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Thad Lightfoot serves as the 2017-2018 HCBA President. Views expressed here are his own.


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Famous Last Words

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, July 2, 2018

Peter Drucker, the late well-respected management consultant, found that forecasting future trends was notoriously difficult. Drucker observed that "trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Drucker was correct. It is virtually impossible to predict the future. But Drucker did not simply give up. His solution: “the best way to predict the future is to create it."

With all due respect to Peter Drucker, the HCBA recognized this year that it cannot create every aspect of the future. But some things are within its control. We can set goals and take steps to reach them. At last year’s Annual Meeting, I explained that the HCBA’s goal was to make your practice of law more rewarding and more enjoyable. And I said that we would attempt to accomplish this goal by stressing three principles: (1) increased member value; (2) enhanced member engagement; and (3) cooperation with other bar associations.

This year, the HCBA made significant strides in implementing all three principles. As a membership organization, our foremost consideration is to increase the value our association provides to its 8,000 members. To increase member value, we further expanded the number of free continuing legal education programs for our members.


We also rolled out a number of programs unique to the HCBA. For example, our Civil Litigation Section offered an innovative and highly successful pilot program to train lawyers in trial practice and civil advocacy. The HCBA program had the full participation of the Fourth District bench and some of the Twin Cities’ most accomplished litigators.


As for enhanced member engagement, perhaps our most significant initiative was our new HCBA Excellence Awards. The awards were a retooling of our former awards program to involve more members in the selection of award recipients and to recognize the outstanding achievements of newer and younger lawyers. I am very proud of the work of the new Awards Committee, chaired by immediate HCBA past-president Paul Floyd. One of the best moments of my presidency was calling all nine award recipients. I could not be more pleased with the diversity of the recipients and their immeasurable impact on the Twin Cities community.


Also of note is the HCBA’s continuing effort to recruit and retain a board of directors that reflects the diverse characteristics of our membership--in age, gender, race, years of practice, and practice settings. I am extraordinarily proud the HCBA now boasts the youngest and most diverse set of leaders in its 100-year history. More than half of the HCBA’s incoming board of directors is under age 40, as are four of the six members of next year’s executive committee.


We have made remarkable progress in our cooperation with other bar associations. This year, the walls between the HCBA, our pro bono partner the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), and the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) came down, both literally and figuratively. The walls between the offices of the three organizations literally came down in December 2017, when the HCBA, VLN, MSBA reconfigured its collective space into a single office suite. If you have not seen the new space, I encourage you to visit. It is now not only more beautiful but much more vibrant and very busy with member meetings, VLN client intake, and continuing legal education programs.


Taking the walls down was also symbolic. There is a new spirit of cooperation among the staff of the HCBA and MSBA, and among volunteer leaders of both organizations. In my judgment, this is our most significant achievement. And the HCBA is continuing to explore avenues of additional collaboration with the MSBA, the Ramsey County Bar Association, the affinity bars, and district bar associations in Greater Minnesota.


I have been fortunate enough to practice law for 30 years and have held many volunteer positions in my career. But serving as your president of the HCBA has been my single most rewarding volunteer position. I want to thank all of the volunteers with whom I served over the years on the HCBA executive committee, board of directors, and finance and planning committee. With Adine Momoh as our 100th president, we are in great hands. And with Jeff Baill, Esteban Rivera, and Brandon Vaughn, the HCBA has outstanding future leadership and is poised to move forward into its next century.


Additional Rule 7A Update:

Kate Reilly, whose saga Lisa Buck detailed in an excellent article in the Sept.-Oct. 2017 edition of the Hennepin Lawyer, passed the December 2017 Minnesota bar exam. We congratulate Ms. Reilly but recognize it is unfortunate she had to take the exam. Her plight has spurred the Minnesota Supreme Court to consider a more reasonable waive-in rule. In early June 2018, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners, based in part on the HCBA’s testimony, recommended the Minnesota Supreme Court provide a lawyer may waive-in if he or she establishes that for 36 of the last 60 months, he or she was engaged in the principle occupation of law for at least 1000 hours per year.


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The Poetry of History: Remembering Our Colleagues at the HCBA Bar Memorial

Posted By HCBA President Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May it Please the Court:

We gather here this morning to honor 45 of our colleagues who passed last year. The Fourth District Court and the Hennepin County Bar Association have joined in this annual honor for more than 110 years. In gathering to remember our colleagues, we recognize the process of life and death, or what the British historian G. M. Trevelyan called “the quasi-miraculous poetry of history.” The poetry of history, he wrote, was that once, on “this familiar spot of ground,” walked other real men and women as alive as we are today. Now they are gone, “one generation vanishing into another.”

