In this episode of Midwest Law Talk with Joseph Wetch, Nicole Kettwick, President of the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA), is interviewed. Nicole, a criminal defense attorney, shares insights into her journey in law and her role as HCBA President.

Nicole Kettwick answers the following questions, and more, in this episode:

  • What is the mission of the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA)?
  • How does the HCBA address the issue of access to justice?
  • What specific programs does the HCBA offer to bridge the gap for those who can’t afford legal representation?
  • How does the Hennepin County Bar Foundation contribute to promoting access to justice?
  • What are Nicole Kettwick’s main goals during her presidency of the HCBA?
  • How does the HCBA foster diversity and inclusion within the legal community?
  • What challenges does the HCBA face, including declining membership and changes in the legal landscape?
  • How does the HCBA plan to address these challenges and continue supporting the legal community?

Listen to the episode on Spotify here, or Apple here.


You can also find a transcript of the episode below:

Joseph Wetch:  Hello and welcome to Midwest Law Talk. I’m your host Joseph Wetch. I’m a Minneapolis, Minnesota lawyer practicing in the civil dispute space at Lommen Abdo Law Firm. Today on the podcast we’re talking with Nicole Kettwick, president of the Hennepin County Bar Association. Nicole also practices in the area of criminal defense. She’s worked with thousands of people facing a variety of charges including minor traffic offenses, DUIs, all the way up to sexual conduct and murder. Nicole is currently admitted to all courts within the state of Minnesota and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. Nicole, welcome to Midwest Law Talk.

Nicole Kettwick:  Thank you. My pleasure.

Joseph Wetch:  Would you mind telling the listeners just a little bit about yourself before we get into the Hennepin County Bar Association and your duties as president?

Nicole Kettwick:  Yeah, you bet. So my name, as you said is Nicole Kettwick. I grew up here in the Twin Cities, so I’m a lifelong Minnesota resident. I really love Minnesota and the Twin Cities. I grew up with a dad who was a lawyer and that gave me a number of advantages in my life, but one of them was I had an idea of what law was like, so I went straight through school and got my first job, my first year of law school working in criminal defense, and that’s all I’ve ever done.

Joseph Wetch: All right, so let’s just jump in to the Hennepin County Bar Association. You recently took over as president. Could you tell us what just is the purpose of the association for lawyers?

Nicole Kettwick: Yeah, well, I’d like to start by reading the mission statement. I think that captures everything and our mission statement is to advocate for the legal profession, foster access to justice, and provide unwavering support to our members at every stage of their careers. And so I guess to put it in my own words, I think the purpose of the bar association is to help lawyers in our community and help not only lawyers themselves, but the community and the legal community.

Joseph Wetch: How does the bar association foster access to justice? Because I know that’s a problem even in my home state of North Dakota, access to justice, very limited in rural areas. A county may have one or two lawyers in the north and western part of the state, but there’s hardly any legal advice to be given by attorneys. How are we fostering the access of justice here in Minneapolis?

Nicole Kettwick: Yeah, well first of all, I agree it’s a pretty huge problem and I think that we’ve got a long way to go, but the bar association does a number of different things to help. Number one in a big picture context we bring attorneys together to talk about this both on our board meetings and to bring different justice partners together, whether it’s the bench, prosecutors, defense attorneys, all sorts of different areas of law. There’s a way to connect. Another way we do it is there’s a lot of specific things that the bar association does. So one example is we have different programs and most of what I know best is of course in the criminal law field, but for example, we have attorneys go in criminal proceedings to the different courthouses at court appearances through the bar association where they go and they give free legal advice to people who fall in that gap between qualifying for a public defender or being able to hire their own private attorney.

So we have a lot of specific programs that try to address some of these needs and also we bring together people in a larger format to be able to have discussions to address this. The other thing the bar association does is we also have the Hennepin County Bar Foundation and the two are obviously closely related and the Bar Foundation as one of – I guess one of the things it does is it provides grants to different areas in the community that are seeking funding to help different programs with access to justice. And I’ve been on the grant community for a number of years and that’s one of the main things we consider in deciding who to give funding to. So we raise money to help different organizations that address this. I think from a global standpoint, we talk about it and we also have lots of specific programs organized by the bar association to address some areas, but by no means have we solved it and there’s definitely a lot more work to do.

