HCBA President Thad Lightfoot delivered the following remarks at the 2017 HCBA Annual Meeting.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to add my welcome and my thanks to you for attending the 98th annual meeting of the Hennepin County Bar Association. I accept the challenge of becoming president of the HCBA with both humility and excitement.
There are so many people I could thank by name, including several past presidents of the HCBA, many of whom are here today, who encouraged me to become involved in the association. I could also thank my partners at Dorsey and Whitney by name. The firm has been a steadfast and longtime sponsor of the HCBA, and without Dorsey I would not be standing before you today. But to thank everyone by name would keep us here the rest of the afternoon. So in deference to my audience, there are only two persons I want to single out.
The first is my spouse of 29 years, Susan, who is sitting with my friends from Dorsey. Susan has been my constant in a 30-year legal career. We met while I was in law school and while we were both working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. She is the platinum standard of spouses, the mother of our twin boys, and my sounding board on all things. I could not be more proud that she is here today.
The second person I want to single out is Paul Floyd. Paul has been an outstanding HCBA president. He is insightful, thoughtful, and collaborative. Paul led us through an era of transition. Thanks to his leadership, we have an outstanding executive director and are poised to move forward.
After a series of transitions, the HCBA is now on the verge of creating a bar association for the next generation. I am the 99th HCBA president, and the organization was established in 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War. In the next year, as the HCBA approaches its 100th anniversary, we will begin preparations to celebrate our centennial. But we are looking forward, not backward, and our goal is to build the bar association of the next century.
Building the bar association for the next 100 years is no small challenge. Last year Wood Foster, a former HCBA and Minnesota State Bar Association president, published a thoughtful series of articles in Bench and Bar Magazine entitled "Profession on Edge." In those articles, Wood observed that the legal profession changed more in the last 15 years than in the previous 150. This transformation did not occur in a vacuum, and some of the social, economic, and technological shifts in the practice of law arose from changes applicable to society in general. But changes in the law are occurring at a pace even more accelerated than in society at large and have retooled the practice in unprecedented and unforeseen ways.
Peter Drucker, the late well-respected management consultant, found forecasting future trends to be notoriously difficult. Drucker observed that "trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." So while trying to build the HCBA for the next 100 years, it is impossible to predict the future. But Drucker did not simply give up. His solution: “the best way to predict the future is to create it."
With all due respect to Peter Drucker, the HCBA cannot create every aspect of the future. But some things are within its control. We can set goals and take steps to reach them.
So what is the HCBA’s goal? Well, it exists for one reason: to make it easier for you to practice law. The HCBA's raison d'etre is to make professional life easier for our members. As a member organization, its focus starts with, continues, and ends with members. We are all about member focus.
How will we achieve the goal of making it easier for you to practice law? We intend to build on a foundation of three pillars, three columns of strength. They are cooperation with other bar associations, enhanced member value, and superior member engagement.
The first pillar in our focus on members is collaboration with other bar associations. We intend to cooperate, not compete, with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and Minnesota's affinity bars. All HCBA members are members of the Minnesota State Bar Association; the HCBA makes up 50 percent of the MSBA membership. HCBA members are also members of a variety of affiliated bar associations, including Minnesota Women Lawyers, Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, Minnesota Asian Pacific Bar Association, Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, and Minnesota Lavender Bar Association. Representatives of many of the affiliated bar associations hold places on the HCBA board.
To advance the collective interests of our members, the HCBA commits to absolute and unalloyed cooperation with the MSBA, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and the affiliated bar associations. The HCBA is already working with the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Ramsey County Bar Association to further the interests of our members through cooperation and eliminating duplication. We are working together on, among other things, law student initiatives and programs for new lawyers. The HCBA intends to expand those cooperative efforts and extend them to the affinity bars.
The second pillar in our focus on members is member value. The concept of member value is often misunderstood. At one level, member value seems to ask nothing more than the self-serving question of "what is in it for me?" At another level, it seems a purely economic equation, suggesting that if I pay X for my membership and I should receive Y in return. There is a certain truth in both statements, but the concept is more nuanced.
Member value in professional associations is all about engaging in your enlightened self-interest. It is about both getting and giving. The HCBA has multiple programs, services, and benefits to offer member value and make it easier for you to practice law. Most HCBA continuing legal education courses are free to members, as are socials and many other programs and services for professional and personal development. But member value is not just about programs and benefits. It is also about participation.
The participation side of member value, often termed member engagement, is the third pillar in our focus on making it easier for members to practice law. Member value asks what can your bar association do for you. Member engagement asks what can you do for your bar association.
To a lawyer, time is money—a lawyer in private practice sells his or her time—and time is limited. As a lawyer, your goal is to participate in activities that return more than the time invested. The HCBA is striving to be that type of activity. Sometimes it will be difficult to monetize your bar association yield. I am still waiting for my first million dollar referral to arise from my involvement in the Hennepin County Bar Association. But I guarantee that if you become more involved in the HCBA, you will meet lawyers whom you typically would not meet in your everyday practice of law. In so doing, you will gain a more complete understanding of the legal community. And for those lawyers whom you already know, getting more involved in the HCBA will enable you to get to know them even better.
Think back for a moment on why you became a lawyer. Was it to advance the cause of justice? If so, the HCBA can help you do that. Many members do not realize that the HCBA is three organizations in one. The HCBA’s pro bono arm, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, provides pro bono services to thousands of low income clients annually. Without financial and in-kind support from the HCBA and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which has provided pro bono services for over 50 years, could not undertake its important work. The Hennepin County Bar Foundation is the charitable arm of the HCBA. The Foundation provides more than $100,000 in grants annually to nonprofit agencies, including the Volunteer Lawyers Network, that promote access to justice for the people of Hennepin County.
One of the great advantages of the HCBA is that it allows you to engage in your enlightened self-interest. For example, there is no other organization in Minnesota that is so intimately linked to the Fourth District bench. If you are interested in meeting a Hennepin County District Court judge in an informal and relaxed atmosphere, attend our Judges' Social in the fall. But “Judges' Social” is really a misnomer. Yes, judges attend, but so do hundreds of your other, non-judge colleagues. Even if you never set foot in a courtroom, you should attend the Judges' Social. Why? Because if you do, you could meet the lawyer who will be on the other side of the table in your next transaction.
At this point I hope you are asking "what can I do to help?" Thank you for asking, even if I had to put the question into your head. I have a straightforward suggestion for both non-members and for HCBA members.
If you are here today and you are not an HCBA member, thank you for attending. Now take the next step and become a member. I do not think you will regret your choice. But I have been wrong before. (I admit that only because my spouse is in the room). So if you regret your choice, tell me why. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me.
Most of you here today are members. Many of you are very involved in the HCBA. Thank you for attending, for your membership, and for your involvement. I have just one request of you. If you are a member, even if you have attended multiple HCBA events this year, please do one thing more. The HCBA has a popular and free to members social on June 21 at the Crowne Plaza's 8th Floor Skygarden patio. Come to that social. Or attend a section continuing legal education program in the fall. You will not regret your choice. And if you do, tell me why. Send me an email at email@example.com or call me.
Leadership at the HBCA is focused on members. If you, as an HCBA member, ever have a problem or concern, please call me or send me an email. I want to know.
I am simply the 99th person in a long line of volunteer cheerleaders who cared enough about the HCBA to seek to lead the organization. Fortunately, the success or failure of the HCBA does not depend upon me. But it does depend upon you. Together, we can lead the HCBA into its next 100 years. I look forward to speaking with and working with you. Thank you.