New MSBA President: Enhancing And Enriching Legal Careers Through Diversity, Inclusion And Engagement

minnesota

By Robin M. Wolpert

I joined the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) as soon as I began practicing law because I wanted to make a difference in the profession. I am not sure how much I contributed to the profession back when I was a new lawyer, but the state bar definitely impacted me. At state bar events, I met so many people who became my mentors and gave me opportunities to build my leadership skills. The turning point was back in 2006 when MSBA president Susan Holden and president-elect Patrick Kelly appointed me to serve as the reporter for the Quie Commission. The Quie Commission was studying the question of how our method of selecting state judges affected the fairness and impartiality of our judiciary. Since I wrote my doctorate dissertation on this very subject, I jumped at the chance to contribute. I have been hooked on the state bar ever since.

MSBA Enhances and Enriches Legal Careers
There is no doubt that MSBA has enhanced and enriched my career. I am a legal strategist, litigator and appellate lawyer. My practice is often at the intersection of law and public policy. As an active member of MSBA, I have had the privilege of leading the appellate practice section and being part of our special community of appellate attorneys and judges. I have had the opportunity to work on the most important policy issues facing the legal profession at the state legislature, Congress and Minnesota Supreme Court. I am a better attorney and leader because I have been engaged in the bar.

My Goals: Diversity and Inclusion
As incoming president of the MSBA, I want the state bar to work for everyone with no one left out. This means welcoming new lawyers to the profession and giving them the tools and connections they need to succeed. It means reaching out and leveraging the talent of practitioners in greater Minnesota, and addressing the challenges of rural practice. Finally, it means valuing and including those who are different from us in everything we do. The diversity of the bar encompasses race, age, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, veteran status and geography (among other things). At MSBA, we are focusing on a change in mindset. It is a mindset that we acquire from personally experiencing and therefore, intuitively knowing that we are better lawyers when we value and include those who are different from us. When we maximize the best talent from a variety of backgrounds, we make better business decisions and have a competitive advantage. When we “live” diversity and inclusion, we are more empowered to serve our clients. We naturally elevate our practice of law.

Supporting Lawyers with Chemical Dependency and Mental Health Issues
It bears emphasizing that MSBA’s diversity and inclusion work extends to those disabled by alcohol use problems and mental illness. This year, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation publicized the results of their historic effort to understand the impact of behavioral health problems on the legal community. The data indicates that attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful and consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations. More specifically, 20.6 percent of lawyers engaged in hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking; lawyers 30 years of age or younger were significantly more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than older lawyers; and 43.7 percent reported that problematic use of alcohol started within the first 15 years following law school. The study also indicated that levels of depression (28 percent), anxiety (19 percent) and stress (23 percent) among attorneys are significant. Unfortunately, the barriers to obtaining help are also significant. Attorneys have concerns about privacy and fear that they will be stigmatized if others find out. If you know or have ever known someone suffering from alcoholism or mental illness, you understand the toll it takes on individual lives and those who care for them. On behalf of the MSBA, I ask that you extend your compassion and empathy to our colleagues and direct them to Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers (651- 646-5590) so they can get the confidential assistance they need. See www.mnlcl.org for the full range of services LCL provides.

In Summary
As the incoming MSBA president, I am excited to advance the interests of the legal profession in a manner that values and leverages the wide-ranging talent and experiences of our members. Please empower us with your voice.


Robin M. Wolpert is a legal strategist, litigator and appellate lawyer at Sapientia Law Group, where she focuses her practice on the areas of complex business and commercial litigation, data privacy, constitutional law and political law compliance. Her practice includes matters involving parallel civil and criminal proceedings, civil and criminal appeals, investigations and advising clients regarding compliance with federal and state campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws. She is a former prosecutor at the Washington County Attorney’s Office, in-house compliance counsel at 3M and municipal defense attorney and partner at Greene Espel.