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Meet HCBA Member... Rachael Hafdahl

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rachael Hafdahl has always relished being a part of where decisions are made. “I always liked having a say in the events that happened,” she said.  Growing up playing sports, including lacrosse in college, she also enjoyed being part of a team and having a sense of community. However, that changed after graduating from college. “I spent my entire life being part of a team, spending all day, every day with my teammates who became my family. And then it just dropped off very quickly when I graduated college and went to law school,” she said.  After law school, she sought a renewed sense of community, which led her to the HCBA.


As co-social director for the HCBA New Lawyers Section, she’s taken a role in creating a sense of community for new lawyers. Participating in section activities helped her develop her network. “Connecting with other members outside of our formal meetings has been great. I've formed some really good relationships,” she said. “Having those friendships with other new lawyers in the HCBA really helped me through my first two years of practice and helped strengthen my bond with the rest of the section,” she said. That bond helped Hafdahl find her dream job.


Hafdahl currently works as in-house counsel at Life Time, Inc. The opportunity came to her through networking within the HCBA. Hafdahl befriended current NLS Chair Stephanie Willing, who introduced Hafdahl to another colleague, who had Life Time as a client. When that position opened at Life Time, he recommended her for the job. “I would have never known about the job opening or gotten that recommendation if I hadn’t first befriended Stephanie through the HCBA,” she said.


Working in-house challenges Hafdahl in unique ways. “I love proactively working with the business to develop best practices and procedures, so that we can prevent issues from happening as opposed to reacting to them on the other end,” she said.


When asked of what she wished she’d known before she started practicing, Hafdahl reflected on her time in law school and stated that she wished she’d followed her passions sooner. “I feel like I didn't really explore all of the areas I wanted to in law school because they conflicted with what I thought were obligatory classes I needed to take,” she said.  If she could go back, she would have more fun with her classes and leave the nuts and bolts of the bar exam to her bar prep course.


While Hafdahl may not be playing team sports anymore, she’s happy to have found a similar outlet in her professional life. “I've found that joining the HCBA gave me that community I was looking for.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Andrew Ayers

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, October 29, 2018

Andrew Ayers is a transplanted New Yorker, soccer fan, and avid reader. He makes sure to mention all of those things on his website. To Andrew, this information is just as important as the cases he’s won or his lawyering accolades. “A person has to know who they are hiring and what the firm or attorney is really all about. I find that personality is important,” he said.

Andrew, a solo practitioner and chair of the HCBA Solo & Small Firm section, has good reasons for talking about the latest book he’s read or the plight of Manchester United, the soccer team he supports. Working the areas of estate planning and business law, Andrew works with many clients one-on-one, so creating a connection not solely based on work is important. “
I try to make sure that my personality comes through in my marketing so that people know who I am and what to expect...That makes for a healthier working relationship in my mind,” he said.

In a world of “robot lawyers” and “do-it-yourself” legal websites, the value of personal connections often gets lost. “
I think a lot of attorneys, especially solo and small firms, get too worried about price that they lose that ability to really convey who they are to the client,” Andrew said. While solo and small firms may not have the marketing budgets of a large law firm or “Do It Yourself” website, they do have a personal touch that those websites often lack. ”If you go work with a solo or small firm lawyer you have that advice and that experience behind whatever document you're given. You have someone to call if something happens,” he said.

One place where Andrew connects with other attorneys and referral sources is through the HCBA. He first got involved with the HCBA when he moved back to Minnesota from New York. “When I got here, it took about six months before I was admitted, so I didn't really practice law on Minnesota cases, so I came to a lot of HCBA events: New Lawyers Section meetings, a lot of coffees with people. I think I’ve met half of the county bar at this point. I used it as a way to meet people. Being new to the market, there's a lot of people to meet,” he said.

He has big plans for the solo and small firm section this year. This includes regular happy hours, CLEs, and other valuable networking events. Andrew encourages everyone who even has the slightest interest in working solo or at a small firm to come out to events, especially law students. “The local county bars are where you see the same people who you see in court...The local bar really gives you that value to connect with people you will see more often."

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Meet HCBA Member... Chris Grgurich

Posted By Nick Hansen, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ballard Spahr attorney Chris Grgurich is not a firefighter, but he enjoys putting out fires. He has fixed complex problems in a variety of areas throughout his career, including as in-house general counsel, loss prevention attorney, and in the areas of complex securities and shareholder litigation matters.   He’s also the current chair of the HCBA Professionalism and Ethics Section and an attorney member on the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.  “It is a pure joy to advise my colleagues and private clients with their legal issues, often times mitigating or preventing problems before they’ve completely gone off the tracks,” he said. 

