September 2020

Assess, reflect, renew

By Dyan Ebert

One of the things I enjoy most about living in Minnesota is the change of seasons. The transition from one to the next always re-energizes me. Many see the transition from our seemingly endless winters to spring as the quintessential time of reawakening. But I always feel the most inspiration as the hot, humid days of summer turn into the cool, crisp mornings and evenings of fall. Even though I have not been a student for many years, I think the fondness I hold for the fall is linked to the start of the school year. Because both my parents were educators, every August the entire family was required to adjust to a new, more structured schedule after the lazy days of summer. With each new school year, my parents encouraged us to set goals and find ways to make it more successful than the last. This tradition is something I continued through law school, and even long after my school days have passed, each fall I critically evaluate where I have been and where I would like to go over the next year.   

As attorneys we all know that ongoing education is extremely important. Our professional rules require us to provide “competent representation” to our clients. Accordingly, my annual review includes an assessment of the changing legal landscape and the identification of continuing legal education courses that I should attend.   

There continues to be a wide variety of educational resources available to ensure my professional competency in the coming year. The MSBA, of course, offers several practical tools (including FastCase, practicelaw, and CourtOps) that help with our day-to-day practices. Additionally, in the wake of covid-19, the number of online CLE seminars on any substantive area of the law seems limitless. I’ve been particularly impressed with the quality of new offerings by the MSBA over the last several months, including the “Business as Usual” and “Back to School” series of programs, which have covered a wide range of topics of interest and importance to our members. As such, identifying the programs I want to attend to ensure I am up to speed on the latest developments in the law will likely not be much of challenge. 

But after more than 25 years of practice, I have learned that staying educated on legal developments is not enough to fulfill my professional obligation—true competency requires so much more. It requires us to critically evaluate the way we have always done things and to be open to change. To me, this means keeping up with other things impacting my practice, including technology, challenges facing my clients and colleagues, and local and world events. This year, for example, I am continuing to educate myself on video conference etiquette and tools. It’s amazing how quickly we were able to adapt to Zoom and Webex platforms to conduct depositions and mediations. I’ve also been reading and spending time listening to podcasts to get a better understanding of racial bias and other kinds of bias—unconscious and conscious—that permeate our society.  

This year, given the significant limitations on in-person interactions, my sights are also set on figuring out how to maintain my meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients, and establish new ones. While at first blush this seems like a daunting task, I know intuitively that even little things can make a big difference and help me to accomplish this goal. Something as simple as picking up the phone or scheduling a virtual meeting, instead of defaulting to email, is actually one of the easiest ways to show someone just how important they are to you and can leave a lasting positive impression. The same is also true of handwritten notes or cards—to show appreciation, offer support, or confer congratulations on a job well done. 

I am also interested in expanding my circle of colleagues and friends. While this would have been easier without covid-19, I nevertheless plan to reach out to individuals I see on video conferences whom I do not know well, and set up one-on-one calls with them. To increase my cultural intelligence, I also plan to make sure to get to know people from backgrounds that are different from mine.    

So as the trees start changing colors, I wish all of you the excitement a new school year typically brings, even as we all work to continue to navigate more online, distance learning, and hybrid schedules. Oh, and in keeping with back-to-school traditions, I also found a new bag. It’s not a backpack, but it sure comes in handy for carrying my laptop and hauling files.

Happy fall, happy renewal, have a great year.  

Dyan Ebert is a partner at the central Minnesota firm of Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., where she served as CEO from 2003-2010 and 2014-2019. She also served on the board of directors of Minnesota CLE from 2012-2019. 
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