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Attorneys of the Year: Virginia Bell

Twin Cities attorney Virginia “Ginny” Bell has had a long-running interest in history, having once worked in the history museum field.

Bell has made some history herself. She recently completed a stint as the inaugural director and interim director of the nonprofit Collaborative Community Law Initiative, shepherding the Twin Cities’ first and, so far, only solo practice incubator from concept to reality.

“Ginny has been tirelessly committed to encouraging new law graduates who want to start their own community-based, culturally sensitive solo and small law firm practices with an eye toward closing the ‘justice gap’ in Minnesota,” said Karin Ciano, whom Bell recruited to manage CCLI’s mentors and volunteers and now is the organization’s acting executive director.

The CCLI, incorporated in 2013, provides mentorship, education and resources in a collaborative setting to recent Mitchell Hamline School of Law graduates who are developing community-based, low-bono law practices geared toward helping underserved clients. Bell, who spent most of her career working for the Maslon firm, joined the collaborative in 2014.

“Ginny has created a pathway for incubator participants to start solo practices; she has developed excellent relationships with CCLI sponsors, partners, and low-bono referral sources, and has secured CCLI a space in St. Paul,” Ciano said. The collaborative’s first participants launched their law practices this past November.

Working for CCLI gave her the chance “to meet newer lawyers and law students considering a community-based practice serving the underserved,” said Bell. “It also allowed me to meet and work with the many seasoned lawyers in our community who are committed to increasing access to legal services and mentoring the next generation of lawyers. I enjoy the opportunity to work with people who are making a positive difference in the lives of others and the life of our community.”

While the CCLI is unique to the Twin Cities, legal practice incubators are common in the U.S. There are more than 60 existing or planned incubator programs in 33 states and four countries, according to a 2016 American Bar Association survey.

Since finishing her stint at CCLI, Bell has turned her attention to a variety of community volunteer activities, including the Volunteer Lawyers Network.

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