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 which were controversial enough to draw 40-50% of the membership.
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, our commitment to serve all our members has remained constant. Of those who brought our 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.
HCBA Facilities: Office and Conference Center
Prior to 1956: Kay Runyon, Administrative Assistant, hired in 1954 as the first employee of the Association, had an office at 1960 Northwestern Bank Building.
1956: New "permanent headquarters" of the HCBA were opened at 942 McKinight Building to provide a "convenient and efficient place for carrying on all the work of the Association under one roof and at a central and permanent location." In addition to the business office for the administrative assistant (hired two years earlier), the space included a committee meeting room "designed to accommodate the largest committee of the Association." The Hennepin Lawyer announced this "most desirable improvement over the previous catch-as-catch-can method" of arranging space.
1963: President Feinberg’s message in the April 1963 issue of The Hennepin Lawyer began "In the beginning John said unto Sidney: ‘Let there be here a gathering place for our brethren in this building yet unformed and void which shall be known as the Northstar Center.’" The bar center included the "office, storage and conference area through which members will pass to the lounge area, and off the lounge area, the refreshment and the dining areas." Members would also have access to other facilities of the "city’s newest and possibly most handsome structure," including swimming pool and car parking garage.
After 15 years of heavy use by members, the law center was refurbished in 1977 and 1978 at a cost of $20,000 given in donations by the members.
1982: Citing the "need to control rental costs, to obtain more space, and to arrange cost-saving measures through the sharing of facilities and expensive office equipment," Helen Kelly announced the move of association offices to the fourth floor of the Powers building at 4th Street and Marquette Avenue. The new shared location housed the offices of the HCBA and the MSBA in addition to the Minnesota CLE conference space. Other law-related organizations that took office space in the bar center include Legal Advice Clinics, Ltd., MN Lawyers Committee on International Human Rights, and Minnesota Women Lawyers.
1991: The HCBA built out and moved into space on the 3rd floor at 514 Nicollet Mall. Renamed the Minnesota Law Center, this building became home of the offices of the HCBA, the Minnesota State Bar Association, Legal Advice Clinics and Minnesota Women Lawyers on the third floor and the conference center of Minnesota CLE (including conference rooms for both HCBA & MSBA) in the lower level. These large conference rooms and two smaller ones were immediately and effectively put to use hosting the expanding programming of the association.
1999: The HCBA, along with all of its partners at the MN Law Center, moved across 6th Street to the third floor of City Center in April, clearing the way for the 514 building to be razed. The move allowed the Law Center associations to make some significant facility and technology upgrades for better service to our members; accomplished, in part, by incentives provided by the developers of 514. The most appealing and versatile of HCBA’s homes, the association offices and conference facilities remain easily accessible through the skyway system.