But as we gather this morning, we know that one generation does not simply vanish into another. One generation lays the foundation for another. The men and women we remember this morning we exemplary. They were outstanding lawyers, judges, community leaders, and mentors, of course. But they were also outstanding family members and friends. And by their example, they built the foundation for the next generation of lawyers, judges, community leaders and mentors.  

Without exception, they were trailblazers. One lawyer, before she helped change the course of Minnesota law, was rejected in 21 job interviews, but was hired on her 22nd interview by the Dorsey firm. When she was hired in 1967 she joined 76 male lawyers. Five years later, she made partner, the first woman to do so at a major Twin Cities law firm. Early on, at annual attorney dinners, she had to enter the Minneapolis Club through the rear door because women were not allowed through the front.

We honor more trailblazers. One was a prominent civil rights attorney who was one of the foremost experts on Indian treaty law.

Another was a pioneering attorney with the ACLU and the NAACP who led Dartmouth to an Ivy League championship in hockey.

Another served in Vietnam as a naval officer and became an early member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Still another was one of the pillars of his firm’s national restaurant practice who stressed that collective success overrides self-interest.

And another was a municipal bond attorney whose client, the City of Fargo, declared a day in his honor in October 2017 in recognition of his work.

A second constant among the lawyers we remember today is service, especially public service, military service, and service to the community.

There is no better example of public service than that provided by the half-dozen judges and judicial officers whom we honor. One was a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice who served for 10 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, was the youngest chair of the House Judiciary Committee in Minnesota history, and was a founding member of the DFL club that supported Hubert Humphrey in his first run for mayor of Minneapolis.

Another was a federal administrative law judge in New York and Florida after serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, the youngest U.S. Attorney in American history at the time he was appointed.

Still another was a Marine pilot who flew for Northwest Airlines during law school before serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. He ultimately served two separate stints as a Hennepin County district court judge.

Another was a state high school debate champion before serving as a Hennepin County administrative law judge, and ended his career as a public defender.

Yet another Hennepin County administrative law judge, before ascending to the bench, served as the long-time chief of the civil division in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. He used to begin his meetings by declaring to his attorneys, “We’re doing a whale of a job for the county!”

And the final judicial officer we remember worked for decades as a mediator and arbitrator before serving as a conciliation court referee. He was the subject of an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, which described conciliation court as more akin to The People’s Court than to Perry Mason.

But it was not just judges and judicial officers who were devoted to public service. The call to public service permeates the careers of the lawyers we remember today.

Perhaps the best example was a proud Navy veteran who came of age as DFL party chair in the turbulent late 1960s, served three terms as Minnesota’s attorney general, and was a DFL-endorsed candidate for Governor. As attorney general, he trained a generation of Minnesota lawyers, was known to hire on merit rather than on political connections, and was an early leader in increasing gender balance and diversity in our profession.

Another, after serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, returned to edit his family newspaper and went on to become managing partner of Faegre and Benson, now Faegre Baker Daniels.

Another was the former president of USA Hockey and a primary founder of the Minnesota North Stars, who also led the initiative that made women’s ice hockey a medal sport in the Olympic Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The U.S. women won the first Olympic hockey gold.

Still another was a former Hopkins city attorney, a member of nearly every Hopkins city commission, a city council member, and a three-term mayor who was the driving force behind the projects that led to the revitalization of the city’s downtown.

Another had a distinguished career as a securities lawyer, but also travelled to Spain to found a telephone business. He also founded the Giant Urban Pumpkin Growers of America, and hosted its annual weigh-off competition. I guess Charles Schultz, another Minnesotan, was right. There really is a Great Pumpkin.

Another was public defender in Duluth before entering private practice, where he specialized in consumer law.

Yet another served as attorney for dozens of civic groups, including the Richfield Knights of Columbus and Richfield American Legion.

One remarkable woman, who died far too young at the age of 33, biked 1100 miles and ran a marathon in Finland to raise funds for a Twin Cities nonprofit. She was a tireless advocate and volunteer for legal aid who became a certified foster parent even as she battled cancer.

