Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

MSBA – An Extraordinary Organization

On May 6th I had the pleasure of addressing new lawyers being admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota.  This is the second time I have had the honor of performing this function.  It is, perhaps, one of the most fulfilling tasks that any bar association officer can perform.

It’s a happy occasion for the candidates and their families.  The candidates, the vast majority of whom are recent graduates, have demonstrated considerable dedication and have made many sacrifices to be joining the profession.  It’s a pleasure to look out on the rows of beaming smiles, reflecting the joy of their accomplishment with only the slightest hint of anxiety as to what lies ahead.  These new admittees are not only starting careers as practicing lawyers, they are entering the legal profession.

Benefits of Membership

Addressing this hopeful gathering, I congratulated and welcomed them on behalf of their 16,500 colleagues in the Minnesota State Bar Association.  I explained what it means to be a member of a profession.  I explained that the MSBA is an organization open to all lawyers across the state and that the fact that they receive free membership for their first year will make all of the association’s opportunities and benefits immediately available to them.

I also explained that lawyers in Minnesota have always helped each other and that we care about them and want them to succeed and prosper.  After all, that’s what makes us successful.  I related that in my experience of over 40 years of practice I have found the Minnesota legal profession, and particularly the MSBA, to be a place where becoming involved is easy; where life-long friendships are made; where service and leadership opportunities are abundantly available. Mostly, I stressed that they are entering a place of incomparable professionalism and civility.

Our Social Contract

But, on that beautiful spring day there was something equally important about our legal profession that I wanted them to understand.  I introduced them to the concept of the “Social Contract” that all lawyers assume by accepting the privilege of entry into such a great profession.  That is the duty of service we owe not only to our clients and the profession but to the public good.  I explained that judges and lawyers are the gatekeepers responsible for access to justice for all as well as the preservation of the rule of law—that we help fulfill and deliver the constitutional promise of equal justice under law that protects the rights, property, and freedom of all citizens.

I offered to them the example of one man’s lifetime of professional service, relating the story of an extraordinary attorney, Jerry Lane, who was honored recently for his contributions over the course of a selfless and distinguished career of over 40 years as a leading legal aid attorney in Minneapolis.  Like many legal aid lawyers, Jerry devoted an entire career to helping people who desperately needed his help, could least afford it, and often had nowhere else to turn for representation in time of difficulty or crisis.  While we may not all be able to achieve Jerry’s high standard of contribution, we must all strive to do something.  I explained to the new admittees that the MSBA and its affiliated organizations have many programs to assist them in that regard.

Each lawyer’s professional obligation comprises those items that constitute the Lawyers Pledge of Professionalism, so appropriately printed in the program that day together with the names of the new lawyers, thus inextricably uniting their entry into the profession with a clear statement of the obligations they were about to assume.  They are set forth here as a reminder to all of us of our professional obligation.

I close by expressing my sincere appreciation for the opportunity to serve as president of the Minnesota State Bar Association and for the privilege of being a member of such a great profession.

Lawyers’ Pledge of Professionalism

  • I will remember that the practice of law is first and foremost a profession, and I will subordinate business concerns to professionalism concerns.
  • I will encourage respect for the law and our legal system through my words and actions.
  • I will remember my responsibilities to serve as an officer of the court and protector of individual rights.
  • I will contribute time and resources to public service, public education, charitable and pro bono activities in my community.
  • I will work with other participants in the legal system, including judges, opposing counsel, and those whose practices are different from mine to make our legal system more accessible and responsive.
  • I will resolve matters expeditiously and without unnecessary expense.
  • I will keep my clients well-informed and involved in making the decisions that affect them.
  • I will continue to expand my knowledge of the law.
  • I will achieve and maintain proficiency in my practice.
  • I will be courteous to those with whom I come in contact during the course of my work.
  • I will honor the spirit and intent, as well as the requirements, of the applicable rules or code of professional conduct, and will encourage others to do the same.

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Terry Votel

Terry Votel was the 2010-11 president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. The division attorney for the Midwest Division of the Claims Litigation Department of Farmers Insurance Group, he practices in the area of insurance defense. He received his J.D. degree from William Mitchell College of Law.