Born in Peoria, Illinois, Grgurich went to Eureka College for undergraduate work and then to the University of Illinois for a dual J.D./MBA program. In law school, he was not sure what area he wanted to specialize in, but after summering at Lindquist & Vennum—which is now Ballard Spahr—in 2002, he found his niche in securities and the city of Minneapolis seemed like a perfect Midwestern fit for him. The sophisticated practice area coupled with the career opportunities and family-friendly environment were cause enough for him to overlook the brutal Minnesota winters.  “All those factors swirling around brought me here,” he said. 

Grgurich became involved with the HCBA after one of his mentors asked him to help run the Professionalism and Ethics section.  Years later, Grgurich took over as chair of the section and also became General Counsel of Lindquist, where his indoctrination into the world of in-house counsel to a law firm was essentially a “trial by fire.” However, he found that he enjoyed advising his partners and associates and the work on behalf of the firm commenting that “you walk into your office and there is a red light on the phone —  you never know what it's going to be, what's exploding or what fire to put out. It's kind of fun. I tell people every day is another day of excitement and adventure. You would never really know what it’s going to be,” he said. 

Having excellent mentors was crucial to honing Grgurich’s lawyering and trial skills, and they also stressed the importance of getting involved in the local legal community. “I was very fortunate to have some of the very best lawyers in the state take an interest in helping me develop my trial skills and my understanding of the securities and professional responsibility areas” he said.  And according to Grgurich, getting involved in the bar association was a critical part of becoming integrated into the local legal community. “I would tell new lawyers that if you don't have someone in your shop who you enjoy working with and who you view as a mentor ... then you want to connect with people you went to school with and the associations. It’s critical,” he said. 

In fact, Grgurich suggests that newer lawyers looking to hone their presentation skills and knowledge of particular practice areas partner up with more seasoned colleagues in their office.  “Years ago I learned that entrepreneurial partners are always willing to co-present at CLEs, especially if you volunteer to put the presentation materials together,” Grgurich says with a smile.  

No doubt, working in multiple areas of the law has challenged Grgurich in many different ways. But he loves that aspect of his job. “The longer I practice the more I realize how much I don’t know.  That’s why they call it the “practice of law.”  It's a constant learning process, but to be able to help sophisticated clients like corporations dealing with shareholder and breach of fiduciary claims and attorneys and law firms grappling with ethical and related issues - it’s an absolute privilege to be able to serve and learn from these savvy sophisticated clients.” 


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Meet HCBA Member... Marian Saksena

Posted By Nick Hansen, Thursday, August 9, 2018

Marian Saksena feels blessed that she knows exactly why she became a lawyer. “I went to law school specifically to be able to give voice to children,” she said. “I worked with kids that were vulnerable in some different capacities and I just really saw that kids were affected by the legal process, but it seemed like they rarely had a voice.”


Saksena is currently a partner at Dewalt, Chawla + Saksena and she serves as the co-chair of the HCBA Juvenile Law Section. Helping young people has been the main thread of her career. During law school, she volunteered as a Guardian ad litem for abused children and was a law clerk at the Children’s Law Center (CLC) of Minnesota. She has two decades of experience in the area of juvenile and family law, and she has served on numerous statewide committees on children’s issues.


Saksena first got involved with the HCBA in law school. Her boss at the Children’s Law Center, Gail Chang Bohr, brought her to an HCBA event. “I feel like that was my introduction to the law world,” she said. “I realized from that all these people from diverse practices could come together. Even as a law student, I felt embraced as a member of the legal community.”


In addition to juvenile law, Saksena also practices family law.  Throughout her career, the HCBA has been a key resource to helping her stay up to date in both areas. “Through the HCBA and other opportunities, I was able to learn more about what I needed to know as a practitioner,” she said.


As the Juvenile Law Section co-chair, she hopes she can get more attorneys involved in that practice area. “I would like juvenile court to be demystified so that more people would be open to learning and then helping either through pro bono, low fee or even market rate representation,” she said. Saksena noted that there is a huge unmet need for the representation of children, foster parents and relatives in juvenile protection matters.


Even though the Juvenile Law bar is small, Saksena believes that there are lots of opportunities to get involved in the area.  “I think participation in the HCBA Juvenile Law Section is complementary for people who are in private practice that are also CLC volunteers who want to come learn more substantive aspects of the law or practice tips,” she said.