Others made their mark in service to bar associations. One lawyer was president of the Minnesota Intellectual Property Law Association and a dedicated volunteer for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

Another served as president of the Minnesota State Bar Association exactly 49 years after his father served as MSBA president.

Military service is another characteristic of many of those we remember today. One lawyer was a proud Navy fighter pilot during the Second World War who became an outstanding insurance defense litigator. In one trial, he cross-examined a physician expert for a full day before the exhausted witness declared, “Sir, I agree you have demonstrated my opinion was wrong. May I now leave the witness stand?”

Another lawyer who went on to become general counsel of Honeywell worked with Julia Child in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II.

Another former general counsel of Honeywell began his career at 3M, where he was one of that company’s first in-house lawyers. He served as president of Goodwill Industries and of the Courage Foundation.

Another corporate lawyer handled labor and employment matters for Monsanto, Dayton Hudson, and General Mills, and edited the ABA Labor Law Section’s treatise for thirty years.

Many of the lawyers we celebrate were renaissance men and women.

One was the consummate scholar who read widely on topics from astrophysics to theology, and loved the poetry of Robert Frost and John Donne.

Another, who became president of his law firm, was an expert civil litigator and was the “go-to” attorney for complex legal issues.

Still another served as a CEO and board member of a number of Fortune 500 technology firms, and while leading one company won an Academy Award for technical achievement.

Another was a musician who played drums each week at jam sessions at Harriet Brewing and Studio 2 Café in Minneapolis.

Another enrolled in theater classes at the University of Minnesota and was recruited to become a professional actor before turning his talent for dramatic flair to litigation, where he defended one of the key parties in the decade-long action regarding the 1982 Donaldson’s department store fire in downtown Minneapolis.

Another renaissance lawyer was a distance runner who spoke three languages and became an advocate for nonsmokers’ rights, organizing the first nonsmokers’ rights session of the 1979 World Conference on Smoking and Health.

Several lawyers shared a passion for Minnesota sports. One lawyer who founded Messerli and Kramer was an avid Minnesota Vikings fan who held season tickets since the team’s inception in 1961.

Another bona fide Minnesota sports fanatic was born just thirteen unlucky days before the 1929 stock market crash. He loved the Twins and the Vikings, but always expressed a signature blend of optimistic pessimism regarding his team’s prospects. I’ll let you decide whether there was a connection between his date of birth and his attitude regarding professional sports in Minnesota.

A number of the lawyers we remember today shared a passion for world travel. One long-time private practitioner traveled to each of the seven continents, teaching at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Another served as an international transactional lawyer, traveling extensively in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

And another, a passionate Notre Dame football fan, travelled to Scotland and Ireland to play golf.

Let me conclude by honoring two former Hennepin County Bar Association presidents we lost last year. One died unexpectedly and far too early at age 69. He was a former executive director of Volunteer Lawyers Network, and a longtime Special Olympics gymnastics’ coach who helped numerous athletes with disabilities achieve their best.

The other former HCBA president died just one week short of his 98th birthday and is the only Minnesotan to serve as president of the HCBA, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. He retired at age 70, became a poet at age 88, and published, at age 96, a volume of poetry entitled “Beyond the Delta.” The final poem, which gave the book its title, is particularly poignant for our gathering this morning:

My trip was long, the river slow,
I docked my craft at many ports,
But others passed, unvisited.
Through all my countless varied years,
I sailed alone and drifted far.
Any now at last, I reach the sea –
Beyond the delta’s farthest sands –
And float the limitless unknown.

Although the 45 family members, friends, and colleagues we honor today now have sailed beyond the delta, we celebrate them as trailblazers who marked the path for us. They are the poetry of history, and they are forever in our hearts.


Thank you.


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Pro Bono: Now More Than Ever

Posted By Nick Hansen, Wednesday, May 2, 2018

“Without access to quality representation there is no justice.”

 -Justice Antonin Scalia

On March 14, 2018, 167 law school deans, including the deans of all three Minnesota law schools, wrote eight congressional leaders to urge Congress to maintain or increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States. The deans, representing what they described as laws schools “large and small, public and private, in college towns and big cities, in red states and blue states” and with personal views “span[ning] the political spectrum,” noted LSC “has long received bipartisan support.” But they stated a shared conviction that the elimination of LSC funding “would devastate efforts to provide access to essential legal services in our communities.”

