What Have You
Done for Me Lately?
What has the MSBA done for me lately? This question likely has been on the mind of many of you as you've received your annual dues statement and paused to consider what your MSBA membership means to you. Whether your interests involve continuing education, developing your career, or simply finding opportunities to build relationships and network with other attorneys, your bar association has a lot to offer.
Fundamentally, what we are talking about here is value, and I challenge you to consider what value could be yours if you took full advantage of the many services and opportunities MSBA offers. Lawyers frequently tell us they are surprised to learn that services they have wished for are already available through MSBA. Maybe it's time you too had another look.
Members expect and deserve direct benefits that hone professional skills. The timely articles in Bench & Bar and the CLE and materials provided by our sections are likely familiar to you. But did you know you can get the latest court opinions delivered to you daily by email? Or that you can find uniform conveyancing forms, a spousal maintenance calculator, and many useful practice tools online at practicelaw.org? Title standards and the membership directory are two other valuable resources available from your association. Through MSBAdvantage you can obtain preferred rates on products, services and insurance. Pamphlets for use in marketing and client education are available, as are structured opportunities to consult with experienced colleagues, both via email list services (where all subscribers see all messages) and one-on-one. This list is not exhaustive, but is illustrative of direct benefits.
MSBA members also have many outlets to fulfill their profession of service to others. Boundless opportunities exist for pro bono legal services and for participation in policy and program planning through committees, commissions and boards. These involve a myriad of professional interests, including legal education, criminal sentencing guidelines, professional responsibility, diversity within the profession, judicial elections, and human rights, among others. Members serve without expectation of personal benefit or reward but with the expectation that others who follow will also contribute to enhance the profession. This culture of service is institutionalized within the MSBA.
The programming of MSBA is fluid and evaluated annually to ensure you get best value for your dues dollar. Programs are added, eliminated, or modified, as appropriate. In the coming year as your president, I plan to focus on four program areas: legislative relations, section support, practicelaw.org, and the recruitment of attorneys from Greater Minnesota for association leadership roles.
Legislative Relations are the key when we face issues that are important to the entire bar. Over the past few years, we have confronted several such issues: a near-crisis in funding for legal services to the disadvantaged, for the court system, and for the public defender program. We employ a skilled lobbyist who coordinates with MSBA leadership; however, this small group can accomplish only so much. Attorney constituents in each legislative district who know their legislators personally are more productive in educating individual lawmakers. Additionally, we have to help our legislator allies during their campaigns. Finances are integral to that process, hence the need for a nonpartisan PAC. Effective legislative relations depend on coordinated grass roots communications and the funding of LawPac. There are opportunities and real benefits here for the entire membership.
Sections are the backbone of the Association. The new governance structure, adopted at the Convention in June, recognizes this by providing sections representation on the governing Assembly. Led by dynamic volunteers, MSBA sections produce about 100 CLE programs annually and publish materials for client education as well as tools for lawyers. Sections have developed email list services linking their members for governance as well as general discussion of practical concerns. practicelaw.org, is up, running, and regularly updated thanks in large part to section member participation. These contributions are invaluable. The sections and their leaders deserve recognition, assistance in leadership development, and staff assistance.
practicelaw.org aids members in specialties of appellate practice, bankruptcy pro bono, employment law, family law, guardianships/conservatorships, real property, and marketing. Six thousand five hundred members currently subscribe to this free service and half log in each month, many with repeat usage. Obviously, the service can be expanded into more practice areas, but it has greater potential. New lawyers, solo practitioners, and small firms have a need for law office management tools to assist them with their personal business operations. Beyond that, we should explore the latest software for information management. practicelaw.org is a widely used membership benefit and it has unlimited potential for expansion.
Greater Minnesota is home to a significant cross-section of our members and we are making accommodations to encourage their participation in MSBA governance, sections and committees. Whereas "windshield time" formerly posed a major hurdle to their participation, today the Internet, facsimiles, and inexpensive telecommunications minimize the need for travel. All three MSBA conference rooms are wired with speakers and microphones to enable participation by telephone. Materials are sent by email or facsimile to those unable to attend meetings in person. Members, even those residing at a distance from the Twin Cities, are a valuable resource and it is the responsibility of leadership to recruit them.
MSBA programming continues to evolve and expand over time as we strive to provide ever greater membership value. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the abundant services and opportunities available to you as a member and get involved, both to enhance your own professional competence and to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to our profession and society.
DAVID STOWMAN of Detroit Lakes is president of the MSBA, a certified civil trial specialist, and a top 100 SuperLawyer. He concentrates his practice in products liability and personal injury law and related litigation.