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

So Long, Tim Groshens

When Tim Groshens was named executive director of the Minnesota State Bar Association in 1985, Ronald Reagan was president, big hair was stylish, and desktop computers were still just an unsettling rumor in most lawyers’ offices.

Amid the myriad changes of the ensuing 34 years, Groshens’ leadership of MSBA staff and his service to officers and members remained constant. On the occasion of his retirement this winter, MSBA member, legal ethics expert, and longtime friend Chuck Lundberg volunteered to solicit recollections about Tim and his legacy at the bar, and we’re pleased to present them here.

Bon voyage and the best of luck, Tim—and thank you.

 

William J. Wernz

Dorsey & Whitney, (ethics partner, 1992-2012) (retired); director of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, 1985-1992 


Around the start of the new millennium, Tim Groshens began pestering me in his typically quiet but persistent way. Tim was recruiting lawyers to provide for MSBA members short, useful summaries of common issues and solutions in their practice areas. Tim’s idea was to post this material on the MSBA website regularly—desk books for the new era.

My own work in legal ethics, at Dorsey & Whitney and the Lawyers Board, had persuaded me that lawyers badly needed knowledge management, including legal ethics. When I started in the field in 1981, the problem was that there were few good, useful, well-stocked resources. Two decades later, the problem had become that there were too many rules and opinions to store in human memory. Tim was preaching to the choir.

This chorister, however, had his own views on how to organize legal ethics knowledge. I told Tim I could not do short, useful summaries. If he would be patient, and provide some essential help, we would do the job right. 

He didn’t let me forget. Thus began the development of my treatises, Minnesota Legal Ethics and Dealing With and Defending Ethics Complaints. Tim was patient but persistent. I finally retired from Dorsey and found the time needed. 

Tim found editors, layout specialists, a website for MSBA’s hosting, and publicity. He made helpful suggestions about tone, audiences, uses, and many other things. We agreed that the treatises would be free and available to all, not just to MSBA members. I believe that together Tim and I created very useful resources for Minnesota lawyers. 

Tim keeps after me: “Who is going to take over the treatises when you’re done?” I haven’t figured that out. Now that Tim has answered the question for himself, perhaps he will find an answer for me.

 

Susan M. Holden

SiebenCarey; MSBA president 2005-2006


I really got to know Tim Groshens after I started in the MSBA officer track. Over those years, Tim and I spent hundreds of hours together at meetings and conferences in Minnesota and nationally. And I began to appreciate how truly fortunate the Minnesota bar was to have Tim at the helm.

One of Tim’s strengths has been his ability to gently manage the change that comes with having a new president every year. These incoming presidents, as well-intentioned as can be, generally have a few ideas of what they would like to accomplish during their one-year term. But it doesn’t always serve the best interests of a bar association to have its focus shifted every 12 months when a new president takes office, or to devote resources to a new “signature program” dreamed up by the most recent volunteer leader who is “in charge.” Tim managed that tension well.

During the years that I was an officer, Tim’s guidance helped the MSBA generally avoid the dizzying whipsaw that can occur with annual leadership change. My term as president came at a time of transition in the MSBA’s governance structure: The Executive Committee had become the Council and the Board of Governors had become the Assembly, and both bodies included expanded representation of multiple groups from within the MSBA and outside entities. I planned and prepared to continue the efforts of the presidents before me, with no major programmatic initiative of my own; the idea was to implement the new governance structure intentionally to engage more members in the MSBA. 

Mission accomplished from Tim’s perspective. Then, while we were deciding what we would be doing that bar year, the events of the day changed our plans. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, devastating the region and creating a huge need for humanitarian aid and legal assistance. Suddenly there was a new agenda to address. When I went to him to discuss how I wanted to respond to this disaster, Tim’s approach revealed another one of his significant strengths as executive director—the ability to engage a talented staff in support of the volunteer leaders. Tim reassigned personnel to assist in designing and implementing a fundraising effort to collect money and law office furnishings to support lawyers and legal services providers on the Gulf Coast. With this help, we raised more contributions than any other state bar association in the country.

And that was typical of Tim—always committed to the success of MSBA leadership. He wanted each president to enjoy their term and to accomplish the maximum they could on behalf of the MSBA and its members. But while much of the credit for the MSBA’s success in Katrina relief was given to me, most of that credit belongs to Tim and the staff of the MSBA, without whom our success (and my success) could never have been achieved.

As an officer of the MSBA, I gained experience that could not be duplicated in any other way in our profession, and all of it was enabled and enriched by Tim Groshens. Our weekly meetings ended, of course, at the end of my term. But I am thankful for the continuing friendship we forged. I wish Tim a long and satisfying retirement, and I thank him for his many years of effective service.