After initially proposing to eliminate LSC, in March 2018  President Trump signed a fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations act that included $410 million for LSC, a $25 million increase over fiscal year 2017. Even at $410 million, LSC funding is below 2010 inflation-adjusted funding levels, and the need for legal assistance far exceeds the appropriation. A 2017 study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found LSC-funded legal aid organizations fully address the civil legal needs of half of the one million low-income Americans seeking legal aid services annually. But the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget again proposes to completely eliminate LSC, which prompted the law deans’ letter.

As the law deans explained, LSC support should not be a partisan issue. Justice Scalia’s quote at the beginning of this column, correctly opining there is no justice without quality legal representation, is taken from his remarks at a conference in September 2015 celebrating LSC’s 40th anniversary. Representative Tom Emmer, the Republican member of Congress from Minnesota’s sixth congressional district, observed “what [LSC] has been committed to for years has nothing to do with party lines or partisanship” but “has everything to do with our shared goal that everyone in this country has the right to equal and fair representation under the law.”

More than 90 percent of LSC’s funding goes, in the form of grants, to 133 independent nonprofit legal aid programs. Five Minnesota regional legal aid programs receive approximately $4.4 million in annual LSC funding. In addition to programs receiving direct LSC funding, there are approximately 20 other programs—including HCBA’s pro bono arm, the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN)—providing legal services to low-income Minnesotans and funded in part by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Legal Services Advisory Committee.

VLN’s roots, which date to 1966, are older than LSC’s. According to a 1982 article by Fred Finch in the Hennepin Lawyer, VLN was founded by “a group of young lawyers who didn’t think their full-time private practices had to keep them from carrying on the social activities they’d learned and practiced in college and law school.” The social activism of the 1960s may be gone but the need for private practitioners to represent the less fortunate is not. VLN, one of the country’s largest independent pro bono organizations and a national leader in pro bono programs, leverages the talents of lawyers in private practice by matching outstanding attorneys with low-income families and individuals who cannot afford legal representation. In 2017, VLN provided approximately 10,000 services to 8,000 clients. Nearly 70 percent of VLN’s clients are persons of color and 55 percent are women.

Adequate funding for LSC, as well as VLN and Minnesota’s other legal aid programs, is only one part of the equation. Civil legal aid programs in Minnesota turn away three out of five eligible clients because the programs lack resources—both funds and human capital—to provide more citizens with representation. VLN and other legal aid programs cannot offer critical legal services Minnesota’s low-income residents without attorneys willing to step up and handle matters pro bono.

What can you do? Write your member of Congress and urge action to maintain or increase LSC funding. Donate funds to VLN and other Minnesota legal aid programs. Perhaps most importantly, give your time. Take on a pro bono matter. VLN and other legal aid programs have ample opportunities not just for litigators, but for all lawyers interested in providing sage counsel to low-income citizens inside and outside the courtroom. You will not regret your choice. You may even find, as I have, that no client is more appreciative than a pro bono client.

Rule 7A Update:

My column in the January-February issue of the Hennepin Lawyer discussed possible changes to Rule 7A of the Minnesota Rules for Admission to the Bar, which governs admission to the Minnesota bar without examination. The HCBA submitted written comments and oral testimony encouraging the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners to adopt an 80-hour monthly threshold for the practice of law as one’s principal occupation for 60 of the last 84 months. I am pleased to report the board committee receiving the written comments and oral testimony is recommending the entire board adopt a 1,000 hour-per-year (roughly 83.33 hours per month) standard for the practice of law as one’s principal occupation. In addition, the committee is recommending: (1) reducing the number of months required for admission on motion based on years of practice from 60 of 84 months to 36 of 60 months immediately preceding the application; (2) continuing to allow an applicant up to 24 months away from practice, but in the 60 months immediately preceding the application as opposed to 84 months; (3) clarifying in policy the work counting toward the practice requirement (including but not limited to pro bono legal work, non-billable hours directly related to the practice of law, and professional development including training and CLEs); and (4) removing the Rule 7A reference to “principal occupation.” The HCBA appreciates the opportunity to submit comments on possible revisions to Rule 7A and fully supports the committee’s recommendations.