Joseph Wetch: Yeah, there’s a big need for access to justice and I’m glad that my bar association, I’m a member. I’m glad that my bar association is taking the lead and doing that and promoting the access to justice because it is an important issue for us here in Minnesota and probably in our surrounding states. I wanted to ask you, how many members does the bar association have?

Nicole Kettwick: We have 7,500 members.

Joseph Wetch: Okay, so it’s quite big. Is it the biggest bar association in the state?

Nicole Kettwick: No, the Minnesota State Bar Association is bigger. I think they have about double, I think it’s somewhere around 14 or 15,000 members.

Joseph Wetch: I see. Why should lawyers join the association?

Nicole Kettwick: I guess a lot of personal experience with this, but I think to quickly summarize it it’s to become a better lawyer and to give back to your community. Our bar association has been around since 1919. It’s a place where collaboration and mentorship thrive, where friendships are formed and where lifelong connections are made. But there’s lots of specific reasons too. There’s opportunities to get published in the Hennepin Lawyer. There are opportunities to get to know the bench. There’s opportunities to give back to the community, to get involved in access to justice issues. And again, that can be anywhere from joining our board and having conversations about this to mentoring, to pro bono cases and opportunities or to joining some of these specific programs that we have to address this.

So I guess to me, it’s really great for lawyers at all stages of your career because when you’re a new lawyer, you really need that mentorship and honestly, it’s sometimes just nice to have lawyers that are outside of your circles that you get to know and get to talk to, to run by different ideas from firm management to different problems, communication issues, dealing with difficult clients. There’s just a lot of areas where it’s so helpful to have other lawyers to bounce ideas off of, and sometimes it’s nice to step outside of your circle or maybe a lawyer’s looking to make a career move or is interested in a different type of law and doesn’t know how to go about it. Or a lawyer who wants to be a mentor and give back. I think at every stage of a lawyer’s career, there’s different opportunities and different ways to make a difference for yourself and also for our community at large and our legal community.

Joseph Wetch: You mentioned in the mission statement that you want to support lawyers at every stage of their career. I’m curious, does the bar association have something for substance abuse or divorce similar to what the State bar association has for support?

Nicole Kettwick: I think we do, although one thing that the bar associations have tried to do generally is to not overlap too much and overwhelm lawyers and work together while we can. And so I know for example, we’ve done a lot with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Obviously that’s a separate entity, and so bringing awareness to our members sometimes is the best way that we can handle that. When we don’t have something specific in-house, we can help point to those different resources and just raise awareness for what’s out there.

Joseph Wetch: So let’s talk about your presidency a little bit. What are your goals for your presidency of the Hennepin County Bar Association?

Nicole Kettwick: So I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve jotted down some notes as I’ve thought about this over the last several years, honestly. And I have seven areas that I’ve thought about that are, I guess really important to me. Number one is just continuity and growth, and I think that’s something that’s really important. Again, recognizing that this goes back to 1919, this isn’t an area where I want to come in and make a lot of changes because I think our organization is great and there’s always room for improvement and new ideas, but I also want to continue what we’ve had. In the past I think we’ve been really great and done excellent work. We’ve had a lot of great leadership and that’s something that I want to maintain, but I also want to embrace innovation, technology. The world is changing and evolving quite rapidly, and I think that’s really important for us to consider.

I’m hoping that by leveraging this technology and fostering different partnerships and staying up-to-date with the changing legal landscape that will position HCBA as a dynamic and relevant organization that stays ahead of the curve. The second point that I’ve thought a lot about is just what we just talked about, empowering our members. Our members are the heart of our association and empowering them throughout their careers is essential. So creating opportunities for development, networking and mentorship within our legal community is something that we’ve always put a lot of emphasis on, and I think that’s very important. Having a culture of collaboration and support while we allow and enable our members to thrive both personally and professionally is really important to me. That’s one thing I always try to encourage law students on when they’re in law school, is we have a really great community here in the Twin Cities of lawyers.

