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

Building a next-generation bar

The MSBA is in the business of creating and exercising power—power for our members, profession, and community. The MSBA is a creative and innovative organization devoted to advancing and realizing the promise of the rule of law, constantly questioning and challenging the status quo and asking, can’t we do better? The way we challenge the status quo and realize the promise of the rule of law is by empowering our lawyers to empower their clients, and giving our lawyers the means to engage.

This may not be the state bar you know, but it is the state bar I have always known since I joined 16 years ago. This year, my mission has been to make the state bar work this way for everyone, with no one left out. How are we doing this? We are leading with a next-generation mindset, disrupting ourselves along the way. What are we doing? Cutting edge work that creates powerful attorneys doing powerful things for their clients, the profession, and our community.

In order to make the bar work for everyone, with no one left out, the emphasis must be on “work” and “everyone.” Let’s begin with “everyone.” There are two populations of lawyers that are absolutely critical for the vitality of the state bar—the next generation and our diverse lawyers. Diversity, including generational diversity, is not something “nice to have.” This is the source of our power. We “vintage lawyers” are stuck in a mindset and a way of seeing and being that no longer fits with our changing legal services market. Diversity, including generational diversity, thrusts us into reality by expanding the bandwidth of perception and creating better options and outcomes that work. It is now conventional wisdom that diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage that leads to better decision-making, better outcomes, greater market share, and overall higher financial performance. The MSBA is grasping that power. Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives.

Let’s turn to the concept of “work” and acknowledge that the bar does not always work for everyone. How it works depends a great deal on who you know. For some, the MSBA is a black box—inaccessible, unknowable, and impenetrable. It takes more than joining the MSBA to figure out how to access the bar’s power for yourself. You need an ambassador. Or, more realistically, a handful of ambassadors to guide you and connect you to the right people and right parts of the organization.

To address these challenges, the MSBA is building strong bridges to the next generation and diverse lawyers. This year, the MSBA launched new programs to enhance diversity and inclusion and engage law students and new lawyers in the profession. To strengthen this work, the New Lawyers Section is organizing a Presidential Summit this spring with the bar president and other bar leaders to engage in crucial cross-generational conversations regarding the barriers to new lawyer engagement. We will be creating a new playbook so that everyone knows what the various parts of the organization do, what they are working on right now, who is leading those parts of the organization, and how to get engaged. We are also going to tap the energy, wisdom, and networks of our more senior bar members to serve as ambassadors and help our new lawyers navigate the MSBA and the profession. Critically, our New Lawyers Section will be grappling with the challenge of how to make the bar more workable and accessible, through their Barriers to the Bar Task Force, launching this spring.

When the MSBA works for everyone, with no one left out, our members can create the future they want for themselves, the profession, and the community. Here’s some of the cutting edge work we are doing this year.

  • We launched the first-ever campaign to educate voters in the 2016 Minnesota Supreme Court election. We are creating new civic education initiatives to educate the public about their judges and what they do.
  • We are engaged in creating solutions to the justice gap through the Alternative Legal Models Task Force.
  • We are launching an earned media and social media campaign to support our legislative agenda at the Capitol, particularly, adequate funding for all justice system partners—the courts, civil legal services, and the public defense system.
  • We have established an all-star Commission on Juvenile Sentencing for Heinous Crimes that is working to make recommendations to policymakers regarding the factors that should be used for juvenile sentencing under the Heinous Crimes Act.
  • We are building bridges and enhancing our understanding of race and criminal justice issues through forums and our Race and Criminal Justice Online Community.

As long as we have strong bridges to our next generation lawyers and diverse lawyers, we will continue to disrupt ourselves and generate the power we need to address the issues that face us individually and as a profession.

Robin-Wolpert-HeadshotROBIN 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.

Co-author MICHAEL BOULETTE, of Messerli & Kramer, is the chair of the MSBA New Lawyers Section.

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