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In Praise of Youth and Youthful Ideas

Posted By Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The date is May 16, 1919. An armistice that silenced the guns of the Great War—what we know as World War I—is just a four months old. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War and set the stage for the second, is still being negotiated and will not be signed for another six weeks. A small cadre of young Minneapolis lawyers, many of whom are veterans of General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force, have returned from their victory in Europe to their law practices in Hennepin County. After witnessing the horrors of trench warfare, they are eager to make their mark, and quickly. These young lawyers are unhappy with the limited functions and activities of the Minneapolis Bar Association, founded in 1883, and an earlier version of the Hennepin County Bar Association, founded in 1896. Twenty-five of them meet at the old Rogers’ Café in downtown Minneapolis to form a new Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA).

The HCBA, founded by young lawyers, is committed to encouraging the ideas of young lawyers. George Macaulay Trevelyan, the British historian and academic, warned, “Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done” because “God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” True to G.M. Trevelyan’s admonition, the HCBA encourages innovative thinking by all of its members, especially young lawyers, in service to the membership.

Among the most important goals of the HCBA is to provide leadership opportunities for lawyers without regard to age, and to ensure that the association’s leadership is diverse. The 25 lawyers who founded the HCBA in 1919 were young, but all were white males. Nearly 100 years later, the HCBA boasts the youngest and most diverse group of leaders in its history. Of the association’s six-person executive committee, two are persons of color and three are under age 40. Half of the association’s 28-member board of directors is also under 40. The board includes representatives from six minority bar associations, members of the judiciary, solo practitioners, and lawyers working in government, at small firms, and at large firms across a myriad of practice areas. Such diversity is not a product of serendipity. It is the result of the HCBA’s intentional efforts, through recruiting and appointments, to ensure the association has the benefit of varied perspectives in deciding how to best serve its members.

The HCBA is also committed to ensuring that minority law students have opportunities to gain sophisticated experience in the practice of law while in law school. Paramount in the association’s effort is the HCBA 1L Minority Clerkship program, whose participants for summer 2018 are featured on the cover of this edition of the Hennepin Lawyer. Begun in 2005 by the Minnesota State Bar Association, the HCBA assumed the program in 2013. In summer 2018, the program will match 14 self-identified minority students with 13 employers for a summer associate experience. Employers participating in 2018 include the Fourth Judicial District (Hennepin County) Court, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and well-respected private firms, both large and small. The HCBA is proud that the program has advanced the careers of future leaders in Minnesota’s legal community.

In 1966, before a huge throng of students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Robert F. Kennedy gave one of his greatest speeches. His address was a call to arms to the world’s youth. But Kennedy did not focus on just the young. He argued that the “world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of the imagination.” We at the HCBA value the qualities of youth and agree they are not chronologically based. Youthful qualities reflect an ethos of openness, of new ideas, and of rejecting the suggestion something cannot be done simply because it has not been done in the past. Whether you are a law student, a young lawyer, or have decades of experience, we support you in your practice and welcome your ideas.

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Bar Admission Without Examination in Changing Times

Posted By By Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Friday, December 22, 2017

In 2015, roughly 75 percent of newly admitted attorneys in this state passed the Minnesota Bar Exam, as provided in Rule 6 of the Minnesota Rules for Admission to the Bar.  The remaining 25 percent of the lawyers admitted to the bar in 2015 established competency to practice in Minnesota by obtaining a sufficient score on the Multistate Bar Examination (Rule 7B), receiving a sufficient score on the Uniform Bar Examination within the past three years (Rule 7C), or practicing law in 60 of the last 84 months (Rule 7A).

Rule 7A requires that an applicant for admission without exam be “engaged, as principal occupation, in the lawful practice of law” for at least 60 of the 84 months preceding the application. However, Rule 7A contains no specific hours-worked threshold to establish “principal occupation.” Rather, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners in 2013 adopted a policy stating that “engaged, as principal occupation” in the practice of law means “full time or substantially full-time (at least 120 hours per month).”

In 2016, Kathleen Reilly, a member of the Illinois bar since 2005, attempted to rely on Rule 7A to become a member of the Minnesota bar. To establish competency, Ms. Reilly submitted 137 pages of written work product and testimony from her former boss, a retired federal magistrate judge. However, due to family responsibilities, Reilly practiced law just 16 hours per week after 2011. The Minnesota Board of Law Examiners denied her application for admission without examination and Reilly filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the board’s decision. In May 2017, the Court denied Reilly’s petition but issued an order requiring the board to review Rule 7A. Lisa Buck wrote an excellent article on the Reilly case, which was published in the September/October 2017 issue of the Hennepin Lawyer.

