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History of the HCBA

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The first known attorney to settle in the area which is now Minneapolis, was Ellis G. Whitall who braved the frontier in 1849. Such is the information provided by Edward C. Vavreck in a special 50th Anniversary issue of The Hennepin Lawyer published in May 1969. In his article Vavreck detailed the beginnings of lawyering in Minneapolis, examining the beginnings of both the Minneapolis Bar Association and the Hennepin County Bar Association. This short history is largely condensed from his article.

In 1850 John W. North began his law practice in the Village of St. Anthony. He would establish the first "law firm" when joined later that year by Isaac Atwater. From his log house on Nicollet Island, Mr. North would eventually rise to the rank of Chief Justice for the Territory of Nevada, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The first term of district court in Hennepin County found nine attorneys in attendance on April 4, 1853, with the Honorable Bradley B. Meeker sitting as presiding judge. The first non-lawyer admitted to the practice of law in Hennepin County was admitted in 1855. Rapid growth, the expansion of the settlement and the mushrooming of trade and commerce led to the incorporation of the City of Minneapolis in 1867. The generation that followed the first lawyer to the area offered increasing opportunities for the practice of law and the number of practitioners who would seek out those opportunities.

On February 20, 1883 the Minneapolis Bar Association was incorporated, declaring its purposes as: "To establish and conduct a legal society, to maintain the honor and integrity of the legal profession and to create and maintain a law library in the City of Minneapolis, in the County of Hennepin, State of Minnesota." Two attempts to create and maintain a law library met with disaster when the fledgling libraries were destroyed by fire. Vavreck offers for consideration: "It would appear that the law books of those days had an incendiary quality about them; or could it be that unlike the legal tome of today those of that era were quite dry and thus, tinder-like?" The third attempt was more successful. Originally established in Old Temple Court, the library was later transferred to "the new courthouse and city hall."

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