New. Now. Next.

By Jeff Baill

In addition to practicing law, I have spent the last 25 years of my life working with nonprofit organizations in a leadership role. This has not only been personally and professionally rewarding, but also has shown me the true value of people working together to make others’ lives better and more fulfilling. Much of what an association does happens behind the curtains where only a few people get to see how the sausage is made. Each individual member may be impacted in some way by the work of the organization, but outside of the leadership positions, it is hard to truly understand the scope of an organization’s impact. That is certainly true with the HCBA.

Bar associations around the country are wrestling with declining membership. The rate of decline is slow but pervasive. There are many reasons for the decline including fewer new attorneys, competing legal trade associations, and a feeling among new lawyers that membership in a bar association is not important. Bar associations must convince lawyers of the value of membership. We have the obligation to demonstrate our value.

Behind the curtain, volunteer leaders and staff are aware of the countless programs and initiatives offered by the HCBA. Some of these serve thousands of members. Some serve a dozen or less. They are all important and they are all part of the fabric of our trade association. They are also all designed to fulfill our mission statement:

The Hennepin County Bar Association exists to serve the needs of its membership by advancing professionalism, ethical conduct, diversity, competence, practice development, and collegiality in the legal profession. The association shall strive to ensure the fairness and accessibility of the legal system, promote public understanding and confidence in our system of justice, and work with the courts to improve the administration of justice. 

Each one of these goals is important and requires an organized body to continually push for our profession to reach the spirit of the words. My own measurement for everything we do is simple: Does it benefit our members? That is the true test for every project we engage in. That is why we exist.

In that light, as we begin our second hundred years, we are being reborn as an organization. Last year, after going through a difficult and time-consuming process, the HCBA, Ramsey County Bar Association, and the Minnesota State Bar Association agreed to merge our staffs—we are not merging our organizations! We still operate as separate bodies with independent boards of directors. However, a combined staff now serves all three entities.

While there will be cost savings for each organization, that was not the driving force for the staff merger. The real benefit envisioned by our boards was the opportunity to share resources for the benefit of our members. This idea is analogous to how a public electric company functions. Ninety percent of the time, a utility gets by using 60 percent of its production capacity. But on the hottest days of the summer, the utility must put all of its capacity to work. The old HCBA staff was 15 people strong. Our merged staff now exceeds 40 people.

When we need to call on resources for the “hottest days of the year,” we have much more capacity available to us.

Another important benefit that will accrue over time is collaboration between all three associations. This is a huge benefit that may take years to realize. I have asked our Finance and Planning Committee, chaired by Brandon Vaughn, to spend the next year analyzing how we can use our merged staff and new relationships with the other associations to enhance the services we provide our membership. I know there is great opportunity in this endeavor. It will take some time and study, but I am convinced we will all be better off in the future for what we begin today.

I want to conclude this article by talking about one really important initiative we are working on. Last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court challenged the leaders in the legal community to step up and try to find ways to attack the wellness crisis that is facing lawyers across the country. Much has already been written about the crisis. In short, lawyers suffer from a disproportionate amount of wellness deficits than the general population. We have a task force in place, chaired by Michael Boulette, that is working on some steps the HCBA can take to address the situation. The task force will report back to the HCBA board at the end of the year. This is the kind of challenge that a trade association is designed to address. We have the resources to drive change. I don’t know what the task force recommendations will be, but I am confident that the HCBA will be at the forefront of positive change for our industry. It is a great way to continue to serve our members in the next century. 

Mr. Baill is the managing partner in the Minneapolis office of Yost & Baill where he practices in the area of Insurance Subrogation.  He is the founder and past President of the National Association of Subrogation Professionals.