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

MSBA President 2018-19: Paul Godfrey

A Coaching Style of Leadership

By all accounts, Paul Godfrey, the 2018-19 Minnesota State Bar Association president, is a conscientious straight-shooter who likes to get things done. He’s also a long-time coach who brings a team mentality to his playbook.


If you have occasion to phone Paul Godfrey while he’s serving as MSBA president this year, expect a short conversation. That, according to long-time friend Tim Eiden, who relates years of exchanges like this: “Hello?” “Eiden, Godfrey. I’ll help you paint,” followed by a click. “No details or anything,” Eiden says laughing. “Just the obvious inference that I should stay tuned.”

That particular episode stands out in Eiden’s mind despite having occurred 30 years ago, when he and Godfrey worked together at a St. Paul law firm. Eiden had been complaining about the difficulty of finding house painters on his tight budget, prompting the call from Godfrey a few days later. “And then he did help,” Eiden says. “He’s ‘Mr. St. Paul,’ so he had all these connections to rustle up ladders and equipment. He came over and we set everything up and we painted the house. We worked on it a long time and it was kind of hilarious. He was a very hard worker, but he was religious about his breaks. About every 30 minutes, he would stop for a can of pop.”

When the project was over, Eiden, now a partner at Eiden & Hatfield LLC, was reminded of something else about his friend—a wry sense of humor. “I remember when we were finishing up, I said something like, ‘I hope next time we need to paint it isn’t so hard,’ and he said back, ‘I hope next time, we can afford to hire it out.”

For Eiden and others close to Godfrey, the point of the house-painting story lies not in his sometimes-brusque communications, but rather in Godfrey’s loyalty, problem-solving acumen, and willingness to help even when the work is difficult. It’s also a fair representation of his approach to time management and efficiency, two assets that have helped him balance a lifetime of multiple commitments to work, family, volunteering with his deep love of coaching and participating in sports.

In any case, Godfrey comes by his communication style naturally, as the sixth of seven children born to Jean and Otis Godfrey, a well-known St. Paul judge who used to engage his brood by discussing made-up “cases” at the dinner table. Slated to become part of the fourth generation of Godfrey attorneys (along with sister Carol Warren and brother Tim Godfrey), the young Paul Godfrey learned early to communicate briefly and clearly with a father who was famous for an intimidating style of courtroom management.

The rule of sports

Efficiency became a skill Godfrey carried with him through high school and college, where he balanced his studies with a constant stream of sporting activities, ranging from competitive target shooting to football, soccer and, especially, hockey—the game he still played until his knees finally gave up in protest a few years ago. Godfrey also picked up golf, getting good enough at one point to earn a 9.9 USGA handicap, which lent credibility when he and the elder Godfrey would play in father-son tournaments together. 

In his early years, a number of Godfrey’s choices revolved around sports. As a pre-teen he decided he wanted to attend 8th grade at a private school because of the caliber of its hockey team. Knowing his father would question the expense, Godfrey researched the cost, took on a second paper route, and presented the cash for one year’s tuition to his father along with his request, which was granted. Godfrey never regretted the investment, calling it the “best $200
I ever spent.”

Becoming a family man

If love of sports directed much of Godfrey’s early life, the needs of family held sway as he left college. Eschewing the east coast, where he had earned his undergraduate degree (American Government at Wesleyan University), Godfrey came home to St. Paul, where he could attend William Mitchell College of Law while living with his parents. The next several years were spent building his career in worker’s compensation and personal injury defense, and establishing roots in the community as a coach and volunteer. This is also when he met Mary Sue Schneider, a relationship that served to ground him in Eiden’s view. The two were married in 1989, and their children, Charlie and Claire, came along in 1991 and 1993. 

It didn’t take long for Godfrey the bachelor to make the transition to Godfrey the family man. An early riser, he honed his breakfast-making skills—a role he still fulfills by making coffee and an omelet most mornings for Mary Sue, who reports he also makes a good tiramisu and won’t be easily parted from the kitchen torch he uses for crème brûlée.