In September 2017, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners requested comments on Rule 7A by November 30, 2017. HCBA, as authorized by its board of directors, submitted comments on November 29. The HCBA expresses its appreciation to Katherine A. McBride, an HCBA member and partner at Meagher & Geer, who assisted in preparing HCBA’s comments. In its comments, HCBA questioned the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners’ policy of 120 hours per month to satisfy the “principal occupation” requirement of Rule 7A. To reflect the “reality of legal practice today,” HCBA encouraged the board to interpret “principal occupation” as the practice of law for at least 80 hours, not 120 hours, per month. HCBA offered four rationales for the 80-hour threshold.

First, HCBA stated the threshold—essentially a half-time or more basis—will not jeopardize the quality of legal services available to the public. Second, HBCA commented that the 80-hour threshold will promote diversity by allowing historically under-represented groups—notably women, lawyers with disabilities, lawyers retreating from traditional full-time practice, and other lawyers who must attend to family obligations or health issues—to be admitted under Rule 7A. Third, HCBA noted that of the 11 jurisdictions with a stated minimum-hour requirement for admission without examination, only Minnesota and Vermont set a requirement or policy for the practice of law over 1,000 hours per year. Fourth, HCBA stated its bright-line threshold of 80 hours per month reflected the changing nature of the practice of law while providing a clear standard for out-of-state lawyers who must evaluate whether they must take the Minnesota Bar Examination to become licensed in the state. HCBA also suggested there may be circumstances where applicants do not meet the 80-hour per month threshold but may nevertheless merit consideration for admission. For such applicants, HCBA urged the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners to evaluate the applications for admission using case-by-case considerations to determine whether the applicant is professionally competent.

The practice of law is changing. Some commentators suggest the practice of law has changed more in the last 15 years than the previous 150. That may be hyperbole. The transformation of legal practice did not occur in a vacuum and some social, economic, and technological shifts in the practice of law arose from changes applicable to society in general. But the changes in the practice of law are occurring at a pace even more accelerated than those in society at large. Minnesota’s rules of admission to the bar need to reflect those changes. HCBA hopes the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners carefully considers HCBA’s comments on Rule 7A. The rule should acknowledge that part-time lawyers with five years or more of practice may be just as competent as those lawyers newly admitted to the Minnesota bar by passing the bar exam.


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Rewarding Excellence: The New HCBA Excellence Awards

Posted By HCBA President Thad Lightfoot , Wednesday, November 1, 2017

In my remarks at the HCBA’s 2017 annual meeting, I stressed the association’s goal was to make it easier for members to practice law and offered three principles upon which the HCBA would focus to achieve that goal. Those principles are: (1) cooperation with other bar associations; (2) enhanced member value; and (3) superior member engagement. The HCBA is well on its way to implementing all three principles. We are cooperating with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and affinity bars in a variety of ways. We continue to enhance member value by expanding our free continuing legal education programs and social gatherings. But perhaps our most significant effort thus far this year involves member engagement and the HCBA’s decision to reform its awards process.

Two years ago, the HCBA Board of Directors began an evaluation of the association’s awards program. When the evaluation began, the association conferred eight to ten awards per year for pro bono service, diversity, and professionalism. Two task forces explored efforts the association could undertake to align the awards process more closely with the HCBA’s overall mission, engage more members in the nominating and selection process, and ensure the recipient pool included more lawyers who are under 37 years of age or have been admitted to practice within the past six years. In September 2017, the HCBA Board of Directors adopted a reformed awards program known as the HCBA Excellence Awards.

The first step in the new program is the creation of a standing Awards Committee. Chaired each year by the HCBA’s immediate past-presidentfor this year Paul Floydthe committee will include term-limited members from the New Lawyers Section, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and the Professionalism and Ethics Section. In addition, there will be several term-limited at-large members, including those with connections to the legal services and pro bono communities.

The Awards Committee may recommend up to 12 HCBA Excellence Awards in a given bar year, selected from six categories drawn from the HCBA’s mission statement. Those categories are: (1) advancing diversity and inclusion; (2) improving access to justice; (3) providing pro bono service; (4) providing mentoring to the legal profession; (5) advancing innovation in the legal profession; and (6) providing service to the association or the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. The HCBA Executive Committee will consider and approve the recommendations of the Awards Committee. There is no minimum number of award recipients and an award need not be given in every category each year. Nominations for the awards will open at the beginning of each bar year. All HCBA members other than Awards Committee and Executive Committee members are eligible for the awards.

