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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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