David L. Stowman
Born: July 29, 1943; Fargo, N.D.
Education: University of North Dakota Law School, Grand Forks, J.D., 1972; Minnesota State University-Moorhead, B.S. (biology, psychology), 1965
Employment: Stowman Law Office, 1972-present
Professional Associations: American Bar Association; Minnesota State Bar Association; 7th District Bar Association; American Trial Lawyers Association; Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association; Northwest Minnesota Legal Services; Continuing Legal Education Board
Personal: Wife, Judy; four children; four grandchildren
Hobbies: Running, participating in water sports
Incoming Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) president David L. Stowman knows how to keep a leg up on the competition. An avid runner, the 60-year-old personal injury attorney regularly jogs around the 12-mile perimeter of Detroit Lake, where both his home and his law office are located.
Stowman, who will ascend to the MSBA presidency on July 1, has run in 14 marathons, including the Boston Marathon, in which he participated for the first time this spring. He began running marathons several years ago to get in shape and to challenge himself.
Stowman has been practicing law in northwest Minnesota since he graduated from law school a little more than three decades ago. His 3 1/2-hour commute to the Twin Cities has not stopped him from taking an active role in numerous metro-based professional associations over the course of his career. In addition to his work with the state bar association, Stowman has served on the board of governors of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association and the Minnesota Board of Continuing Legal Education.
Stowman recently sat down with Minnesota Lawyer associate editor Michelle Lore to discuss his thoughts on some of the issues that the MSBA will likely be involved in over the next year, as well as some of the initiatives he hopes to pursue as president.
What do you see as some of the major issues likely to confront the MSBA over the next year?
One of the things is that our governing structure is probably going to change. … For the last year and half or so a committee … has been studying governing structures and they’ve come up with a proposal that is going to be voted on at the convention. If that passes, then we are going to be dealing with modifications. To me it’s entirely new because I was not a part of the planning process. So I am learning along with everybody else.
Another thing I see coming up is judicial elections. Republican Party of Minnesota v. White [involving a challenge to several of Minnesota’s judicial campaign rules] is up before the 8th Circuit right now. What’s going to come out of that I’m not really sure, but it may change some things. The Minnesota State Bar Association is committed to an independent judiciary; we’re concerned about election ethics; we’re concerned about election financing and certainly we want to bolster the public’s trust and confidence in the judicial system. We plan to continue to monitor the tone of the campaigns because this is an election year. And we’ll monitor that case that’s up on appeal.
The Legislature certainly will throw us a curve from time to time. This last year, one of the big issues that I’ve personally been dealing with is adequate funding of the public defender system. We spent some time at the Legislature and doing some lobbying. … It’s going to be a concern because I anticipate that unless there is some funding, the first of July or so there are going to be some layoffs in the public defender system.
Your predecessor, Jim Baillie, made a special effort during his term as MSBA president to encourage attorneys to do pro bono work. Will the MSBA, under your leadership, continue those efforts? If so, in what way?
Jim had a real vision for the business law pro bono [program, in which business lawyers work with nonprofit corporations and very small businesses to assist in economic development]. It was in large part due to his tireless efforts that it got off the ground. … Certainly, we are going to continue to support that. … As president I am trying to keep in mind all of our legal services, however. There is a pro bono program up in Duluth that has been going for probably a couple decades. … We have, over in our area, Northwest Legal Services. … And then there are some varied other legal services programs throughout the state. Legal services for the disadvantaged is something that has had high priority in the MSBA and I fully expect that that is going to continue.
Another MSBA effort begun under Baillie’s leadership has been to increase the MSBA’s presence in the state Legislature. I understand that you have been involved in that effort. Can you describe what the MSBA is doing in this regard?
That has been something I have been concerned about since I’ve been on the [MSBA] Executive Committee. Basically, we have had an effective lobbyist who has worked with the Executive Committee and the leaders of the bar. That’s been the model up to this time. In my opinion we could be more effective than that. If we were to have a grassroots system where we had members who are acquainted with the legislators in their own specific legislative districts, then our education of the legislators would be a lot more effective. So we are trying to form that. We are also looking at … supporting our legislative allies. We have to support them by helping them get elected and part of that is finances. So we are trying to rejuvenate the LawPAC to assist those who are our allies in the Legislature.
The MSBA also recently launched a challenge to members to increase the MSBA’s “social capital” by strengthening both membership and participation in the association. Can you tell me about that effort and explain why it came about?
Social capital, I think, was something we’ve talked about because Baillie read this book called “Bowling Alone.” The author of the book talked about social capital as having value just as capital equipment would have in a business. … The author talked about how there’s been a decrease in public participation in civic, professional and all types of different organizations … where people would ban together to provide some benefit to their community. The participation has been decreasing over the years. It seems to me that that’s kind of a generational thing. Looking at it [that way], my view is that we have to look at the youn
ger lawyers, the newer lawyers, and I think we have to change to meet their needs as opposed to them having to change to meet our needs because if we don’t we are going to lose them.
