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

Enlivening a Vital Partnership

I am proud to be a member of the MSBA because of the efforts it makes to be a vital partner for attorneys statewide.  But, as you will read below, I do have some questions and I hope you will consider responding.

Statewide Reach

The MSBA’s statewide reach was really brought home for me this spring during our annual “Nine Days in June” program, our “unconventional convention.”  You may recall that up until a few years ago, the MSBA had a standard, one-time, one-place, annual convention.  But attendance was dropping, and people wondered whether it was time to shelve the concept.  Instead, the program was reenvisioned as a nine-day event, where “mini-conventions” would take place in multiple locations around the state.  And it’s been a great success:  we now attract roughly six times the number of attendees as we did using the previous format.  Look for it to continue!

While I was not able to attend all nine events, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of our members from all over the state, who were delighted that the Bar was coming to their neighborhood and offering solid educational programs, updates from the local and state bench, and a chance to network outside the office.  We heard many positive comments, and got suggestions for even more that the MSBA could do as we continue to strive to educate, engage, represent, and serve attorneys all across Minnesota.

One suggestion we have received was to establish a goal of having an Elimination of Bias (EOB) credit available at all Nine Days—we were so fortunate to have a great EOB program at Day Nine, but the other programs did not have such content.  What do you think?  Let me know:

Accent, Participation

Less visible than the Nine Days, but just as vital, are the efforts the MSBA continues to make in assuring that attorneys across the state have the chance to participate in the many committee and section meetings that members find so valuable.  Last year, the MSBA began facilitating remote participation in the quarterly Assembly meetings, so that the many nonmetro district representatives can take part.  All committee and section meetings occurring in the MSBA offices are available for people to attend by telephone.  And, while not exactly sexy, the MSBA Council just approved funding to upgrade our aging listserv technology, knowing that the various online discussion groups are critical for many of our greater Minnesota practitioners, to connect with peers and share ideas and questions.

Additionally, the MSBA’s structure is designed to foster greater connections and involvement statewide through 21 geographically defined districts.  All of the districts are represented in the Assembly, the MSBA’s policy-making body, and three of our four officer positions are filled by district members’ votes:  first Ramsey County, followed by Hennepin County, and then all remaining districts together.  This spring, “all the other districts” made an excellent choice by electing Robin Wolpert to replace outgoing President Bob Enger as their representative among the officers; I look forward to serving with Robin this year and know she will be a major contributor to the MSBA’s progress during her years as an officer.

Accent, Representation

Nevertheless, as candidates stepped forward this year to seek the position of MSBA Secretary, a few were from the Twin Cities suburbs, and they encountered a challenging question:  can an attorney from the suburbs—which, according to our structure, count as “greater Minnesota”—truly represent the experiences of lawyers in places like Grand Rapids or Marshall?  It’s a valid question, and it strikes me as true that while working to assure participation from greater-Minnesota lawyers, we might have inadvertently created a structure that disadvantages suburban lawyers, who are not from Ramsey or Hennepin counties, but who may not be seen as really greater-Minnesota lawyers, either.  Though unintentional, this may undermine our efforts to be effective in achieving statewide representation.  Should the MSBA reexamine this question, and perhaps create a “metropolitan district” (perhaps corresponding to the 1st and 10th Judicial Districts) within our structure to assure that suburban attorneys can have a viable way to serve as officers?  Or are there other, more effective, ways to encourage participation by suburban attorneys?  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts:

Accent, Reactivation

Finally, I heard from lawyers in several areas who lamented that their local district Bars were not as active as they’d hoped, and who thought that additional events or opportunities to gather would be very helpful to them.  I know I’ve visited some of the district Bar annual meetings, which seem in some cases to be their only meetings, and where there can be something of a struggle to identify officers for the coming year.  This should not diminish the generous philanthropic work our districts do in their communities, decisions regarding which often are made at these meetings.  But recognizing that districts are an important part of the MSBA’s effort to truly be a Minnesota State Bar Association, I am wondering if there are ways the MSBA can provide support to greater Minnesota districts interested in becoming more active:  programs? speakers? happy hours?  If you are part of such a district, I’d be interested in hearing ideas of how we can help you be a vibrant and active organization, playing an even greater role in the lives of lawyers in your communities:

Together, we can maintain and expand this organization’s ability to be an indispensible partner to attorneys from all parts of Minnesota!

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Phil Duran

Phil Duran was 2013-14 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.