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Michael Unger is a former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.
Michael Unger is a former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Breaking the Ice: Former state bar head takes up ‘specialist’ issue

Name: Michael Unger

Title: Attorney, Unger Law Office

Education: Bachelor of elective studies, emphasis on political science and speech communications, University of Minnesota; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School


Civil trial lawyer Michael Unger, a former Minnesota State Bar Association president, will represent the bar next month when the Minnesota Supreme Court hears proposed changes to advertising ethics rules.

MSBA filed a petition seeking to preserve language in Rule 7 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which governs lawyer advertising and communications, that allows only attorneys certified by an accredited program to use the term “specialist,” Unger said.

“There was concern that the public would misunderstand someone claiming to be a specialist who maybe wasn’t a certified specialist,” said Unger, recognized multiple times as a Minnesota Attorney of the Year.

In a separate petition, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, however, allow attorneys to refer to themselves as “specialists” if they have attained special competence in a field of law based on experience, specialized training or education.


Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: When I was growing up, I was taught that you should avoid discussing politics or religion. But in truth for me, those are way more interesting than sports and the weather. I will keep it civil though.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: In high school and college, I had some experiences not in the legal realm, but rather the public policy realm, where I became active and had some success in getting results. In high school, it was with my city, dealing with an environmental case, and then in college, it was with some issues of student representation within university governance. Those experiences got me excited about advocacy for others.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I’m in a couples book club, though I don’t always keep up my end on the reading lists. But we have started and I’m enthusiastic about reading “The Premonition” by Michael Lewis.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: Probably people who think that the only thing that matters is their own self.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: I have a lot of freedom to control my work life, in the sense that I can align, I can align my values and my work to a great degree because I’m an independent professional.

Q: Least favorite?

A: In the litigation world I would say artificial deadlines, needless forms and incivility.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I like hiking and love the outdoors. I love travel and the national parks. And preferably to do those things with my wife.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I’d take them to the end of the High Bridge in St. Paul on the west side of the river to enjoy the views of the city and talk about its special attributes by pointing out things in the skyline.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Franklin Roosevelt. He, at least in modern times, changed the paradigm of how people thought about the possibilities of government and the responsibilities of government in America. He changed the way people thought about democracy and the role of government in a democracy.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: Most non-attorneys assume that as an attorney, you know a lot about the law in areas that I know nothing about, be that drunk driving or whether to have a trust or tax law or any number of things that are totally outside of my realm of expertise. That’s where I get the most questions at cocktail parties.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: I love “The Verdict” with Paul Newman. A lot about that filmed touched home for me. It’s on a medical malpractice case, and Paul Newman’s kind of this broken lawyer who sort of finds personal redemption in the handling of this case. The case itself is very interesting. The characters are very archetypal. And it’s enjoyable.


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