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

Why MSBA? Better Ask, Why Not?

It is that time of year again. Soon, at least 1,500 of our fellow members will receive a notice informing them that their membership in the state bar association has been terminated. Why? Because they have not paid their membership dues, which leads me to ask in turn, Why? Given all of the benefits of being a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, how can one not see the value here? Maybe it was best asked by my friend, mentor, and past president of the MSBA, David Stowman, when eight years ago he entitled his President’s Page, “What have you done for me lately?” I think now it is time to issue a brief reminder of what the bar association has done lately and why membership has its benefits. To be honest, there is no way that in one page I could describe all of the benefits of MSBA membership.

Online Tools

In Dave’s 2004 article, he mentioned practicelaw.org, and that will be the only program we both highlight. Why this? Please remember this is 2012 and all we hear about is online this, online that, “ethics 20/20” for the electronic age, electronic research, electronic discovery, and electronic filing. We have entered into the era of electronic law. In that context, practicelaw.org is one of Minnesota’s largest online collections of resources for attorneys. Via practicelaw.org, MSBA offer members legal forms, links to statutes and court rules, accounting guides, and “Jump Starts” (“nutshell” explanations, practice checklists, and at-a-glance mind maps) for practitioners in ten or more practice areas. This is bigger and better than it was eight years ago and it’s open exclusively to MSBA members for the cost of membership.

A more recent addition to our online toolkit for MSBA members is Fastcase. As the name implies, Fastcase allows you to find cases (and statutes and rules) fast; yes, it is an online research tool that MSBA has licensed to provide to its members. Fastcase has an integrated citation-analysis feature. Think about it, the typical online research services that are available to attorneys throughout our state can cost from $350 to $800 a month. Most Fastcase functions and libraries can be accessed by members of the MSBA simply by logging in at mnbar.org. It takes only a little math to realize that a sole practitioner’s annual savings on legal research alone would more than offset the cost of MSBA membership, and the benefits accruing to firms with multiple associates as members would be that much greater.

Mndocs is a document-creation tool that allows members to create multiple documents based on information obtained in the normal course of due diligence and entered only once into the computer. No need to “reinvent the wheel” when you need a document; it most likely has been done once and now is available, ready to use at mndocs. Over 250 forms are included for use in areas such as business law, guardianship/conservatorship, criminal law, family law, probate, and real estate. And who has access to the service? That’s right, members of the MSBA. There is a small fee of $40 per year involved for members, but this works out to just $3.34 a month.

A very helpful online resource that could help members save advertising dollars and extend their marketing is mnfindalawyer.com. As an MSBA member, you can create a professional profile including your picture, contact information, and areas of expertise and make it available free to the public. Clients can search for you based on area of law, location, language, or keyword. There is a small fee, but in today’s market of “quick, easy and now,” the internet is where potential clients are searching for answers, including “what attorney should I use?”

The MSBA has always teamed with other organizations to promote our profession and now, in partnership with the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, offers projusticemn.org, providing access to libraries, forms, research assistance, CLE, pro bono opportunities, and colleagues in legal services and pro bono work. Anyone willing to take on my challenge and do pro bono work can find value here simply by signing up.

Value for Your Dollar

A one-page article can only begin to cover the advantages and benefits that one receives as an MSBA member. I have not even covered all of the online benefits: CourtOps, the legal ethics ebook, our listservs, or resources at www.mnbar.org. Yet we need to answer the question, “Why?” I think the harder question is “Why not?”

Why would someone in our profession not belong to this organization? Yeah, some are not joiners and simply would not join for any reason, but I cannot believe that 33 percent of the licensed attorneys in this state fit into that category. I think we owe it to our fellow professionals to show the value for the dollar MSBA offers. You cannot get what the MSBA offers at comparable cost anywhere outside of the MSBA. I have mentioned only a few online programs that will greatly save you on outside services. I have not mentioned the sections, the committees, the networking opportunities, the CLEs, or the MNCLE discounts provided to MSBA members. Hell, I failed to mention the opportunity to participate in a legal education exchange in Cuba. Yeah, I need to ask you the question again, “Why not?”

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Phil Duran

Phil Duran is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A Minnesota resident since 1997, he serves as legal director for OutFront Minnesota, an LGBT advocacy organization, and advises nonprofit organizations as staff attorney for MAP for Nonprofits, both based in the Twin Cities.