For Eiden, a very visible sign of the Godfreys’ nesting was the slow and steady banishment of questionable décor, such as Paul’s limited edition wildlife print, “Greenhead Alert” by David Maass. When Godfrey was single, the picture of ducks landing on a lake held pride of place in his living room. But in the months after the wedding, Eiden noticed its migration to the basement and then the garage, until finally it disappeared forever. While Mary Sue disavows any knowledge of the print’s ultimate disposition, Godfrey may not have had time to miss it. By then he had launched himself into a new round of activities—such as the backyard ice rink that he builds each year for the neighborhood kids, and the coaching commitments that intensified as his own children got old enough to play. 

Giving back through coaching

In truth, Godfrey had been coaching in one way or another since his youth, most particularly in the sport of hockey. His younger brother Tim received the benefit of Godfrey’s instruction while they were still in high school, and Godfrey later coached his nephew’s team before his own kids joined the fray. He even coached Mary Sue’s team for two of the 10 years she played for the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota.

Over the years, the Godfrey brothers have tag-teamed their interest in coaching hockey, swapping the roles of head coach and assistant at various intervals. At the moment, Paul is serving as Tim’s assistant for a community team of high schoolers. As an attorney himself (Godfrey Law Offices, PA in St. Paul), Tim Godfrey appreciates the high level of organization required to balance a legal career with managing a team. But he says commitment to the sport outweighs struggles with the schedule. “We both coached our kids growing up,” Tim Godfrey notes. “But we both want to keep coaching to give something back to the game, since we got a lot from playing in high school and college.”

A coaching style of leadership

Since 2004, Godfrey has also served as a mentor for the University of St. Thomas Law School, where he earned an impromptu ranking as “the Cadillac of mentors” from one appreciative student. According to Judith Rush, the director of mentor externships for the law school, Godfrey receives high scores from his mentees for being approachable and providing a well-rounded experience, which is one reason she likes pairing him with first-year students. “Besides being so open with his resources, he’s just really kind,” Rush says. “That makes a big difference for 1Ls.”

In terms of style, Tim Godfrey says his brother’s coaching leans heavily to individual instruction, a bent that carries over to his professional life. “Paul’s very individual-oriented,” Tim says. “He focuses on each person’s skill development. That’s how he manages lawyers on his team and how he coaches trial lawyers.” The team Tim refers to are the nine or 10 lawyers under Godfrey’s direction as the managing attorney for the Twin Cities Branch Law Office of the Farmers Insurance Group. In addition to supervising the caseloads and support staff, Godfrey also teaches litigation in Farmers’ national trial school program, a commitment of several weeks each year. 

Godfrey agrees there is a strong connection between coaching and directing attorneys, but he sees it even more clearly when it comes to leading volunteers. “One thing I learned with Mary Sue’s hockey team is that you have to explain yourself more to coach adults,” he notes. “Just about every drill I put in, I’d have to explain. My takeaway was that there are times you need to explain in detail and not expect everyone to accept it. The bar association is mostly volunteers, and they’re all lawyers. You have to convince them and overcome their skepticism.”

Bar membership, not optional

While building his career at Farmers, Godfrey also began intensifying his bar association involvement. Starting with membership in the state and county bars (which his father slyly led him to believe was not optional for new attorneys), Godfrey quickly added committee participation and leadership roles until, in 2010, he became president of the Ramsey County Bar Association (RCBA). Cheryl Dalby, executive director of the RCBA, was new in her post when Godfrey started his year as president. Along with describing Godfrey’s leadership attributes, such as being a consensus builder who is willing to make decisions, she provides a warning about the other side of his temperament—the joker. One prank he pulled on her was memorable because it happened in her first months on the job. “I didn’t know him very well,” she says, “so when he sent me an email the day of a talk he was giving, asking ‘By the way, do you have my speech written?’ – well, I thought, I hope he’s kidding, but just in case…”Dalby dutifully created talking points for Godfrey, but when she mentioned it to his wife later, she says “Mary Sue yelled at him, ‘You have to write JK when you’re just kidding!’”

Whether or not Godfrey sends a lot of JK memos as MSBA president, Dalby feels certain he will be an effective leader, particularly in a time of transition for bar associations nationally. Terry Votel, 2010-11 MSBA president, places similar confidence in Godfrey’s leadership. Votel has a unique perspective on Godfrey’s skills, having hired him at Farmers in 1997 and also partnered on projects when both were leading bar associations in the same year. One of Godfrey’s primary contributions, Votel says, will be his unique ability to connect with younger attorneys. “He has a nimble spirit and he’s not anchored to past traditions,” Votel notes. “I like the fact that he understands that newer practitioners have different expectations, including healthier work-life balance and skills development. He understands that attorneys now need different things from their bar association.”

