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

‘Tis (Still) the Season …

The onset of the New Year, coming at the end of an often hectic and emotional holiday season, offers some relief from the craziness and, before we plunge back into the daily grind, a good time to step back and think about what’s important.  For me, like many of you, the answer is family.  It’s also giving to those less fortunate.  And, even at this hectic time of year, I feel thankful for the work I do and the legal profession that makes that work possible.  In this spirit, I invite you to contemplate for a moment the importance of our profession.

Making a Difference

Across Minnesota, every day, attorneys make a difference in our offices, chambers, courts, and communities.  We help our fellow citizens better navigate the legal system.  We bring to fruition the promise of a fair and just society in our everyday activities.  And we lend a hand in our communities through association membership and participation, serving on boards, and helping the young and disadvantaged with legal issues.

We are paid for some of our work, of course.  But we do the remainder because we value making a difference.  We want to use our skills to improve the legal profession, our country’s system of justice, and our statewide and local communities.

Unique Responsibility

I think many of us choose to support the efforts of law-related causes because we know that, as a self-regulated profession, it is really up to us to positively affect the legal system.  Who else is going to care about justice as an overall concept and the administration of justice in practice?  Who else will place an emphasis on law-related education in civil society?  Who else is actively figuring out what to do to better serve the legal needs of disadvantaged members of our society?

My guess:  the ball is in our court (no pun intended).  In the end, it’s attorneys who shoulder the responsibility to effect change in this arena.

Opportunity to Give Back

Many of you seek opportunities to make an impact on issues unique to our profession.  And I bet you don’t always have the time you’d like to give.  I’ve got an idea you may not have thought of before:  the Minnesota State Bar Foundation (MSBF).  This is the one and only organization in Minnesota that focuses entirely on funding efforts to improve access to justice, legal education, and the legal system throughout the state.

It’s our donations and member dues that make MSBF’s work possible.  While we all can individually contribute to making access to justice and legal education a reality, the MSBF allows us an opportunity to pool our efforts to make a more powerful impact than one person or organization can make alone.  And a more powerful impact is needed right now as many Minnesotans experience increased debt, increased legal needs, and increased poverty.

As a former member of the Bar Foundation’s board of directors, I have personal knowledge of the importance of this organization and its commitment to the betterment of our profession.  While many of us have felt the effects of the economic downturn in the last few years, the downturn has substantially reduced the Foundation’s ability to fund educational and community services that historically have benefited from Foundation support.  Only four years ago the Foundation board was fortunate to provide grants to the legal community in excess of $106,000; by contrast, all grants awarded last year totaled just over $68,000.

A Birthday Present

Fiscal year 2012-13 marks the 80th anniversary of MSBF’s creation as the MSBA’s charitable arm in 1932.  To celebrate the occasion, MSBF has set a big goal:  to give $80,000 in grants in its 80th year.  To help make that goal a reality, I encourage you to consider a gift to MSBF.  You will be contributing to a worthwhile cause and to the furtherance of our profession.

Special thanks to Bar Foundation board member Gary Voegele and Kim McKelvey of ALPS Foundation Services for their assistance in preparing this month’s column.

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Robert F. Enger

Bob was president of the Minnesota State Bar Association from 2012-2013. A son of northern Minnesota, he serves as Supervising Attorney for Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, based in Bemidji, and is the first legal services attorney to serve as MSBA President.