 

Kent Gernander

Streater & Murphy PA (retired); MSBA president, 2000-2001


Tim Groshens’ challenge was to serve as CEO of an organization whose members—all lawyers—annually choose a new board and chair, who take office in turn with ambitions to change the organization and improve the world. During Tim’s 34 years as executive director, bar presidents came and went, with varying styles, temperaments, and wisdom. Tim accepted and supported their initiatives, while managing staff, operations, and budget, and seeing that the work of the organization was carried out and its members were served.

I enjoyed Tim’s support during my time in office. Calls from Tim to me would begin “Hi, it’s Tim, do you have a minute?” and continue with reminders and questions about things to be done. His unassuming query “Do you want to…” would suggest a course of action while leaving the feeling that it was my idea. At assemblies, his quiet presence at the back of the room—arms folded across his chest, surveying the scene—offered assurance that things were under control.

We once undertook a project to build a house with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Tim (a hobbyist carpenter) supported the project enthusiastically, helping to obtain board approval, raise funds, engage Jerry Regnier (a former executive director) and Ted Collins to supervise the construction crew, and recruit lawyers and judges as volunteer workers. The MSBA completed three family houses over a three-year period, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to public service and Tim’s management skills. 

If you ask Tim what he valued in his tenure, he will say that he likes lawyers, finds them intelligent and committed, and enjoys their company. His legacy is a strong organization that does its work well through sometimes-challenging times.

 

Fred Finch

Bassford Remele PA (retired); ABA Board of Governors, 2009-2012; MSBA Assembly 2005-2019


I was admitted to practice in the fall of 1973 and immediately joined the Minnesota State Bar Association. My law firm virtually required attorneys to join the MSBA. But it didn’t pay our dues. The theory was that we could easily deduct our dues on our individual tax returns—the firm would pay for expenses that might be challenged by the IRS if we were audited.

As a new associate, I was actually making less than I had made in a non-legal job. I had a family and a mortgage. I found out that I could ease my cash flow problems by paying my bar association dues semiannually. I did so for several years. 

In the fall of 1980, I sent in my payment of half my bar dues for 1980-1981. I got back a letter returning my check and saying that I had to pay my dues in full. It was signed by a guy named Timothy Groshens. I didn’t know who he was, so I looked him up in the bar directory. 

Younger lawyers won’t know about the bar directory. One issue of Bench & Bar each year was an annual bar association directory. It contained names, addresses, and telephone numbers for the bar association staff, judges, court officials, and bar association members. For many years, that issue stayed on the top of my desk, next to my phone. When I needed to talk to a lawyer or judge, it was the first source for contact information.

Tim Groshens wasn’t in the directory. He wasn’t listed as a judge, as a lawyer, or as bar association staff. He was a nonentity.

I don’t remember if I wrote a letter to Mr. Groshens telling him what he could do with his letter or if I just called the MSBA office and asked to talk to him. I think I sent him a letter. In those days, downtown law firms used letterheads that bore the names of all the members of the firm. My firm’s letterhead had an impressive list of names. I wasn’t even on the bottom of the listing. I thought that might impress him into relenting. It didn’t.

Eventually, we agreed to meet. I walked from my office high in the IDS Tower over to the MSBA offices in the basement of the Minnesota Federal Building. It’s now known as 6 Quebec. In those days it was the home of a savings and loan association. If you don’t know what a savings and loan association was, ask an old lawyer. 

Timothy Groshens turned out to be a new lawyer. I later learned that he had been hired as the Association’s director of legal services and legislation. He had lots of fashionable long hair, a moustache, and was wearing a suit and a tie. (In those days all male lawyers wore suits and ties in the office. Every day.)

When we met, Mr. Groshens insisted that I had to pay my full bar dues in one payment at the beginning of the bar year. I told him that I had been paying in two installments for several years and didn’t have the cash to pay the oppressively large bar dues in a single payment. Groshens told me that if I failed to pay the full amount it would mean the end of the bar association—indeed, the end of life on earth as we know it. And it meant that they would kick me out of the bar association!

Well, I took my bar association memberships pretty seriously. I was a volunteer lawyer with Legal Advice Clinics—the predecessor of Volunteer Lawyers Network—and I served on its board of directors. I served on two or three committees of the Hennepin County Bar Association and regularly attended functions of the MSBA Litigation Section and Labor Law Section. 

But I stuck to my guns. I pointed out that the bar association needs young lawyers to join and remain active to maintain its viability. I told him that with the outrageously increasing cost of living, young lawyers were having a hard time meeting their financial obligations. (At the time, the cost of living had been increasing by over 14 percent per year). Forcing lawyers to make full payment would prevent or discourage membership. 

Mr. Groshens was not impressed. What if we let everyone pay their dues in installments? It would lead to financial ruin. The increased accounting costs of keeping track of installment dues payments alone would be ruinous! He wouldn’t relent.

I gave Mr. Groshens my check for half the annual bar dues. I told him to give it to his boss. I told him that if he wanted to kick me out of the bar association and reject a young lawyer who was active in bar association activities, that would be a rational choice. I could accept it.
But I was willing to live with it. (By this time, I had convinced myself. I believed that it was not a matter of half the bar dues but rather a matter of principle!) (As you know, lawyers make a lot of money out of people who believe in a matter of principle.)
Groshens told me that I would be hearing from the Association.

