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Attorneys of the Year: Karin Ciano

In her more than two decades in the legal profession, Minneapolis attorney Karin Ciano’s motto has been “Words matter, actions matter more.”

It is her actions that have made her a leader in Minnesota’s solo and small-firm community, and now she is a 2017 Minnesota Attorney of the Year.

Ciano is executive director of the Collaborative Community Law Initiative (CCLI), a nonprofit legal incubator that provides mentorship, education and resources to recent Mitchell Hamline School of Law graduates who are developing community-based, low-bono law practices. It expects to graduate its first small law firm in May 2018, Ciano said.

“We ask that the new lawyers devote 30 percent of their caseload to ‘justice-gap’ clients,” said Ciano, who was the initiative’s acting executive director in September 2016 before becoming its permanent leader last year. Those are “folks who are not eligible for legal aid and pro bono, but usually can’t afford what most of us lawyers consider market rates.”

Said Kimberly Hanlon, an attorney at Minneapolis-based Lucere Legal, “Karin has modeled leadership and excellence in the legal profession for these nascent lawyers.”

Before leading CCLI, Ciano was a solo practitioner. In 2011, she co-founded the Minnesota Freelance Attorney Network, which provides attorneys with the resources needed to work as freelance lawyers.  She and four other women came up with the idea for MFAN while meeting at a coffee shop one day.

“We were all experienced, skilled lawyers, some with solo practices, who wanted to work with other lawyers but not in a firm setting,” Ciano said. “At the time, many lawyers freelanced, but very few advertised it. It was an underground profession, which we felt did not serve either the freelance lawyers or the lawyers who hired them.”

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