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20/20 Foresight

You’re right, of course, those numbers (20/20) often accompany the term “hindsight.” So here’s a brief look back, and a longer look forward. 

OK, Cheryl Dalby, you’ve been CEO of our combined bar associations for a year now. You’re on:

“Thanks, Tom. During 2019 we created new ways for the bars to collaborate and become more efficient. We’ve combined staff and our physical offices; we’ve integrated our databases, phone systems, accounting systems, and personnel policies and benefits packages. We’re looking at new ways the bars can collaborate even more on programming, while maintaining the distinct identity of each organization.”

Dyan Ebert, you’ll be taking up the presidential baton next June. What think ye?

“We will continue to reach out to the legal profession in Greater Minnesota, to better understand and assist with their strengths and struggles. We will also address the declining number of attorneys practicing outside of the wider Twin Cities area. We will mark and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. I look forward to continuing and strengthening our work on access to justice, lawyer well-being, and member support, engagement, and retention.”

Great. Two terrific leaders. Looking forward to Jennifer Thompson’s and Paul Peterson’s continuing and emerging leadership, as well. So here’s s’more about what’s on our minds. 

Twenty topics for 2020 

(1) “One Profession.” All-day gatherings in each of our districts— CLE credits; with the district court judges, private practitioners, and public service lawyers alike. 

(2) Commemoration of the Duluth Lynchings. In June it’ll be 100 years since the murders of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. Remembrances on June 15 in Duluth, and June 16 at the Minneapolis Hilton. Guest speaker: Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, author of Just Mercy, and much more. Stay tuned and please plan on attending. 

(3) Minnesota Supreme Court Paraprofessional Pilot Implementation Committee: We have to figure out how to serve the tsunami of pro se litigants coming to our courts. Our current reality is not sustainable, either from an access to justice or a court capacity perspective. Chief Justice Gildea has confirmed that we can no longer just “admire the problem.” I agree. 

(4) Mandatory reporting of
pro bono publico hours and financial contributions? Has the time come?
Add your voice and views. FYI: I said “yes” in my December column. 

(5) Access to justice: Continuing collaboration with the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch on LawHelpMN and a potential coalition or “commission.” 

(6) Lawyer health and wellness: January 13 conference, and a spring summit. Be there and be well. “It’s safe to seek help to get well.”

(7) Health insurance: We’re developing an association-based and affordable health insurance program for solo or small
multi-employee law firms. Hopefully, a June 2020 launch. 

(8) On-demand CLE: Coming to a screen near you? It’s already at 15 hours of the required 45 hours over three years.
A pending petition to the Supreme Court would allow for all 45 hours to be “on demand.” 

(9) 2020/2021: Legislative and budget sessions and ABA priorities: Civil Legal Aid funding and attorney salaries. Student loan forgiveness initiative. Housing and evictions. “Civil Gideon,” anyone? 

(10) Hate crimes: Legislation? Attorney General initiative? First Amendment? 

(11) Uninsured attorneys representing clients? Professional responsibility and ethics issues, and potential rules? Insurance availability? Disclosure to clients or the Court?

(12) Diversity and inclusion: A professional obligation.
New strategic plan for MSBA Diversity and Inclusion Council. Continuing support for marvelous and important affinity bar associations.

(13) Potential MSBA amicus positions: Transgender rights. Family law and custody matters. 

(14) What to do with dues? Simplify? Lower?

(15) Specialists: Certification? Advertising restrictions?
First Amendment. 

(16) Solo/small/suburban/Greater Minnesota: Great recent edition of Bench & Bar. Practice management and legal research tools. Substantive sections. Duluth MN/CLE solo/small summit. 

(17) New and “vintage” lawyers: New and creative ways to collaborate across generations.

(18) Large, national and international law firms coming to Minnesota. Invasions or evolutions? Non-lawyer ownership
of law firms?

(19) Courthouse security: Lawyer access and parity.

(20) And more: Immigration; Native American law and life; Mock Trial.

All of which reflects our continuing view that our bar association is A Great Idea and A Good Deal. It’s a good deal in light of the benefits and all of the “free stuff” that comes with membership. A good investment—from robust practice tools to a constant stream of substantive resources and timely programs. And it’s a great idea because of our unique opportunity to lead, speak for, support, connect—and protect—our profession. Whether in Minnesota or U.S. legislative hallways, or in our Supreme Court and District Court conference rooms and social gatherings. 

Put another way, there is value that you “get” and there are values that you support—like excellence and ethics even in the course of zealous representation; dignity and decency; professionalism and civility; diversity and inclusion. There will no doubt be new and maybe even surprising issues that come our way in 2020. As Yogi Berra explained: “It’s difficult to predict things, especially about the future.” But this is our 20/20 vision: optimistic; leaning and looking forward; trying to see and seize the bright side of our future together. Happy New Year, and welcome to 2020. 


TOM NELSON is a partner at Stinson LLP (formerly Leonard, Street and Deinard). He is a past president of the Hennepin County Bar Association.