Do you remember, back in the day, when we all worried about Y2K? It seems to have turned out OK; but back then, we didn’t know that it would; worrying and planning were appropriate, indeed. (Fun and fond memory: When I used to speak bout Y2K issues, I suggested that we should have a special empathy for those who were busy planning before the A.D. era – counting down from 11 B.C, to 7 B.C, to 3, 2, 1 …. Now THAT was cause for concern!) Anyway, hindsight, as we all know, is 20/20. But now we have the chance to look forward a bit – to mark the passing of yet another decade; and to engage in some “20/20 foresight” upon the arrival of 2020. Here, then, are a few thoughts about what might be around the corner for our legal profession and bar associations. Good news, to my mind; and reasons for optimism, even in the midst of much to do.
First, an important event in our past will be remembered, learned from, and built upon during and for our future. On June 15, 1920, three young Black men from the travelling circus were lynched in our very own Duluth – our very own Minnesota. It was a night of lawless, gruesome and terroristic killings. Elias Clayton and Elmer Jackson (1901-1920) and Isaac McGhie (1900-1920). During 2020, there will be a multi-month series of important events designed to remember that past and build upon it toward our future – including the June 15, 2020 100th year commemoration events in Duluth, followed by the related June 16th programs in Minneapolis/St. Paul – featuring Bryan Stevenson of “Just Mercy” at both gatherings, and much, much more. Please be there. The Duluth community leadership intends to have at least as many there this coming June as were there in the murderous mob – in other words, thousands.
Second, we will – and we will have to – develop new ways to meet the unmet civil legal needs of Minnesotans. Put simply, our current reality is neither just nor sustainable. The numbers are not only daunting, they can be crushing. We have fewer than 300 state court trial judges flooded with over 1,250,000 case filings each year – including a tsunami of self-represented litigants who either cannot afford a lawyer or who do not want one. We have well under 300 poorly paid civil legal aid lawyers handling 30,000 cases each year and, with the help of private pro bono lawyers, closing over 46,000 cases each year. In response, a number of initiatives are evolving.
For example, our own Rule 6.1 is coming more and more into the fore – still calling for 50 Pro Bono Publico hours per year for most practicing attorneys; or, in the alternative, calling for the donation of the financial equivalent of the value of those hours to legal services organizations trying to meet those needs; with an emerging call for mandatory reporting of pro bono hours as a step toward evaluating next steps. I join that call.
Similarly, our Access to Justice Committee has developed, and is proposing, new and important and effective avenues for providing access to equal justice for Minnesotans (e.g., LawHelpMN). Along these lines, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered the creation of an Implementation Committee to develop a “pilot” to evaluate the wisdom and effectiveness of expanding the role of qualified para-professionals to include, under the supervision of an attorney, providing some forms of legal advice and representing clients in court, in order to help address the un-met civil legal needs of low and modest income Minnesotans in one of a few specified legal arenas. (Not, by the way, the Washington State “LLLT” model. Period.)
On this front, the Chief Justice has reminded us that we can no longer merely “admire the problem” of access to justice for low and moderate income Minnesotans; we have to do something that matters and that works; I agree.
Third, we will continue our dedication to lawyer health and wellness. Our profession can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can also be demanding. It can take a toll; it has its perils. Please attend our January 13 conference on this important and troubling reality; and please look forward to attending and supporting what we hope will be a Spring Summit of the legal and corporate community to develop the promise that “It’s Safe to Seek Help to Be and Get Well.” Stay tuned. There’s more, of course. All of which reflects our core and continuing commitment – and obligation – of service and citizenship; key parts of the promise we make, and the oath that we take. These ideas and initiatives also help form our hopeful 20/20 vision for 2020 – seeing and seizing, and sometimes creating, new and effective ways to make things better.