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History of the HCBA
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The first known attorney to settle in the area which is now Minneapolis, was Ellis G. Whitall who braved the frontier in 1849. Such is the information provided by Edward C. Vavreck in a special 50th Anniversary issue of The Hennepin Lawyer published in May 1969. In his article Vavreck detailed the beginnings of lawyering in Minneapolis, examining the beginnings of both the Minneapolis Bar Association and the Hennepin County Bar Association. This short history is largely condensed from his article.

In 1850 John W. North began his law practice in the Village of St. Anthony. He would establish the first "law firm" when joined later that year by Isaac Atwater. From his log house on Nicollet Island, Mr. North would eventually rise to the rank of Chief Justice for the Territory of Nevada, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The first term of district court in Hennepin County found nine attorneys in attendance on April 4, 1853, with the Honorable Bradley B. Meeker sitting as presiding judge. The first non-lawyer admitted to the practice of law in Hennepin County was admitted in 1855. Rapid growth, the expansion of the settlement and the mushrooming of trade and commerce led to the incorporation of the City of Minneapolis in 1867. The generation that followed the first lawyer to the area offered increasing opportunities for the practice of law and the number of practitioners who would seek out those opportunities.

On February 20, 1883 the Minneapolis Bar Association was incorporated, declaring its purposes as: "To establish and conduct a legal society, to maintain the honor and integrity of the legal profession and to create and maintain a law library in the City of Minneapolis, in the County of Hennepin, State of Minnesota." Two attempts to create and maintain a law library met with disaster when the fledgling libraries were destroyed by fire. Vavreck offers for consideration: "It would appear that the law books of those days had an incendiary quality about them; or could it be that unlike the legal tome of today those of that era were quite dry and thus, tinder-like?" The third attempt was more successful. Originally established in Old Temple Court, the library was later transferred to "the new courthouse and city hall."

An original Hennepin County Bar Association was organized "in recognition of a demand for an association which shall include all reputable members of the profession in Hennepin County, and for the purpose of advancing the science of jurisprudence, promoting the administration of justice and upholding the honor of the law." Vavreck notes that the association had "no regular time and place of holding meetings" but was "called together from time to time as occasion may require." He states, that since "their purposes were limited, their functions and activities were likewise not grandiose" and the Minneapolis and Hennepin County bar associations could exist "side by side from the birth of the latter to and through World War I."

Vavreck suggests that following World War I, attorneys returning to their practices felt disgruntled with what they found, and this led to a second beginning for the Hennepin County Bar Association, "to supplement the work of the Minneapolis Bar Association." On May 16, 1919, twenty five younger members of the local bar incorporated the Hennepin County Bar Association.

The creation of the Hennepin County Bar Association apparently had the support of the majority of the Minneapolis Bar Association’s executive committee. The articles of incorporation and by-laws adopted were based upon similar documents of the Chicago Bar Association from whom advice had been sought. Vavreck reports that 40 members were present at the first meeting of the association, out of a total membership of about 150. At the time of the next annual meeting the membership had increased to 350. Monthly meetings were held, usually as dinner meetings, with topics chosen to appeal to the majority of members.

Through its long and distinguished history, the Hennepin County Bar Association has continued to focus its activities on its original purpose — to maintain the honor and integrity of the legal profession and to serve and educate its members. While much has changed since 1919, the commitment to serve all HCBA members has remained constant. Of those who brought the association into being, probably none could have imagined today’s diversity of membership or types of practice. Monthly meetings of the total membership have given way to a wide variety of activities and programs that attempt to match the interests and practices of this diverse membership and address current issues of concern to both bench and bar.

Members can look back with pride on over 90 years of service while they look forward with enthusiasm.


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