Even after nearly two decades of practicing, she still knows exactly why she does the work she does. “I love helping people,” she said. Throughout her career, Saksena has enjoyed assisting people and helping them go on with their lives, despite the adversities: “it’s wonderful to get to see human growth and human change. I  can serve as a catalyst for people's growth or recovery or movement forward.”  Saksena observed that much has been written about trauma and its long-term negative effects.  She went on to emphasize that there  is also the phenomenon of “post-traumatic growth,” and juvenile law attorneys have the opportunity to help foster this through their work with clients.


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Meet HCBA Member... Areti Georgopoulos

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, May 14, 2018

Areti Georgopoulos strives for harmony in the workplace. Thus, Harmony Law Firm was born. She has been lucky to find harmony in her job and through her volunteering with the HCBA, even if it has sometimes come unexpectedly.

Six months into serving as co-chair of the HCBA Labor and Employment Section, Georgopoulos was representing a client who was having issues with her employer. Negotiations between the parties were not going well, so Georgopoulos’ opposing counsel said that an outside lawyer would be taking over the negotiations, and she would be getting a call from Kurt Erickson.

Fortunately, she knew Ericksonhe was the other co-chair of the section. Even though they were on opposite sides of the negotiating table, their previous connections helped the process move along. “I found that it was a very efficient way to resolve the dispute because we already knew each other. There was trust and mutual respect between each other,” she said. “We were able to reach a satisfactory resolution in that case. I did attribute it, in addition to his lawyering skills, and perhaps mine as well, to our effective advocacy. But I also attribute it to the fact that we had been working together.“

Georgopoulos also appreciates that she gets to work with defense counsel in non-contentious settings. She has planned CLE seminars and participated on panels with other labor & employment attorneys. “It's really a space where there is a lot of collegiality, where there is an interest and truly an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and it's just a space that's very conducive to informative and insightful discussion. And it's just building relationships across the aisle if you will,” she said. 

The local aspect of the HCBA has also helped the collegiality between all types of labor and employment lawyers. “The HCBA Labor & Employment section was an opportunity to work with defense attorneys and generate ideas for insightful seminars that were relevant to both sides of an employment dispute. I like that from a philosophical perspective,” she said. 

The involvement with the HCBA has helped burnish her credentials among her colleagues. “They know who I am and what I do for the HCBA and there is a recognition of my role as a chair, trying to bring together, wanting to have open and informative debates about how we do what we do. I would say the reputation is respected, so it does add a layer of understanding,” she said. 

Harmony has become a part of her practice in other ways as well. “Even potential clients will call me and say, I saw your website and your name. I like this idea of harmony,” she said. “I thought on some subliminal level and some direct level I am striving for the resolution and the harmony, even though I am a litigator and tell people that I'm still that fierce advocate. Ultimately, everyone wants resolution and it's all about how we're going to get there. It does very much embody my practice.”


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Meet HCBA Member... Katie Jarvi

Posted By Nick Hansen, Thursday, January 25, 2018

Katie Jarvi knows that attorneys can provide a lot of help with only a little bit of effort. Jarvi, an attorney with Johnson/Turner Legal, has been a dedicated Legal Access Point (LAP) clinic volunteer. She is also the co-chair of the HCBA’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) oversight committee.


All of her volunteer work relates to her favorite part of her job: talking to people. “I like sitting down and doing consultations and thinking about, how can we help you? How can we get you out of whatever situation you’re in and into a better place? Sometimes it takes legal help to do that. Sometimes it is just talking to people and offering them non-legal options too. I really just enjoy getting to know people.”


One of her most rewarding volunteer moments came when she helped a gentleman with a seemingly minor legal issue at a LAP clinic. The man spoke very little English and needed assistance with some documents. “It was such a significant barrier to him and he was really, really upset about it,” she said. Jarvi was able to assist him and she remembers how happy he was after the issue was solved. “The look on that guy’s face was pretty priceless.”


Volunteering with LAP has exposed Jarvi to the issues surrounding access to justice. “You really see firsthand when you start volunteering with LAP or really any of these legal clinics what specifically those barriers are,” she said. Those issues can be as minor as filling out the right form or finding an interpreter. “You almost don't realize how small those barriers are,” she said.


And help from an attorney can mean all the difference. ”They are able to do something they couldn't do before, and it changes their entire life,” she said.  


Another barrier that people don’t often think about is the fear of actually talking to an attorney, and Jarvi is glad that LRIS is helping alleviate that. “Sometimes folks are scared to call an attorney’s office. They don't know if they really have a legal issue or they don't know what the legal issue is. They know that something is wrong, but they don't really know how to ask for the help that they need,” she said.


She said that LRIS is helping spread an important message: quality, affordable legal help is a realistic option for many people. It's kind of a psychological barrier where people don't think that they can afford a good quality attorney. I think that it's important to spread that message to folks that you can.”


