the path forward. 

In a pattern that would be repeated later with the MSBA and ABA, Edmunds parlayed his student government leadership into a role on a bigger stage. In his senior year of college, he was elected state chair of the organization representing students statewide, the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA), now known as Students United. The only problem was that he would need to remain affiliated with a state university in order to fill out his term. So he stayed on at Metro State University as a graduate student in public administration. 

At this stage, Edmunds was still exploring career ideas, with politics heading the list. Having experienced lobbying at both the state and national capitols through his student governance posts, he was interested in what could be accomplished in a political role. When he learned that law was a common path to elected positions, the directional arrows started to point to William Mitchell College of Law. Thanks to a dual program with Mankato State University, Edmunds was able to co-enroll in two programs, graduating three years later with both a master’s degree in public administration and a juris doctorate, cum laude. He was ready to start his political career. There was just one problem: Somewhere along the way, Edmunds had fallen in love with the practice of law.


Becoming a lawyer

Blame the misdemeanor law clinic he took, or the part-time job that turned into a full-time offer after graduation. It could have been the moot court competition or his judicial internship. Or it may just have been fate, but one way or another Edmunds became a lawyer over those three years and hasn’t looked back since. 

His good friend and law partner Kevin Sieben was a classmate in the first-year, section three courses, where he watched as Edmunds quickly made friends and jumped into student bar activities. “He always had confidence,” Sieben recalls. “He wasn’t afraid to answer in class if he got called on but he wasn’t the go-getter, either—the one you hate for answering all the time.” Sieben remembers Edmunds working hard but being happy to take breaks as well, sometimes joining in on a karaoke session or bursting out with Mr. Big’s “I’m the One Who Wants to Be with You” over beers. “We used to break that one out in a bar,” Sieben says. “That was our go-to song.”

Sieben and Edmunds stayed in touch after law school, each going a different direction in his work. Sieben started his own firm focused on criminal defense, while Edmunds stayed with Campbell Knutson, PA, the Eagan firm where he first worked as a law student. He served as an assistant city attorney, prosecuting cases for the firm’s municipal clients throughout the greater metropolitan area. He and Sieben even had some cases against each other, which is one reason Sieben kept trying to convince his friend to join his firm.

“You could just tell,” Sieben says. “I knew he would be a star if he came over to the other side. I saw that in him and I stuck my neck out a little to recruit him.”

It was a big ask. Edmunds liked the firm he was at, liked his colleagues and the cases, and had grown fond of the steady paycheck as well. Leaving all that for the uncertainties of business ownership, where he’d have to hustle for the work? Not to mention making the switch from prosecution to defense? It was also a big leap for Sieben, who was going out on a limb to bring on a second attorney.

Edmunds recalls feeling worried, unsure that the money would work out, so he kept turning his friend down. “We were still good buddies and spending a lot of time together and Kevin was always trying to convince me. He just said, ‘You don’t even realize. Just do it and you won’t regret it.’” Edmunds eventually relented, summing up the story by admitting his friend had been right: “Even in just the first few months, we were already able to increase the case load and doing very well. It was a good decision.”

Edmunds made that leap in 2013, and the firm picked up its third partner, Michael Miller, in 2019 to focus on personal injury work. Today the group has three associate attorneys in addition to paralegals and student law clerks. As individuals and as a firm, they’ve been gaining awards and recognition, building their reputation for quality legal work while also maintaining a substantial pro bono portfolio. 

On that front, one effort in particular stands out: the Peacetime Emergency Free Expungement Program that Sieben dreamt up during the pandemic. His vision was to help laid-off workers whose previous criminal convictions might impede their chances of finding new jobs. Having already done a fair number of expungements, Edmunds took the lead on serving the clients who met the program criteria, handling dozens of expungement cases during the pandemic. Although the firm has needed to pull back on this effort now that things are getting back to normal, the program is a point of pride for the partners, representing the kind of firm they want to be in terms of community involvement. 

Showing up for family life

One reason Edmunds was so reluctant when his friend was wooing him is that he was busy wooing someone himself. Anticipating a wife and children in his near future made the self-employment decision more fraught. Luckily, the business side of things worked out, since the Edmunds family is now raising five children ages four to 14 from their home in Burnsville. It’s another commitment that he is glad he made, although his wife, Anna Edmunds, confirms their lives are pretty hectic at this point. 

