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Thad Lightfoot serves as the 2017-2018 HCBA President. Views expressed here are his own.


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In Praise of Youth and Youthful Ideas

Posted By Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The date is May 16, 1919. An armistice that silenced the guns of the Great War—what we know as World War I—is just a four months old. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War and set the stage for the second, is still being negotiated and will not be signed for another six weeks. A small cadre of young Minneapolis lawyers, many of whom are veterans of General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force, have returned from their victory in Europe to their law practices in Hennepin County. After witnessing the horrors of trench warfare, they are eager to make their mark, and quickly. These young lawyers are unhappy with the limited functions and activities of the Minneapolis Bar Association, founded in 1883, and an earlier version of the Hennepin County Bar Association, founded in 1896. Twenty-five of them meet at the old Rogers’ Café in downtown Minneapolis to form a new Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA).

The HCBA, founded by young lawyers, is committed to encouraging the ideas of young lawyers. George Macaulay Trevelyan, the British historian and academic, warned, “Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done” because “God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” True to G.M. Trevelyan’s admonition, the HCBA encourages innovative thinking by all of its members, especially young lawyers, in service to the membership.

Among the most important goals of the HCBA is to provide leadership opportunities for lawyers without regard to age, and to ensure that the association’s leadership is diverse. The 25 lawyers who founded the HCBA in 1919 were young, but all were white males. Nearly 100 years later, the HCBA boasts the youngest and most diverse group of leaders in its history. Of the association’s six-person executive committee, two are persons of color and three are under age 40. Half of the association’s 28-member board of directors is also under 40. The board includes representatives from six minority bar associations, members of the judiciary, solo practitioners, and lawyers working in government, at small firms, and at large firms across a myriad of practice areas. Such diversity is not a product of serendipity. It is the result of the HCBA’s intentional efforts, through recruiting and appointments, to ensure the association has the benefit of varied perspectives in deciding how to best serve its members.

The HCBA is also committed to ensuring that minority law students have opportunities to gain sophisticated experience in the practice of law while in law school. Paramount in the association’s effort is the HCBA 1L Minority Clerkship program, whose participants for summer 2018 are featured on the cover of this edition of the Hennepin Lawyer. Begun in 2005 by the Minnesota State Bar Association, the HCBA assumed the program in 2013. In summer 2018, the program will match 14 self-identified minority students with 13 employers for a summer associate experience. Employers participating in 2018 include the Fourth Judicial District (Hennepin County) Court, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and well-respected private firms, both large and small. The HCBA is proud that the program has advanced the careers of future leaders in Minnesota’s legal community.

In 1966, before a huge throng of students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Robert F. Kennedy gave one of his greatest speeches. His address was a call to arms to the world’s youth. But Kennedy did not focus on just the young. He argued that the “world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of the imagination.” We at the HCBA value the qualities of youth and agree they are not chronologically based. Youthful qualities reflect an ethos of openness, of new ideas, and of rejecting the suggestion something cannot be done simply because it has not been done in the past. Whether you are a law student, a young lawyer, or have decades of experience, we support you in your practice and welcome your ideas.

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Bar Admission Without Examination in Changing Times

Posted By By Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Friday, December 22, 2017

In 2015, roughly 75 percent of newly admitted attorneys in this state passed the Minnesota Bar Exam, as provided in Rule 6 of the Minnesota Rules for Admission to the Bar.  The remaining 25 percent of the lawyers admitted to the bar in 2015 established competency to practice in Minnesota by obtaining a sufficient score on the Multistate Bar Examination (Rule 7B), receiving a sufficient score on the Uniform Bar Examination within the past three years (Rule 7C), or practicing law in 60 of the last 84 months (Rule 7A).

Rule 7A requires that an applicant for admission without exam be “engaged, as principal occupation, in the lawful practice of law” for at least 60 of the 84 months preceding the application. However, Rule 7A contains no specific hours-worked threshold to establish “principal occupation.” Rather, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners in 2013 adopted a policy stating that “engaged, as principal occupation” in the practice of law means “full time or substantially full-time (at least 120 hours per month).”

In 2016, Kathleen Reilly, a member of the Illinois bar since 2005, attempted to rely on Rule 7A to become a member of the Minnesota bar. To establish competency, Ms. Reilly submitted 137 pages of written work product and testimony from her former boss, a retired federal magistrate judge. However, due to family responsibilities, Reilly practiced law just 16 hours per week after 2011. The Minnesota Board of Law Examiners denied her application for admission without examination and Reilly filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the board’s decision. In May 2017, the Court denied Reilly’s petition but issued an order requiring the board to review Rule 7A. Lisa Buck wrote an excellent article on the Reilly case, which was published in the September/October 2017 issue of the Hennepin Lawyer.

In September 2017, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners requested comments on Rule 7A by November 30, 2017. HCBA, as authorized by its board of directors, submitted comments on November 29. The HCBA expresses its appreciation to Katherine A. McBride, an HCBA member and partner at Meagher & Geer, who assisted in preparing HCBA’s comments. In its comments, HCBA questioned the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners’ policy of 120 hours per month to satisfy the “principal occupation” requirement of Rule 7A. To reflect the “reality of legal practice today,” HCBA encouraged the board to interpret “principal occupation” as the practice of law for at least 80 hours, not 120 hours, per month. HCBA offered four rationales for the 80-hour threshold.