Who would have thought that an attorney could help this much just by talking? 

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Meet HCBA Member... Sue Pontinen

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sue Pontinen, the Executive Director at Volunteer Lawyers Network, has taken on a variety of challenges over her almost 18 years with the organization. They’ve involved things from assisting desperate clients to making tough decisions in order to ensure VLN remains in strong financial health for the future.


Pontinen became VLN’s family law resource attorney in 2000. “The idea of being able to do that for a living and provide a service to people and be paid for it was kind of my dream job. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time,” she said.


Some eye-opening experiences led her to a greater appreciation for legal services work. “The first time I went to the Family Law Clinic over at the Family Justice Center, all three clients that came in stymied me. There were fact situations that I had never heard of before and weren't presented by my paying clients. It was a humbling experience,” she said.


Pontinen also realized that it wasn’t just the work that was different, but the nature of the attorney-client relationship as well. On one occasion, a mother called from a payphone with her kids in tow, and she was in the midst of fleeing an abusive relationship.


“I made what I intended to be a comforting comment and I said, ‘I know that must be so hard.’ I'll never forget this, she said to me, ‘You don't know. You have no idea. You have no idea how hard this is for me.’ I was taken aback because at first, I thought I was providing comfort, but she was offended,” said Pontinen. “It was a real learning experience for me because she was so right. I had no idea and never could or would. And that's a common experience for many of our clients.”


That experience helped her realize that while the work was difficult, it was also extremely important. “I'm very admiring of the practitioners that take it upon themselves to really become experts in poverty law,” she said.


Pontinen became VLN’s deputy director in 2003, and the executive director in 2008. While she enjoyed the work, the organization was in “financial dire straits” “The challenges we were facing were so serious at the time,” she said.


Focusing on the organization’s financial health became a priority for Pontinen and the VLN leadership. After making some sacrifices and securing new funding, the organization is in excellent financial shape. “We were able to turn things around to the point today where we are very healthy financially,” she said.


Over her career at VLN, Pontinen noted that she was very lucky to work with such a dedicated staff. “I just feel so fortunate that I have been able to work at this wonderful organization for 18 years and have the satisfaction of serving the community. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I'm probably most grateful for that. But then also to work with a staff that does its job, not for the pay, but because they are really committed to helping others in the community less fortunate than themselves and our volunteers that give of themselves so selflessly,” she said.


She also wanted to thank the numerous volunteers who have donated time and services to help clients. “It's a privilege to meet and work with people like that,” she said.


As she moves into retirement mode in early 2018, she thinks VLN will continue to get better. “I see VLN getting better and continuing to be an innovative and groundbreaking organization.  I think that what will be key to its growth is its community partnerships and serving our clients in their neighborhoods,” she said.

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Meet HCBA Member... Andrew Deutsch

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, November 13, 2017

Andrew Deutsch has a hard time explaining his job to his eight-year-old and six-year-old sons. “I say that I help people with their problems,” he said. While that is at the heart of Deutsch’s job responsibilities, it doesn’t quite cover everything he does as senior counsel at OneBeacon Insurance Group.

Deutsch, the vice-chair of the HCBA Corporate Counsel Section, has found his niche as an in-house counsel after spending six years litigating at a law firm. “It was sort of a perfect circumstance to make that transition out of litigation, out of private practice, but still be able to do something that's related to insurance,” he said.

As an in-house counsel, he helps OneBeacon draft insurance policies. Specifically, he works with technology-related businesses and he helps adjust their policies as new products come to market.

Working with internal clients has been a refreshing change of pace for Deutsch.  “They run into issues where they have questions about what to do with a particular insurance coverage issue, or how to handle something that came up on an account that they are underwriting,” he said. “Being able to work with them to come up with a solution is what I find fun.”

Even though he admits he got into Corporate Counsel section leadership “by accident,” he’s helped revive the group after it was dormant for a number of years. He appreciates the different people he’s met through the section. “It's a nice mix. You get to know lawyers who work in the area, but are in private practice and also other lawyers locally that are in-house,” he said. Deutsch also noted that many other in-house counsel associations tend to be national in scope, so they do not address local issues as much.

Deutsch doesn’t just make helping others part of his job, he’s made it an integral part of being a lawyer.  He has helped plan CLEs for the section, and he recently helped introduce law students to the HCBA as part of the University of Minnesota Law School “Meet the Bar Day” events.

 “One of the ways that I get enjoyment out of being a lawyer is by being able to help other people,  if it’s through networking, mentoring,  social outings, or putting on CLEs. I get a lot of enjoyment out of that and I think it's something we all can do as lawyers to benefit our fellow lawyers,” he said. 