Three goals (plus one)

Votel’s comments align well with Godfrey’s goals for the year – of which he says he has three – plus one. The first is to continue the bar’s “One Profession” initiative, which involves reimagining bar services and outreach across the state to improve the MSBA’s effectiveness in serving several constituencies. That means newer practitioners, the judiciary, members in small towns and rural areas, and others who are sometimes overlooked will be included as events and services are planned. A second goal is to continue building collaboration between county bar associations and the MSBA, in an effort to make the most of bar resources at a time when membership numbers are not growing. The final goal is to preside over a duty that hasn’t fallen to an MSBA president in three decades: finding a new executive director to replace Tim Groshens upon his retirement this winter.

And the plus-one goal? Call it humility, realism, or just determination, but Godfrey has a personal spin for this one: “I don’t want to screw things up,” he answers. “We have a good organization and we’re going in a good direction. I want to be sure through my bar year that we keep things moving.”

Paul Godfrey: That resort was a gas!

Just the Facts

• Raised in St. Paul by Otis and Jean Godfrey in a family of seven children

• 4th generation attorney, along with siblings Carol and Timothy

• Married to Mary Sue, 29 years

• Children: Charles (married to Hannah) and Claire


• Juris Doctorate, William Mitchell College of Law, 1984

• Bachelor of Arts in American Government, Wesleyan University, 1981

• College Prep at Phillips Exeter Academy, 1977

• Cretin High School, 1976

Legal Career

• Farmers Insurance Twin Cities Branch Legal Office, since 1997 (Managing Attorney since 2010)

• Associate – Brown and Holman, PA, 1992-1997

• Associate Partner – Hansen, Dordell, Bradt, Odlaug and Bradt, 1987-1992

• Associate – Pustorino, Pederson, Tilton and Parrington, 1984-1987

Additional Legal Experience

• Arbitrator – American Arbitration Association, since 1989

• Referee – Hennepin County Conciliation Court, 2004-2010

• Arbitrator – Hennepin County Non-Binding Arbitration Program, 1997-2007

• Law Clerk – Judge Charles A. Flinn, Jr., 1983-1984

• Law Clerk – Burlington Northern Railroad, 1983

• Law Clerk – Geraghty, O’Loughlin & Kenney, 1982-1983

• Law Clerk – Eastlund, Peterson & Solstad, 1982

Bar Leadership Roles (selected)

Minnesota State Bar Association

• President – 2018-2019; Executive Council Member since 2015

• Member – Civil Litigation Governing Council, 2004-2017 (Chair, 2015-2016)

• Judge – Mock Trial Program, 2005

Ramsey County Bar Association

• President – 2010-2011

• Member – Board of Directors, 2006-2011

• Co-Chair – Events Oversight Committee, 2010-2016

• Co-Chair – Bench & Bar Benefit, 2004-2005; Committee Member, since 2001

Coaching & Volunteering

• Mentor – University of St. Thomas Law School Mentor Program, since 2004

• Assistant Coach – Edgcumbe Youth Hockey, since 2015

• Coach – Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota, 2004-2006

• Coach – Highland Central Hockey Association, 23 years; President, 2002-2006

• Coach – Highland Little League, 1999-2006

• Board Member – St. Paul YWCA Camp Widjiwagan, 1990-1996

5 additional facts about Paul Godfrey

1) He has a weakness for sweets.

2) He has a sweet, but not necessarily productive, golf swing.

3) His newest sport is slalom waterskiing, walthough he’s not yet competitive.

4) He and Mary Sue belong to a bike club, taking weekly urban rides of 20 miles or more.

5) He’s fun to see a hockey game with because he can explain the plays before they happen.


About the Author: Amy Lindgren is founder and president of Prototype Career Service, offering career counseling and job search strategies for individuals in transition.  An accomplished writer, she writes a weekly employment column which appears in newspapers nationally and has profiled a number of incoming MSBA presidents for Bench & Bar.

One Comment

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