In addition to the HCBA Excellence Awards, the board of directors created a new Career Contributions to the Profession Award. This award, which need not be awarded every year, will be selected by the Executive Committee to recognize an HCBA member’s outstanding career contributions. Nominations for this prestigious award will be made directly to the Executive Committee, although the Awards Committee may recommend qualifying nominees.

Our former awards system was very good. But the HCBA Board of Directors concluded the system focused only professionalism, diversity, and pro bono service—categories that are more limited than the HCBA’s entire mission. And too often, the awards did not fully recognize meritorious contributions by our new lawyer members. We hope the new awards program will strike the right balance by acknowledging a wide-range of remarkable member contributions, increasing the recognition of noteworthy activities by new lawyers, and creating a prestigious separate award for a lifetime of outstanding service.

You can help. Nominations for the HCBA Excellence Awards and the Career Contributions to the Profession Award are now open ( Please nominate members whom you believe are deserving of these awards. If you have any questions or comments regarding the process or the new awards program, please contact me ( or Susie Brown, the HCBA’s Executive Director (

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2017 Annual Meeting Remarks

Posted By HCBA President Thad R. Lightfoot, Thursday, July 6, 2017

HCBA President Thad Lightfoot delivered the following remarks at the 2017 HCBA Annual Meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to add my welcome and my thanks to you for attending the 98th annual meeting of the Hennepin County Bar Association. I accept the challenge of becoming president of the HCBA with both humility and excitement.

There are so many people I could thank by name, including several past presidents of the HCBA, many of whom are here today, who encouraged me to become involved in the association. I could also thank my partners at Dorsey and Whitney by name. The firm has been a steadfast and longtime sponsor of the HCBA, and without Dorsey I would not be standing before you today. But to thank everyone by name would keep us here the rest of the afternoon. So in deference to my audience, there are only two persons I want to single out.

The first is my spouse of 29 years, Susan, who is sitting with my friends from Dorsey. Susan has been my constant in a 30-year legal career. We met while I was in law school and while we were both working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. She is the platinum standard of spouses, the mother of our twin boys, and my sounding board on all things. I could not be more proud that she is here today.

The second person I want to single out is Paul Floyd. Paul has been an outstanding HCBA president. He is insightful, thoughtful, and collaborative. Paul led us through an era of transition. Thanks to his leadership, we have an outstanding executive director and are poised to move forward.

After a series of transitions, the HCBA is now on the verge of creating a bar association for the next generation. I am the 99th HCBA president, and the organization was established in 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War. In the next year, as the HCBA approaches its 100th anniversary, we will begin preparations to celebrate our centennial. But we are looking forward, not backward, and our goal is to build the bar association of the next century.

Building the bar association for the next 100 years is no small challenge. Last year Wood Foster, a former HCBA and Minnesota State Bar Association president, published a thoughtful series of articles in Bench and Bar Magazine entitled "Profession on Edge." In those articles, Wood observed that the legal profession changed more in the last 15 years than in the previous 150.  This transformation did not occur in a vacuum, and some of the social, economic, and technological shifts in the practice of law arose from changes applicable to society in general. But changes in the law are occurring at a pace even more accelerated than in society at large and have retooled the practice in unprecedented and unforeseen ways.

Peter Drucker, the late well-respected management consultant, found forecasting future trends to be notoriously difficult. Drucker observed that "trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." So while trying to build the HCBA for the next 100 years, it is impossible to predict the future. But Drucker did not simply give up. His solution: “the best way to predict the future is to create it."

With all due respect to Peter Drucker, the HCBA cannot create every aspect of the future. But some things are within its control. We can set goals and take steps to reach them.

So what is the HCBA’s goal? Well, it exists for one reason: to make it easier for you to practice law. The HCBA's raison d'etre is to make professional life easier for our members. As a member organization, its focus starts with, continues, and ends with members. We are all about member focus.

How will we achieve the goal of making it easier for you to practice law? We intend to build on a foundation of three pillars, three columns of strength. They are cooperation with other bar associations, enhanced member value, and superior member engagement.

The first pillar in our focus on members is collaboration with other bar associations. We intend to cooperate, not compete, with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and Minnesota's affinity bars. All HCBA members are members of the Minnesota State Bar Association; the HCBA makes up 50 percent of the MSBA membership. HCBA members are also members of a variety of affiliated bar associations, including Minnesota Women Lawyers, Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, Minnesota Asian Pacific Bar Association, Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, and Minnesota Lavender Bar Association. Representatives of many of the affiliated bar associations hold places on the HCBA board.