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Meet HCBA Member... Alecia Anderson

Posted By Nick Hansen, Thursday, October 26, 2017


Alecia Anderson came into one of her favorite service opportunities just by showing up. Through her volunteering as a guardian ad-litem, she came upon another opportunity that spoke to her. A few years ago, executive directors of the nonprofit organization Ampersand Families came and spoke to a group of guardians ad-litem. Anderson was intrigued, and she now serves on the board. She has become an advocate for the organization, which helps older youth in the foster care system find permanent homes.


Anderson described the problems facing the often overlooked demographic. She mentioned that about 1000 older youth in Minnesota are in the permanency stage at any one time. “These kids need permanent homes, but we as a society can't seem to find homes for them,” she said.


Anderson’s day job at Wells Fargo is vastly different than most of her volunteer work and she doesn’t mind using two different aspects of her law degree in work and giving back. She would advise others to step out of their comfort zone when volunteering. “A lot of times you have skills and aren't necessarily sure how that would apply to some posting that you find. But if you reach out to some executive directors at small nonprofit organizations they will know best how to utilize you,” she said.


Anderson’s work with Ampersand Families is only one of her many roles with various local nonprofits. She also currently serves as treasurer of the Hennepin County Bar Foundation (HCBF).

After graduating law school, Anderson wanted more ways to connect with the local legal community. She was able to do that, and support different organizations, through her volunteering with the HCBF.  “When I was looking at the grantees of the HCBF, there were a lot of organizations that I really respected and supported anyway, so I thought this was a really good way to support the organizations that I knew were doing work in our community and also get more involved in our legal community in general,” she said.


Anderson's favorite part of foundation work is helping determine the grantees, “I think that's always the most fun part of the year," she said. “It's a really difficult day because you really have to narrow it down and say no a lot, but just knowing that these organizations are out there doing good and continuing to strive for that access to justice piece. That's really rewarding.”


What’s her advice to new lawyers looking to give back? Be sure to pay attention. “Take advantage of opportunities as they come. Just because professionally you can't pursue some passions doesn't mean that you can't find other ways. There's always going to be opportunities to find ways to develop your passions, whether that be through volunteer work or through board work or just giving money or your time,” said Anderson.


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Meet HCBA Member... Gloria Stamps-Smith

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Growing up in segregated Mississippi, Gloria Stamps-Smith learned the importance of helping out members of your community. “I didn't grow up in a place or time where you could just take care of your family. Family meant community,” she said. Those values have stuck with Stamps-Smith throughout her life, and she continues to exemplify them here in Hennepin County.


Stamps-Smith, an attorney at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, is the chair of the HCBA Diversity and Inclusion committee. Promoting diversity has always been important to Stamps-Smith. “It is important to me that we value each other’s uniqueness. By engaging with each other, we earn an appreciation of our differences,” she said.


Stamps-Smith also gives her time to a number of other organizations. She is a past president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. She also mentors law students, and advocates for women of color in the judiciary through her work with the Infinity Project. In addition, Stamps-Smith also spends countless hours volunteering in schools and in her church.  


Her motivation to give back comes from thinking about the future. “The things that drive me are my children and my legacy. It's important to me that my children and young people, particularly African-American young people, see that there is value in giving back,” she said.


Mentoring law students is a particular point of pride for Stamps-Smith. She beams while talking about seeing her mentees become successful lawyers, helping out a young lawyer hang their shingle, or speaking with a young woman who also attended a historically black college. (Stamps-Smith attended Jackson State University in Mississippi.)


She especially enjoys working with young people because she believes it’s imperative for her as a successful, professional woman of color, to be seen in the community. "It's important that you're out there so young people can see that there are folks like them who can do everything they aspire to,” she said.


While she has many avenues to give back through, Stamps-Smith chose to become more active in the HCBA about seven years ago. She described the HCBA as an “umbrella” organization that has brought many different organizations together.  “You learn more about people by getting to know people. By isolating yourself, you don’t give yourself an opportunity to see new ideas or expand beyond your bubble. I’m become very active and have gotten to know some really great people,” she said.


In a legal world where attorneys always seem to be short on time, Stamps-Smith has advice on giving back. “You don't have to cast the net too far across the metro in order to find something that's important. They just have to look at themselves and where their value points lie and give back to that organization and that group,” she said.


Stamps-Smith believes that giving back helps the entire legal community, "It's not just for you, it's for everybody else. It's for community. We all have an obligation. I strongly believe in the adage that service is a rent you pay for being part of this earth…You can just sit there and be a member if you want, but in order to be a true member you have to be engaged and you have to be willing to serve.”

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