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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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Meet HCBA Member... Michael Boulette

Posted By Nick Hansen, Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 13, 2017

Early in his career, Mike Boulette questioned his decision to practice family law. “I spent the first few years of my practice with my head in my hands thinking, what kid grows up saying that they want to be a divorce lawyer? And now I'm a divorce lawyer—talk about societal unpopular roles,” he said.


However, now after almost seven years as a lawyer, the Messerli & Kramer attorney has pretty much become the opposite of what he once had feared. He enthusiastically shares his insight for news stories on family law updates.  He’s worked on proposed family law legislation. He blogs at the website and regularly speaks at CLEs and conferences. In short, he is happy to share his passion for practice.


What changed?

“I started thinking that it might not be the area of law, it might be how I'm viewing the area of law.”His paradigm shift opened up a whole new way to think about family law. “I started thinking about family law not as the dregs of legal practice, but as a practice area that mattered in ways that some of the bigger, more flashy areas of the law might not...I could get behind that,” he said.


Advice Boulette received from a mentor helped him make this adjustment, “Find what you like to do and slowly make it bigger.”


In addition to writing and discussing areas of family law, one of Boulette’s favorite parts of being a lawyer is teaching, “I really enjoy that pedagogical aspect of what I do. So, I'm going to try and find excuses to do that and do more of it. But I think that so many of us don't seek that out because we want someone to come find us and tell us that that's ok,” he said.


Boulette noted that the HCBA is a great way to get involved with other things in your practice, “If you think there is important work to be done, the bar is happy to be a launch pad for you to go do it,” he said.


Boulette first started showing up to New Lawyers Section meetings. His involvement gradually snowballed. He most recently served on the HCBA Finance and Planning Committee and was the HCBA New Lawyers Liaison to the MSBA.


This initiative has paid off for Boulette. He’s a recognized name in the legal community, and he was recently awarded the Minnesota State Bar President’s Award.


Sometimes success really does come down to doing what you love.  “It's amazing how many opportunities pop up when you just go try things because you like them,” he said.


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Meet HCBA Member... Monte Miller

Posted By Nick Hansen, Monday, May 22, 2017

One topic that comes up frequently when talking with Monte Miller is “service.” Miller served his country while working on the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps over a military career that has spanned 24 years. He currently works in public service as a prosecutor for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. He also serves the legal community by representing the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association on the HCBA Board of Directors.

After law school, working for a law firm didn’t appeal to Miller. After clerking for the Honorable Mary Louis Klas, in Ramsey County District Court, he wanted to get more experience in the courtroom. A few attorneys recommended that he look into the Judge Advocate General (JAG) programthe legal department of the different service branches.

“It sort of fed into my strong desire to serve. I always felt like I missed the boat in high school, so I didn't enlist. Then I didn't really know a lot about the military and then when I looked into it I saw that it was an opportunity for me to get some experience, leave Minnesota, go out on my own and travel, and serve my country,” said Miller.

Miller ended up traveling all over the world and working on a variety of cases over his eight years on active duty. “You'd get a phone call and they'd say they needed a defense lawyer on the USS America. You'd show up at the terminal and they'd land you on the carrier. And you'd meet your client, do your investigation and figure out what was going on. That was the good thing about the military, everything was contained so all the witnesses were there unless it was something that happened out in town,” said Miller. He also later worked at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and as an appellate judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.

Wanting to settle down, Miller looked for a public attorney job back in Minnesota. Eventually, he got a job with the Hennepin county attorney’s office after Amy Klobuchar gave him a call.

About a decade ago, Miller wanted to get more involved with his heritage. A Korean-American, Miller got involved with the Minnesota Asian Pacific Bar Association (MNAPBA). There was an opening for a board representative to the HCBA and Miller took the opportunity. “I feel like I'm contributing the community and my job,” he said.

Miller believes that public service is an essential part of the legal field, even if it is usually overlooked.  “You have to look inside yourself and ask, what's going to make your tank full as far as contributing? What I would say is that public service is something that you get great satisfaction out of because you know the work that you do is making the community safer and better.”

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Meet HCBA Member... Jayne Sykora

Posted By Nick Hansen, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Jayne Sykora had no idea she was being so brave. After graduating from law school in 2009, Sykora and her law partner, Jen Santini, started their own firm, Sykora & Santini. Fellow attorneys commended them for taking a risk at the height of the financial crisis. “At the time we didn’t understand what that meant because we didn’t have much of a legitimate choice,” said Sykora. The risk paid off. Their firm is now coming up on its seventh anniversary.  


This success did not happen instantly. Sykora and Santini took a methodical approach to building their practice. And it wasn’t always glamorous. They forced themselves to do the banal parts of building a practice, like writing a business plan.  “I remember that being really painful at the time, but what else did we have to do?” said Sykora. “I think that helped. Since we have been a partnership from the get-go, it forced us to articulate and write down what it is that we want and what we are looking for as our practice has grown.”


Attending law school in Nebraska put Sykora in a different position than most of the law school graduates in the Twin Cities. Volunteering with the Hennepin County Bar Association gave Sykora the connections that may come easier for Twin Cities law school grads.  “The connections that we've made and the opportunities that we've been given would never have happened if not for our involvement in the bar association. I think also just understanding how the legal community works is really helpful,” she said.


Getting involved with the HCBA also gave Sykora some convenient opportunities to market herself and her skills. Through her work as the New Lawyers Section social director, she helped develop the HCBA sponsorship program.  “Other attorneys said that they had seen my involvement and wanted us to continue. I think that helped kind of build our reputations even though people didn't know what we would do legally,” she said.  After serving for three years with the New Lawyers Section, Sykora now serves on the Hennepin County Bar Foundation board of directors.


The connections have translated into business success. “Our involvement in the bar association has been really great for the growth of our business and the growth of our reputations as a whole,” said Sykora.


Sykora recommends that new attorneys put themselves in a position to be successful, “If you just chalk it up to be like ‘Oh bar association dues are so expensive’ you're just not taking advantage of what there is here to learn and benefit from and to make really great connections that are going to be helpful in your practice.”


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