So it is really an effort to increase membership and participation especially by the newer attorneys that are coming in? Are those the people you are targeting?
Certainly that is a target. We try to work through the law schools, putting on [continuing legal education seminars] at the law schools and working with the [MSBA] New Lawyers Section. But there are also some other groups that we’ve found are not participating as much as others. The solo practitioners and those in government service are not joining in large numbers. There has been some effort made to attract those people to the organization.
You indicated earlier this year that when your term as MSBA president begins you planned to institutionalize a “personal ask” technique by meeting with the leadership of sections and committees and asking them to solicit new members. Is that still something you plan to do?
Yes. We had a “Bowling Alone” conference [in January 2004]. One of the things that came out of it is that people like to be asked [to participate]. A lot of people who were at the conference were there merely because somebody asked them. … What I plan to do is sit down with the members of sections and committees, and I am hoping to get maybe a half dozen of them together at a time, and spend a few days talking to as many section chairs and committee chairs as I can. One of the things that I am hoping to encourage people to do is to ask solos, new lawyers, outstate lawyers and people of diversity to participate in the association.
As president of the MSBA, what are your goals for the organization? Do you have any special initiatives or projects planned?
There are some things that I would like to highlight. One is the legislative relations; another one is section support; another is our practicelaw.org; and the last is recruitment of attorneys from greater Minnesota to leadership positions within the association.
Tell me a little more about your plans with respect to practicelaw.org.
Practicelaw.org is an Internet site that members can get on and use to look things up. Appellate practice, pro bono, bankruptcy, employment law, family law, guardianship/conservatorship and real property are the substantive matters that we have in there right now. It has some very special features, like conveyance blanks that can be downloaded and spousal maintenance calculators to be used in domestic matters. We’ve found this to be a very useful tool and our members have really appreciated it. … The obvious thing is that we can increase the number of legal specialties that we might include on there. But I think we can do some things even beyond that. Going back to reaching out to solos and new lawyers, we could include some materials that relate to just the business aspect of a law practice. … Lawyers learn about the law but they don’t learn about the business aspect of practicing. I think there are a lot of things that we could do to assist them through practicelaw.org.
You practice law in Detroit Lakes. What do you like about living and practicing in outstate Minnesota? And what is it that drew you to practice there?
When I was a kid I just loved water and I’ve always wanted to be by water. When I graduated from law school we took out a map and said where do we want to go? The idea was that we were looking for a lifestyle, not necessarily looking for work. The only places that we considered were places that had blue. We could have ended up most any other place, but here is where the car broke down. I live on one side of this lake … and work on the other. When the weather gets nice I’ll be taking the pontoon back and forth to work. So the lake is a source of transportation back and forth and it’s a source of recreation. … [Not dealing with traffic] is a big thing in my life. I’ve talked to people down in the cities who have a 30-minute commute or however long. My commute depends on whether I go by boat or by car. … [Practicing law in the Twin Cities area] wasn’t even a consideration. … I grew up in a small town and I like it. The culture of the community is something that I appreciate. … My practice is not limited to just Detroit Lakes, however. I’ve got a statewide practice. In fact, I even get into North Dakota and South Dakota occasionally. … I end up traveling some. I’ve had cases at the Iowa border and the Canadian border at the same time.
Do you anticipate any special difficulties leading the MSBA from an outstate area?
It is a little different from being right down there [in the Twin Cities]. For example, a noon luncheon meeting, when you include the windshield time, is an eight-hour day. It’s 3 1/2 hours down, 3 1/2 hours back and an hour there — that’s eight hours. So that is a consideration. But I’ve been fortunate so far — I’ve had perfect attendance at meetings over the last three years of the Executive Committee. And people have been pretty accommodating. If I am having some difficulty scheduling, they help me with scheduling. And on top of that, I think I have some secret weapons. [MSBA Executive Director] Tim Groshens and the MSBA staff are just unbelievable.
I understand that you were one of the founders of Northwest Minnesota Legal Services, which you mentioned earlier. Can you tell me what that is and how you got involved with it?
That was pretty early in my career, back in the ‘70s sometime. Legal Services Corporation had been formed and I remember there was a group of us, kind of an ad hoc committee, that got together several times over the summer months. We’d meet on Saturday mornings or some evenings. Finally there was an application that was prepared and sent off to Legal Services Corporation. They ended up giving us a grant. We formed the first board of directors and we were off and running.
What has motivated you to be so involved in bar groups and legal associations?
There is just a personal satisfaction that one gets from contributing and doing something to benefit the profession. Anybody who has done a pro bono case or been involved with a committee or a section can understand the satisfaction that you get. Being the president is a little more time consuming, but it’s the same principle.