First, HCBA stated the threshold—essentially a half-time or more basis—will not jeopardize the quality of legal services available to the public. Second, HBCA commented that the 80-hour threshold will promote diversity by allowing historically under-represented groups—notably women, lawyers with disabilities, lawyers retreating from traditional full-time practice, and other lawyers who must attend to family obligations or health issues—to be admitted under Rule 7A. Third, HCBA noted that of the 11 jurisdictions with a stated minimum-hour requirement for admission without examination, only Minnesota and Vermont set a requirement or policy for the practice of law over 1,000 hours per year. Fourth, HCBA stated its bright-line threshold of 80 hours per month reflected the changing nature of the practice of law while providing a clear standard for out-of-state lawyers who must evaluate whether they must take the Minnesota Bar Examination to become licensed in the state. HCBA also suggested there may be circumstances where applicants do not meet the 80-hour per month threshold but may nevertheless merit consideration for admission. For such applicants, HCBA urged the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners to evaluate the applications for admission using case-by-case considerations to determine whether the applicant is professionally competent.

The practice of law is changing. Some commentators suggest the practice of law has changed more in the last 15 years than the previous 150. That may be hyperbole. The transformation of legal practice did not occur in a vacuum and some social, economic, and technological shifts in the practice of law arose from changes applicable to society in general. But the changes in the practice of law are occurring at a pace even more accelerated than those in society at large. Minnesota’s rules of admission to the bar need to reflect those changes. HCBA hopes the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners carefully considers HCBA’s comments on Rule 7A. The rule should acknowledge that part-time lawyers with five years or more of practice may be just as competent as those lawyers newly admitted to the Minnesota bar by passing the bar exam.


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Rewarding Excellence: The New HCBA Excellence Awards

Posted By HCBA President Thad Lightfoot , Wednesday, November 1, 2017

In my remarks at the HCBA’s 2017 annual meeting, I stressed the association’s goal was to make it easier for members to practice law and offered three principles upon which the HCBA would focus to achieve that goal. Those principles are: (1) cooperation with other bar associations; (2) enhanced member value; and (3) superior member engagement. The HCBA is well on its way to implementing all three principles. We are cooperating with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and affinity bars in a variety of ways. We continue to enhance member value by expanding our free continuing legal education programs and social gatherings. But perhaps our most significant effort thus far this year involves member engagement and the HCBA’s decision to reform its awards process.

Two years ago, the HCBA Board of Directors began an evaluation of the association’s awards program. When the evaluation began, the association conferred eight to ten awards per year for pro bono service, diversity, and professionalism. Two task forces explored efforts the association could undertake to align the awards process more closely with the HCBA’s overall mission, engage more members in the nominating and selection process, and ensure the recipient pool included more lawyers who are under 37 years of age or have been admitted to practice within the past six years. In September 2017, the HCBA Board of Directors adopted a reformed awards program known as the HCBA Excellence Awards.

The first step in the new program is the creation of a standing Awards Committee. Chaired each year by the HCBA’s immediate past-presidentfor this year Paul Floydthe committee will include term-limited members from the New Lawyers Section, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and the Professionalism and Ethics Section. In addition, there will be several term-limited at-large members, including those with connections to the legal services and pro bono communities.

The Awards Committee may recommend up to 12 HCBA Excellence Awards in a given bar year, selected from six categories drawn from the HCBA’s mission statement. Those categories are: (1) advancing diversity and inclusion; (2) improving access to justice; (3) providing pro bono service; (4) providing mentoring to the legal profession; (5) advancing innovation in the legal profession; and (6) providing service to the association or the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. The HCBA Executive Committee will consider and approve the recommendations of the Awards Committee. There is no minimum number of award recipients and an award need not be given in every category each year. Nominations for the awards will open at the beginning of each bar year. All HCBA members other than Awards Committee and Executive Committee members are eligible for the awards.

In addition to the HCBA Excellence Awards, the board of directors created a new Career Contributions to the Profession Award. This award, which need not be awarded every year, will be selected by the Executive Committee to recognize an HCBA member’s outstanding career contributions. Nominations for this prestigious award will be made directly to the Executive Committee, although the Awards Committee may recommend qualifying nominees.

Our former awards system was very good. But the HCBA Board of Directors concluded the system focused only professionalism, diversity, and pro bono service—categories that are more limited than the HCBA’s entire mission. And too often, the awards did not fully recognize meritorious contributions by our new lawyer members. We hope the new awards program will strike the right balance by acknowledging a wide-range of remarkable member contributions, increasing the recognition of noteworthy activities by new lawyers, and creating a prestigious separate award for a lifetime of outstanding service.

You can help. Nominations for the HCBA Excellence Awards and the Career Contributions to the Profession Award are now open ( Please nominate members whom you believe are deserving of these awards. If you have any questions or comments regarding the process or the new awards program, please contact me ( or Susie Brown, the HCBA’s Executive Director (

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2017 Annual Meeting Remarks

Posted By HCBA President Thad R. Lightfoot, Thursday, July 6, 2017

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 moneya lawyer in private practice sells his or her timeand 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 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 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.

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