Official Publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association

Vol. 61, No. 11 | December 2004
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The More Things Change
By David Stowman

We as a profession have reasons for optimism. I met many of those reasons recently. On October 29, a new crop of lawyers was admitted to practice before the courts of Minnesota during a ceremony conducted at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.  The Supreme Court presides over the ceremony and the MSBA president is invited to give remarks.

In 1972, I sat in the audience, freshly scrubbed, wide-eyed, feeling relief at having passed the bar, looking forward to a new career. This year, I observed from the podium, reflecting back to that earlier time when Minnesota boasted about 5,000 attorneys.

That number has increased to nearly 25,000. This year, St. Thomas graduated its first class, contributing to the pool of 765 newly admitted lawyers, which is up from 751 new attorneys in 2003.  Eighty-eight percent of those taking the July bar exam passed.

The admissions ceremony is an exciting moment and one of the most memorable in the life of an attorney.  Following undergraduate school, there is the LSAT, an application for admission, three more grueling years of study, research and exams, and then upon graduation, a bar review course, bar exam, and an eternity of waiting for results.  With all of that behind us, we are ready for the “real world.”  As I watched this year’s class sworn in, I contrasted present conditions with the world of three decades ago. 

The More Things Change

In that earlier time:

  • An unpopular draft decided the fate of many. Young men were assigned a “number” by lottery, which determined the order of call for compulsory military service.
  • Domino theory:  Communism was treated as a commodity for export, and military forces were dispatched to Viet Nam to prevent its spread.
  • At 18, young people were eligible for military service, but the right to vote was not conferred upon that group until the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
  • As the Watergate scandal erupted, Senator Walter Mondale said in July of 1973, “I am shocked by the number of lawyers involved in the Watergate scandal … . The sad truth is that the legal profession performed miserably in the entire Watergate affair.” John Dean asked: “How in God’s name could so many lawyers get involved in something like this?”
  • In 1972, the Senate approved the Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing equality for women but it was not ratified by the required number of states. 
  • In Roe V. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that women have the unrestricted right to abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, after which the state has some interest in protecting the fetus.  (1973)
  • The towering World Trade Center became New York’s latest calling card in 1973. 
  • Legislation establishing the Legal Services Corporation passed in 1974, providing funding for civil legal services to the disadvantaged.
  • Congress approved the Election Reform Act limiting contributions to presidential campaigns and capping the presidential candidates’ budget.  The act encouraged the growth of political action committees. (PACs)
  • Primitive word processors began to populate offices in the early 1970s.  The machines resembled typewriters and permitted basic text editing.  In 1975, Microsoft Computer Software Company was founded by Paul Allen, age 22, and Bill Gates, age 19. 
  • In 1975, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to require lawyers to continue their professional education to keep their license to practice. 
  • The State Board of Professional Responsibility had its first meeting in 1971 and has become an integral part of the self-policing of the legal profession 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lawyers could advertise, as prohibitions against it infringed upon free speech.
  • Well into the 1970s, the organized bar had an auxiliary called Lawyers’ Wives, which sponsored fashion shows, teas, and ran the MSBA’s State Fair booth.  Although women and minorities had broken into the profession by 1900, Minnesota’s legal profession was still overwhelmingly white and male.
  • Average Minnesota lawyer income in 1970 was $23,439.  Only 4 percent earned over $60,000 annually.
  • In July 1972, MSBA President George C. King’s inaugural column in Bench & Bar introduced upcoming issues for the bar year, which included endorsement of “no-fault” auto insurance and divorce based upon “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In December of that year, King wrote about prepaid legal services:  “Prepaid Legal Services is a problem … or an opportunity if we so choose … that is upon us now.” 

The More Things Stay the Same

  • Recently, American military forces invaded Iraq for the purpose of introducing freedom to the area.  It is the domino theory in reverse.
  • Even without the Equal Rights Amendment, women have greater opportunity to participate in military service, but none are being drafted.
  • The Roe v. Wade controversy is back in the headlines.
  • The World Trade Center is being replaced.
  • It is nearly impossible to keep up with the latest advances in technology.
  • Prepaid legal services is a program that still hasn’t found its niche.
  • Legal Assistance to Disadvantaged continues to provide for unmet needs.

Our association remains the unified voice of the profession. We continue to face new challenges, but with each incoming class, new leaders emerge who are problem-solvers and part of the solution.  I met several from this year’s class whom I believe will evolve into that role. They give us reason for celebration and optimism.

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.