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

Social Skills Practice

One of the privileges of being MSBA President is the opportunity to travel across the state visiting district bar associations at their annual meetings.  It’s a great way to meet members and learn about the issues facing district bars.  These meetings are a lot of fun too.  My recent visit to the 12th District’s winter meeting was no exception.  It reinforced my belief that one of the primary reasons lawyers join bar associations is the increased sense of community they provide.  In our ever more fragmented legal profession lawyers want to connect with, and support, one another.  There is no better place to find those connections than at your local district bar.

The 12th District, like most of Minnesota’s 21 district bars, encompasses multiple counties: Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac Qui Parle, Meeker, Renville, Swift, and Yellow Medicine.  The 12th has 142 members and holds two business meetings each year, one in January and the other in June.  The location rotates each year among the member counties. Last year the Bootlegger’s Supper Club in Granite Falls hosted both meetings.  This year the winter meeting was held on January 9 at VFW Post 2818 in Litchfield.

Worth the Hike

It’s a 75-mile drive from the Twin Cities to Litchfield so MSBA Executive Director Tim Groshens and I left early to arrive in time to register.  While we waited in line a number of lawyers introduced themselves, including my law school classmate, Bradley Schmidt, who returned to his home town of Willmar after law school to practice law with his father and raise a family.  By contrast Tim Groshens needed no introductions as he is a regular at the 12th’s annual meeting (Tim has a cabin in nearby Atwater, Harrison Township).

The 12th’s winter meeting is a low-budget affair.  One volunteer lawyer handles registration.  Another distributes minutes from past meetings.  The VFW was not a fancy venue.  The reserved room had enough tables and chairs to accommodate the 40-50 lawyers arriving from across the district.  Coffee and rolls were available at a table in the corner of the room.  The walls were decorated with photographs of veterans and their families.  Adjacent to the meeting room is the Heroes Sports Bar.

The agenda for the day was an appropriate mix of business and socializing (meaning light on business and heavy on socializing).  President Steve Besser of Litchfield called the meeting to order at 9:00 a.m.  Following member introductions and the president’s opening remarks, the association promptly conducted its business.  Besser received reports from the secretary (Ben Wilcox), treasurer (Bradley Schmidt), and committee chairs of Fee Arbitration (Stephen Torvik), Membership (Aaron Walton), Public Relations (no report), Legislative (Jon Saunders), Obituary (Todd Kleinhuizen), and Ethics (Aaron Torvik).  The business portion of the meeting was done by 9:30.

The next item on the agenda was the guest speaker.  Typically that role is filled by retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, who is a regular at the 12th’s annual meetings (and always good for at least one hour of CLE credit).  This year Justice Anderson could not make the meeting and the scheduled speaker from the Minnesota Law Library had to cancel at the last minute.  So it fell to Groshens and me to address the group.  I provided a brief report previewing the MSBA’s legislative priorities this session (securing adequate funding for the courts, public defenders, and civil legal services) and the big rollout of the MSBA’s online directory aimed at increasing the visibility of small-firm lawyers.  Groshens highlighted the MSBA’s recent efforts at increasing the number of forms and documents available online to members and also volunteer opportunities at the MSBA.  We finished our remarks by 10:00.  There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned to “Social Skills Practice” for the next two hours while the members waited for lunch.

Social Skills Practice

Social Skills Practice is a time-honored tradition in the 12th that involves catching up with new and old friends, often over a libation of one’s choice.  And, to be honest, it was the best part of the meeting.  Bloody Marys are a popular choice of many members.  Any recently deceased member is honored with a toast.  For two hours attorneys reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  For some the annual meeting may be the only time they see one another during the year.  It’s a diverse group in terms of age and practice area.  There were as many young lawyers as seasoned veterans.  While most are private practitioners, the public sector was well-represented by district court judges Rodney Hanson (Glenwood) and David Mennis (Benson), as well as Kandiyohi County Attorney Shane Baker and three of his assistants.

It’s easy to forget in our busy professional lives how important fun and camaraderie are to the practice of law.  Or the benefits of meeting other lawyers to exchange war stories!  District bar meetings offer members all that and more.  Nothing fancy or particularly time consuming.  Just lawyers spending time with one another on a chilly January morning sipping Bloody Marys from the Heroes Sports Bar.

As MSBA President I hope to visit many more district bar meetings before my term ends in June.  I thoroughly enjoy meeting the many lawyers and judges who make the district bars so special.  The 12th is not unique in its ability to bring busy lawyers together for a few hours of business and socializing.  Many district bars do an equally good job of promoting fellowship among their members.  We at the MSBA can learn a thing or two from our friends at the district bars, including social skills practice.

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Richard H. Kyle Jr.

Richard H. Kyle Jr. was the 2014-15 president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A shareholder with Fredrikson & Byron PA in Minneapolis, he is a criminal defense lawyer who has practiced law in both solo and large firm settings since being admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1990.