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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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