“During the week, the schedule’s super chaotic,” she reports, “with us always picking somebody up or dropping somebody off.” One reason? It seems the kids have also learned about “showing up” by engaging in a variety of sports and school activities that keep their parents on the run. Anna brought two-year-old twins into the marriage and initially kept her job in healthcare administration for a hospital system. But when the next baby arrived, it didn’t take long to do the math on daycare for three young kids. Now she uses her administrative skills to manage a complex schedule while also carving out time for self-care and exercise. One thing she doesn’t manage to fit in? Television. “Sam and I try to watch Yellowstone together, but I usually fall asleep,” she says. “We have to watch three times until I can get through an episode, maybe a week or two after we first try.”

There’s no doubt that Anna’s work in managing the household makes it possible for Sam’s intense commitments with work and the bar to play out. Even so, he’s made the commitment to show up for his family much as he has for other areas of his life. In addition to coaching sports teams and playing pickup games of hoops, he shares his interests and goals with them. One goal has been to get everyone into downhill skiing, a favorite sport of his. So far he’s managed to make enthusiastic skiers out of two, with a third kid happy to snowboard down the slope. It might take a while before all five and Anna are ready to don matching ski outfits, but Edmunds remains optimistic.

Leading the MSBA

Ask Edmunds what he hopes to accomplish in his bar presidency and he will first describe some continuing priorities, such as inclusiveness and access to justice. Another area of importance for Edmunds is artificial intelligence and its potential for both helping and harming the legal profession. “Every industry and profession are grappling with AI,” he notes. “Luckily, my predecessors had already started on AI and we have a task force that has been working on making recommendations. We’ll be presenting those to the Supreme Court this year for rule changes we might need.”

On the more day-to-day side of things, Edmunds has a particular interest in serving the members themselves by making it just a little easier to be an attorney. Whether that’s by easing access to court records, changing inequities related to attorneys’ courthouse entrance, helping attorneys make better connections with potential clients, or just simplifying the online process for becoming a member, his daily experience as a practicing attorney has given him plenty of ideas for reducing the friction lawyers face in trying to do their jobs.

Edmunds is also mindful that this is an election year, with ramifications that could spill over to affect the local judiciary. “In Minnesota we’ve been lucky for many years to have maintained a good system of fair and impartial judicial elections,” he notes. “But we’re right next door to Wisconsin and Iowa, where we’ve just seen crazy things happening. So as a bar association, we’re interested in trying to maintain the integrity of Minnesota’s judicial elections system.” 

This is a topic in which Edmunds has been immersing himself by reading up on the history of judicial elections and seeking the counsel of others with deeper knowledge of the issues. In conversations with Susan Holden, for example, he’s been reminded of the importance of public education and the bar’s role in getting information out. “If we start getting a flood of super PAC money from across the country trying to influence our Supreme Court here,” he says, “we’d need to be able to jump into action and put out some kind of education campaign about the importance of impartial judicial elections.”

If that sounds like a daunting task in today’s environment, that’s because it is. Robin Wolpert, a member of Sapientia Law Group in Minneapolis and a former MSBA president (2016-17), believes this will be a pivotal year for bar associations. “This is an era where bars across the country are facing singular challenges,” she says. “What’s happening in a lot of states are efforts to attack the judiciary, attack the rule of law. This is a defining moment for the rule of law and for democracy.”

As one of the most prepared bar presidents to take the post, Edmunds is as ready as he can be for the challenge. His friends and colleagues aren’t worried. As Kevin Sieben notes, when faced with a challenge, Edmunds “gives it his all and he shows up.” Michael Miller echoes that sentiment, adding, “We’re just really proud for Sam. He’s worked hard for this. He’s going to do an exceptional job.” 

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Five facts about SAM

1) According to Susan Holden, Edmunds and his law partner Michael Miller can be seen riding those ubiquitous electric scooters, suit coats and ties flapping behind them, as they check out the town during bar conferences.

2) Edmunds’s parents report that he went through a “ponytail stage” in high school, first dying his hair bleach blond and then green before growing it out long and wearing it in a ponytail.

3) Edmunds made a good friend while both worked as servers at TGIFridays and later hired her at his law firm as an associate.

4) He is PADI-certified as an advanced open water diver and has gone scuba diving in numerous tropical areas around the world as well as Lake Superior.

5) For years Edmunds has performed music for friends’ and family weddings; as an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, Edmunds can conduct the wedding as well.

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