To advance the collective interests of our members, the HCBA commits to absolute and unalloyed cooperation with the MSBA, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and the affiliated bar associations. The HCBA is already working with the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Ramsey County Bar Association to further the interests of our members through cooperation and eliminating duplication. We are working together on, among other things, law student initiatives and programs for new lawyers. The HCBA intends to expand those cooperative efforts and extend them to the affinity bars.

The second pillar in our focus on members is member value. The concept of member value is often misunderstood. At one level, member value seems to ask nothing more than the self-serving question of "what is in it for me?" At another level, it seems a purely economic equation, suggesting that if I pay X for my membership and I should receive Y in return. There is a certain truth in both statements, but the concept is more nuanced.

Member value in professional associations is all about engaging in your enlightened self-interest. It is about both getting and giving. The HCBA has multiple programs, services, and benefits to offer member value and make it easier for you to practice law. Most HCBA continuing legal education courses are free to members, as are socials and many other programs and services for professional and personal development. But member value is not just about programs and benefits. It is also about participation.   

The participation side of member value, often termed member engagement, is the third pillar in our focus on making it easier for members to practice law. Member value asks what can your bar association do for you. Member engagement asks what can you do for your bar association.

To a lawyer, time is moneya lawyer in private practice sells his or her timeand time is limited. As a lawyer, your goal is to participate in activities that return more than the time invested. The HCBA is striving to be that type of activity. Sometimes it will be difficult to monetize your bar association yield. I am still waiting for my first million dollar referral to arise from my involvement in the Hennepin County Bar Association. But I guarantee that if you become more involved in the HCBA, you will meet lawyers whom you typically would not meet in your everyday practice of law. In so doing, you will gain a more complete understanding of the legal community. And for those lawyers whom you already know, getting more involved in the HCBA will enable you to get to know them even better.

Think back for a moment on why you became a lawyer. Was it to advance the cause of justice? If so, the HCBA can help you do that. Many members do not realize that the HCBA is three organizations in one. The HCBA’s pro bono arm, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, provides pro bono services to thousands of low income clients annually. Without financial and in-kind support from the HCBA and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which has provided pro bono services for over 50 years, could not undertake its important work. The Hennepin County Bar Foundation is the charitable arm of the HCBA. The Foundation provides more than $100,000 in grants annually to nonprofit agencies, including the Volunteer Lawyers Network, that promote access to justice for the people of Hennepin County.

One of the great advantages of the HCBA is that it allows you to engage in your enlightened self-interest. For example, there is no other organization in Minnesota that is so intimately linked to the Fourth District bench. If you are interested in meeting a Hennepin County District Court judge in an informal and relaxed atmosphere, attend our Judges' Social in the fall. But “Judges' Social” is really a misnomer. Yes, judges attend, but so do hundreds of your other, non-judge colleagues. Even if you never set foot in a courtroom, you should attend the Judges' Social. Why? Because if you do, you could meet the lawyer who will be on the other side of the table in your next transaction.

At this point I hope you are asking "what can I do to help?" Thank you for asking, even if I had to put the question into your head. I have a straightforward suggestion for both non-members and for HCBA members.

If you are here today and you are not an HCBA member, thank you for attending. Now take the next step and become a member. I do not think you will regret your choice. But I have been wrong before. (I admit that only because my spouse is in the room). So if you regret your choice, tell me why. Send me an email at or call me.

Most of you here today are members. Many of you are very involved in the HCBA. Thank you for attending, for your membership, and for your involvement. I have just one request of you. If you are a member, even if you have attended multiple HCBA events this year, please do one thing more. The HCBA has a popular and free to members social on June 21 at the Crowne Plaza's 8th Floor Skygarden patio. Come to that social. Or attend a section continuing legal education program in the fall. You will not regret your choice. And if you do, tell me why. Send me an email at or call me.

Leadership at the HBCA is focused on members. If you, as an HCBA member, ever have a problem or concern, please call me or send me an email. I want to know.

I am simply the 99th person in a long line of volunteer cheerleaders who cared enough about the HCBA to seek to lead the organization. Fortunately, the success or failure of the HCBA does not depend upon me. But it does depend upon you. Together, we can lead the HCBA into its next 100 years. I look forward to speaking with and working with you. Thank you.

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