The voice of the profession


On my first day as president of the MSBA, I had the honor of signing a petition for the association to participate as amicus curiae in a case being considered for review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. In amicus petitions, the MSBA provides the Court information regarding why it is well-positioned to speak on a particular subject and on behalf of the profession. The petition I signed read: “The MSBA is the largest voluntary bar association representing the legal profession in Minnesota. Made up of approximately 13,000 members statewide, the MSBA represents nearly half of Minnesota’s licensed attorneys.” In short, the MSBA is suited to serve as friend of the court because its membership is vast, and it works to advance causes and positions important to the entire profession, not just a segment of the profession. 

This articulation of the MSBA’s role as the voice of the legal profession is significant in a couple of respects. First, what an enormous responsibility! To uphold professional values, to vet and shape those values, and to provide opportunities and space for all stakeholders to be a part of the process is a significant duty. Second, what an enormous privilege! To be charged with speaking for and leading the profession is a sacred right and undoubtedly provides the MSBA and its members with advantages and benefits that must be honored. How the MSBA exercises the privilege and responsibility of serving as the voice of the legal profession is important to MSBA members. 

The association just completed its strategic planning for the next three years, and the voice of the MSBA is an important component of that plan. Significantly, surveys performed as part of the planning process identified the leadership role and the voice of the MSBA as being of critical importance to the overall work the association performs. It is valued by and valuable to MSBA members. 

The MSBA uses its voice in multiple ways. For instance, every year the MSBA lobbies the Legislature to advance its legislative priorities, which have ranged from correcting errors in statutes, to providing law school loan forgiveness for attorneys who practice in Greater Minnesota, to securing a right to counsel in public housing eviction actions. MSBA leadership is regularly reminded by the MSBA lobbyist that the association has political capital and when issues that impact the justice system or other substantive areas of law arise, he is often asked, “What does the MSBA have to say about this?” The MSBA’s voice matters at the Legislature.

The MSBA’s voice also matters on statewide boards, committees, and task forces. The MSBA is charged with appointing attorneys to numerous Minnesota Supreme Court and legal services boards. The MSBA has also been called upon to appoint members to other committees and task forces. For instance, in the spring of 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order establishing the Implementation Committee for Proposed Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project. Not only did the order acknowledge the prior work of the MSBA’s Alternative Legal Models Task Force in setting the foundation for the establishment of the committee, the order also appointed a MSBA representative to the committee. Notably, the MSBA representative was the only bar association representative on the committee. The committee’s charge was to develop a pilot project that would permit legal paraprofessionals to perform certain legal work under the supervision of a licensed Minnesota attorney. The MSBA had a seat at the table for those discussions and the development of the pilot program. 

The MSBA’s voice matters within the courts and the judicial branch, as well. In addition to serving as amicus curiae, the bar also speaks through petitions and comments to bring important issues to the Supreme Court’s attention and to seek change. Last bar year, for instance, the MSBA petitioned for an amendment to the Rules on Lawyer Registration that would require lawyers to report annually on the number of pro bono service hours they performed and the financial contributions they made to organizations that provide legal services to people of limited means. The MSBA’s petition was granted and the amendment to the rules will be effective January 22, 2022. 

This bar year, the MSBA will petition the Supreme Court for amendments to the Rules of General Practice, Rules of Civil Procedure, and Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure, to facilitate personal leave requests by attorneys for certain health conditions; the birth or adoption of a child; the need to care for a spouse, household member, dependent, or family member who has a serious health condition; or the death of a family or household member. In bringing this petition, the MSBA will be vocalizing a significant need for change in the profession. The MSBA’s thousands of members are potentially impacted by these issues, and having convened a working group to thoroughly study the same, the MSBA is best equipped to speak for the change.

While the MSBA has a strong and respected voice, its continued role as a leader for the profession depends on the growth and diversification of its membership. A large and vibrant membership makes the MSBA’s voice compelling. Ensuring broad-spectrum diversity in our membership—diversity of age and professional experience, race/ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity, physical and neuro-cognitive abilities, metro and Greater Minnesota perspectives—is critical to the MSBA’s ability to speak with an inclusive and authoritative voice. Your membership is what makes the MSBA’s voice strong, and it matters as we continue to lead the profession. 

JENNIFER THOMPSON is a founding partner of the Edina construction law firm Thompson Tarasek Lee-O’Halloran PLLC. She has also served on the Minnesota Lawyer Mutual Insurance Company board of directors since 2019.