I became a lawyer to empower people. And I joined the Minnesota State Bar Association to empower myself. Before I started my career as a lawyer, I spoke to a number of business entrepreneurs about how to deliver excellence and creativity in client service. Their advice? Go after opportunities for accelerated professional growth. Get diversified practice experience. And “show up” for bar events because you never know who you will meet who will change your life.
MSBA Enhances and Enriches Legal Careers
I showed up at the state bar as soon as I began practicing law. MSBA has enhanced my career ever since. I am a legal strategist, litigator, and appellate lawyer. My practice is often at the intersection of law and public policy. As an active member of MSBA, I have had the privilege of leading the Appellate Practice Section and being part of our special community of appellate attorneys and judges. I have had the opportunity to work on the most important policy issues facing the legal profession at the state Legislature, the Congress, and the Minnesota Supreme Court. I am a better attorney and leader because I have been engaged in the bar. And yes, I have met people across the state who have shared their stories with me and enriched my life.
Empowerment Through Diversity and Inclusion
As president of the MSBA, I want the state bar to work for everyone, with no one left out. This means building the next generation of lawyers, welcoming them to the profession, and giving them the tools and connections they need to succeed. It means reaching out and leveraging the talent of practitioners in greater Minnesota, and addressing the challenges of rural practice. Finally, it means valuing and including those who are different from us, in everything we do. The diversity of the bar encompasses race, age, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and geography (among other things). At MSBA, we are focusing on a change in mindset. It is a mindset that we acquire from personally experiencing, and therefore intuitively knowing, that we are better lawyers when we value and include those who are different from us. When we maximize the best talent from a variety of backgrounds, we make better business decisions and have a competitive advantage. When we “live” diversity and inclusion, we are more empowered to serve our clients. We naturally elevate our practice of law.
Supporting Lawyers with Chemical Dependency and Mental Health Issues
MSBA’s diversity and inclusion work extends to those disabled by alcohol use problems and mental illness. This year, the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation publicized the results of their historic effort to understand the impact of behavioral health problems on the legal community. The data indicates that attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, and consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations. More specifically, 20.6 percent of lawyers engaged in hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking; lawyers 30 years of age or younger were significantly more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than older lawyers; and 43.7 percent reported that problematic use of alcohol started within the first 15 years following law school. The study also indicated that levels of depression (28 percent), anxiety (19 percent), and stress (23 percent) among attorneys are significant. Unfortunately, the barriers to obtaining help are also significant. Attorneys have concerns about privacy and confidentiality and fear that they will be stigmatized if others find out.
If you know or work with someone suffering from alcoholism or mental illness, you understand the toll it takes on individual lives and those who care for them. On behalf of the MSBA, I ask that you extend your compassion and empathy to our colleagues and direct them to Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers (651) 646-5590 so they can get the confidential assistance they need. Please see www.mnlcl.org for the full range of services LCL provides.
This year the MSBA is tackling a number of issues that will affect the future of the practice of law. These include changes in the legal services and legal education markets, access to justice, juvenile justice, and judicial elections. We hope that you will contribute your experience and perspective to our work. We are empowered by your voice. And your collective, diverse voices help us empower you.
ROBIN M. WOLPERT is a legal strategist, litigator, and appellate lawyer at Sapientia Law Group, where she focuses her practice on complex business litigation, data privacy, constitutional law, and political law compliance. Robin represents clients in litigation involving private parties or the government, parallel civil and criminal proceedings, civil and criminal appeals, and investigations.