When I was in law school and even younger, when I was interested in law, I never once had a lawyer say no when I asked them for help or to go to lunch or tell me about their lives or their jobs. I think generally speaking, we have such a wonderful community of people who want to help others and not only broadly, but also to new lawyers or people who are considering law school. And so I think that’s another really important aspect to maintain and continue spreading. Third, advocating for justice. Upholding the rule of law and advocating for justice are central to our mission. I plan to continue working closely with members, committee, community partners to address critical legal issues, promoting access to justice, keeping this a relevant conversation and advocating for fairness and equity within our community. Number four, strengthening community bonds. That’s certainly very important.

The sense of community within the HCBA is a cherished aspect of our organization. I know that was certainly a part of why I got involved and have stayed involved. And I plan to focus on fostering strong connections among our members, our judiciary, our legal professionals and, if ever needed, community leaders, building bridges and encouraging meaningful engagement promotes a cohesive legal community that benefits all of us. Five, and these are of course, in no particular order, but just as I’ve thought of them, enhancing diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are essential to the fabric of HCBA. I’m dedicated to fostering an inclusive environment that celebrates and respects diverse voices and our collective understanding and strengthening our ability to serve our community effectively. That’s very important to the HCBA. I think that’s something that we’ve really promoted and thought a lot about when electing people and encouraging people to get involved.

And I hope that will continue indefinitely. Financial sustainability, a lot of bar associations and membership groups in general are facing declining membership. And of course that’s something that’s important. We have really great staff and we’re able to give a lot back to the community. And so that’s something that I think we need to pay attention to. And last, engaging the next generation of lawyers. The bar association’s future lies in the hands of the next generations of our legal professionals. And I hope to actively involve young lawyers and law students in our initiatives, mentoring programs, and make sure we have the next generation of lawyers involved so their voices can be heard and so they can continue forward.

Joseph Wetch: That’s also something that my mentor and when I was a young lawyer would say about young lawyers, and he believed in so much – he put his money where his mouth is and became a major contributor to the University of North Dakota, and he’s been recognized for his contributions many times over. And it really just speaks to how we as lawyers have to be cognizant of how the younger generation of lawyers and newer lawyers are more diverse populations. We as lawyers have to be cognizant of that and support them in any way we can.

Nicole Kettwick: I completely agree.

Joseph Wetch: So what unique challenges, what’s coming up on the horizon for Hennepin County lawyers?

Nicole Kettwick: I don’t know how unique this is to Hennepin County, but I think there’s a couple of things that we need to maintain and think about. And one is what I mentioned previously, the declining membership. That’s something that’s happening across the country and outside of the legal profession as well. And I think related to that is just the world is changing. COVID changed things quite dramatically, I think for a lot of people. The way we work, how law firms operate, what’s expected, what should be expected, boundaries when dealing with clients or even your coworkers. And I think the bar association is a space where we can start to have those conversations and collaborate and make sure that we’re addressing these challenges, identifying these challenges. I think other examples are, I am personally just curious about how things will go with technology in the future.

Again, what can we expect? How do we need to be careful? Protecting the integrity of our whole system is something else. That’s, I think, really important. I guess without trying to avoid a political conversation, there’s a lot going on in the world with trusting the government, the judicial branch, and I think that’s another area that we need to, I guess, protect and maintain and think about. So those are some of the bigger picture issues that I see that are going on, and I hope our bar association can help foster conversations and make sure that we help our legal community go forward.

Joseph Wetch: Nicole, how can people get in touch with you? How can lawyers get in touch with you as president of the Hennepin County Bar Association?

Nicole Kettwick: Email me, give me a call. My website has my direct contact information. I will be more than happy to connect with anyone who’s interested.

Joseph Wetch: And give the listeners your website.

Nicole Kettwick: Yeah, you bet. Our website’s www.bk, that’s for Brandt Kettwick, I’m happy to provide my email and phone number as well.

Joseph Wetch: Sure.

Nicole Kettwick: My email is nkettwick, my first initial N for Nicole, and then my last name, Kettwick, K-E-T-T-W-I-C-K, And my direct phone number is (763) 296-9516.

Joseph Wetch: Well, Nicole, I want to thank you for coming on Midwest Law Talk. It’s been very interesting conversation with you, and I look forward to your term as president, and I would encourage lawyers to get in touch with you if they have any questions.

Nicole Kettwick: Thanks for having me.

Joseph Wetch: All right, that’s this episode of Midwest Law Talk. Tune in again next time and we’ll have more excellent interviews for you to listen to. Thanks and take care.