I don’t think I ever heard anything more from the MSBA about the matter, but my check cleared! In the May-June 1981 issue of Bench & Bar, there was a brief notice stating that the Executive Committee, in responding to numerous requests from the membership, had determined to allow members to pay annual dues in two installments, on or before October 1 and February 1 of each bar year, so long as they paid a service fee of $2.50 per payment for the privilege.

Despite his failings as a dues collector, young Mr. Groshens must have had some positive qualities. By October 1982, Bench & Bar listed him as the associate executive director of the Association. In July 1983, he was designated as the editor of Bench & Bar. And when Celene Greene left in April, 1985 to become executive director of the Oregon Bar Association, Leonard Keyes, the MSBA president, announced that out of 231 applicants for the position in a nationwide search, Timothy Groshens had been hired as the new executive director of the MSBA.

In later years, I have had the privilege of working extensively with Tim Groshens on matters public and private. I have come to have a very high regard for his low-key leadership style. I could even manage a smile when, in 2005, after laboring for the better part of a year to improve the efficiency of the governance structure of the association, Tim pointed out that our governance committee had managed to increase the size of our governing body from 125 to 142. Up to now, however, I have managed to avoid reminding him that our first encounter was his effort to kick me out of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

 

Patrick J. Kelly

Kelly & Lemmons, P.A.; MSBA president, 2006-2007


On one occasion, Tim and some of the officers of the MSBA attended a small conference in the Southwest with 15 bar directors and their presidents. It took place over a weekend, and after a 10-hour discussion in a windowless room, the host state held an intimate formal dinner on an outside patio on a warm desert night; spouses were also invited, on the condition that all their expenses were not charged to any bar association. The host posed a question to the group: Who was or is the most important person in your practice of law or as an executive director? The group consisted of alpha individuals—all successful, aggressive, coldly pragmatic people. After an intense day, I knew the lawyers were thinking of law partners, judges, former professors or clients. The executive directors, always thinking in the present, were faced with couching an answer that would include the current officers at their table. 

A certain amount of time was elapsing and no one was volunteering an answer, and as I looked around the patio, I saw the spouses—the true partners in life’s journey. I stood up and simply stated from the heart that my true love was my spouse and confidant throughout the years. Tim, rubbing his forehead—and with just a bit of a smile—leaned over and told me, “I don’t think this is the direction he wanted, but you just may have won the hearts of many.” 

Then Tim stood up and declared that there was no question that his wife, Mary, and his children were the most important factors in his career. Tim always had your back, and after he spoke, 14 directors and presidents offered unbelievable statements about their life partners, families, and eventually, other individuals in their career. The last president got up and stated that she was announcing her separation from her spouse tonight because he had no impact. A dark silence followed. I looked at Tim, who whispered, “Patrick, you always make things more than interesting.” Then she smiled in the silence, gently kissed her spouse, and proclaimed that she was just kidding-—and added, “Way to go, Minnesota, you just made my weekend!”

 

“Under Tim Groshens’ long and excellent leadership, the MSBA has achieved new heights of success.He is a respected leader of bar executives throughout the nation.”Robert Stein, Everett Fraser Professor of Law, University of Minnesota; former ABA executive director

“I have always been impressed by Tim’s wise counsel when wisdom was needed; his unflappability when others would be close to collapse out of anger and frustration; and his adaptability to different personalities ( a new MSBA president every year) and to changes to the legal profession, when many would be unable to adjust and change as the situation required. To do so at a high level for all of these years is very impressive. To accomplish this while remaining well-liked and respected is unusual indeed.” Chief Judge Edward Cleary, Minnesota Court of Appeals

“From the minute I met Tim in October of 1992, Tim has been someone I could depend on for sound, well-reasoned advice.  Tim is as professional as any executive director I ever worked with in my 25 years on the job.  He is quick to analyze situations, and quick to develop a course of action.  A no nonsense guy, Tim would always tell me, when asked, whether we were off course or not.  Once when I was frustrated about how to handle an issue concerning very young employees, Tim rocked back in his chair and said, ‘Tom, you just have to get over it.’  The simple, common sense nature of Tim’s advice was always present.  Minnesota was fortunate to have his services for those many years.” Tom Pryz, executive director emeritus, Indiana State Bar Association

 “Tim has a quietly self-confident, droll sense of humor that he uses to laugh with you and at himself, but never at you. He’s quick to evaluate, but never judge; knowledgeable, but never acted like he had to let you know that.  He is genuine, a trait whose importance in leadership I learned from him. The way he entered the room was telling.  He was always unobtrusive, and you would think him a wallflower, but if you watched him, he quietly worked the entire room like a master politician, greeting people warmly, always with that quiet, welcoming face.”George Brown, State Bar of Wisconsin executive director 2000 – 2017

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