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Breaking the Ice: Volunteer service brings magistrate MSBA award

Todd Nelson//August 24, 2023

Jill Prohofsky

Jill Prohofsky supervises the state’s 30 child support magistrates. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Volunteer service brings magistrate MSBA award

Todd Nelson//August 24, 2023

As a judicial official, Chief Child Support Magistrate Jill Prohofsky can’t practice law and can’t have pro bono clients.

Instead, Prohofsky volunteers with the Minnesota State Bar Association, which she joined after law school. She has served as MSBA Foundation president and been a mock trial judge for 17 years. She also mentors undergraduate and law students.

For her efforts, Prohofsky recently received MSBA’s Professional Excellence Award.

“Lawyers have an obligation to give back to their communities because they hold a special position and have some responsibilities,” Prohofsky said. “It’s also a tenet of my faith that you work to make the world a little bit better than you found it.”

Prohofsky supervises the state’s 30 child support magistrates, is appointed in all 10 judicial districts and has her own caseload. She primarily practiced family law before becoming a child support magistrate in 2002.

Name: Jill Prohofsky

Title: Chief child support magistrate, Minnesota State Court Administrator’s Office

Education: B.A., psychology, University of Michigan; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Ask me about my dogs. Show me pictures of yours. I have pictures of all my dogs that I’ve had over the years on my office wall.

Q: Why law school?

A: I thought I was going to be a practicing psychologist. I had a plan to get a Ph.D. A college roommate was pre-law. We took a class together, psychology and the law. Then I took women and the law, then race and the law, and thought, maybe this is for me. It pairs human behavior and psychology with advocacy, and that really spoke to me.

Q: What are you reading?

A: My daughter for her bat mitzvah project put a Little Free Library in our front yard so I have a constant supply of books. I’m reading “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese, about twins in Ethiopia and how they come to have a love of medicine.

Q: Pet peeve?

A: People who are unkind or impatient.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Working with new magistrates. I do the hiring in collaboration with the districts because magistrates are appointed by the chief judge of each district. What I really like when I get new person is the onboarding process. It’s the substantive law, which, largely, they know, and how to operate in court.

Q: Most challenging?

A: Since the pandemic, child support and paternity hearings are remote. That’s a convenience for court customers but not a replacement for being in the same space with people. It’s harder to judge credibility, deal with multiple exhibits. There’s more incivility and bad nonsense behavior when people are online.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I like walking my dogs. I like cooking and entertaining. My kids are both in college and were home this summer. It was fun to have them and their friends back. I like having them around and cooking for them.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: My hometown is probably Detroit. We moved a lot. My dad was in the Navy. I went to high school in Michigan, and college. I would probably take them to Greektown. There’s an Eastern Market, like a large farmers market. And the Motown Museum, that’s super cool.

Q: Legal figure you admire?

A: Probably Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I like the way she championed the rights of underrepresented groups. Her approach — fight for what is important but in a way that people will follow you — really resonates with me.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work?

A: That child support hearings are routine, and they really aren’t. Most cases are contested. People are representing themselves. It’s broader than what it looks like.

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

A: I read and watch pretty much everything legal-related, even “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” which was ridiculous and entertaining. We streamed season two of “The Lincoln Lawyer.” I’ve read the books so it’s fun to see that come to life in a series.

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