The Mission for Our Profession in the 21st Century

The Minnesota State Bar Association president on challenges and possibilities

Published in 2017 Minnesota Super Lawyers — August 2017

I became a lawyer to empower people. And I joined the Minnesota State Bar Association to empower myself—to get opportunities for accelerated professional growth. Now I am interested in unleashing the greatness of those around me—particularly our next-generation lawyers, our diverse lawyers and those from greater Minnesota. 

The MSBA’s job is to empower our members, our profession and the community. There has never been a more critical time for this work. Our profession faces a number of crucible challenges that are transforming the practice of law. These challenges demand a collective we. We need to leverage the talent of the entire profession, where people are included and valued for their differences, elevating our performance and chances for success. Our mindset must be “everybody wins.”

Our legal services market is in disruption, as innovative non-lawyer services gradually take market share of traditional lawyers’ work. These non-lawyer providers are defining the nature and scope of the practice of law for the rest of us. Our profession has not yet overcome the barriers to collective action and mounted an effective response. We must overcome our complacency. We must publicly proclaim the importance of the rule of law, our profession and the value lawyers add to problem-solving. Let’s embody this message as ambassadors of the profession everywhere we go. This is a campaign that can never end. 

Signs of the gradual devaluation of lawyer services and the rule of law are all around us. Our state and federal lawmakers are now making decisions about funding for our judiciary and justice system partners—public defenders and legal aid attorneys. If we fail to adequately fund our third branch of government and provide for the efficient and fair administration of justice, public trust and confidence in our judiciary declines, undermining the legitimacy and power of the courts and the rule of law. As our justice gap widens, and those too poor to afford attorneys enter our justice system unrepresented, the efficiency and fairness of our entire legal system declines, affecting everyone who has business before the courts—even businesses who have the best lawyers money can buy. More disconcerting are those pro se litigants who have money to hire lawyers, but choose to represent themselves, believing they do not need the special expertise and problem-solving skills of our profession.

Our profession faces additional challenges that disproportionately affect our next generation. Our legal education models are outdated and new lawyers struggle to find jobs in the face of market demands for practice-ready skills. Burdened with crushing student debt, searching for scarce jobs and competing with non-lawyer providers, our newer lawyers are most at risk for chemical dependency, depression and anxiety. With our next generation in crisis, we need to mobilize now. Let’s do what others have done for us—mentor and grow the next generation of lawyers to be even more successful than we are.

As the MSBA moves to address these crucible challenges to our profession, I hope you will join us in contributing our talent, experience and wisdom. Engaging with us will not only give you opportunities for accelerated professional growth, it will also enhance your career and leadership. 

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