My “aha!” moment, the moment that I realized being a lawyer would allow me to live out my personal mission and values on a daily basis, came to me while on a field trip to Salisbury Cathedral. As an undergraduate student with the University of St. Thomas studying abroad in London, my epiphany came when I saw an original copy of the Magna Carta. I remember staring wide-eyed, thinking, “What power this document wields!” This ancient document encased in glass, the very foundation of our American democracy, emphasized the concept of community that I so deeply value. At that moment, I realized the connection between my personal mission and the law.
The importance of community through volunteerism and citizenship was instilled in me from my earliest years in Thief River Falls by my parents and many others. Applying to the University of St. Thomas School of Law, I saw in its mission much of my personal philosophy: faith, reason, truth, morality and social justice. Just like the Magna Carta, the UST School of Law mission moved and inspired me. If community was connecting with others who share common attitudes, interests and goals, and these words were the basis for this community, I wanted in. Fortunately, I was accepted to the school’s inaugural class, and for three years, UST School of Law cultivated my pride in community and belief in these values. It taught me how to live my personal mission through the practice of law.
Fast forward 15 years from my Magna Carta moment, and I’m now a partner at Lockridge Grindal Nauen in Minneapolis. The firm gives me the opportunity to connect my personal values to the law I practice in complex and class action litigation in the areas of antitrust, consumer and products liability. In class actions, I represent groups of individuals and/or businesses for whom an individual action is cost prohibitive, but collectively can proceed on behalf of a class. By identifying these groups or communities, we work on their behalf to correct an injustice.
I seek to live the mission and build community, as well, through representing youth in foster care at the Children’s Law Center and community involvement with Kiwanis. My Kiwanis involvement includes working with student service groups at the University of Minnesota and Roosevelt High School, helping students identify community needs and providing tools to coordinate service projects. I hope that after they gain experience in commitment to service in the community, they’ll continue a lifetime of volunteerism. These students inspire and energize me. Despite a variety of personal challenges, they come to meetings and plan service projects to make their community better for all. What better way to live the mission than to guide the next generation of difference-makers.
This year, the Magna Carta is celebrating 800 years in existence. The sustaining impact this document has on society is an inspiration. I truly believe that community-building, whether through law or direct service, can spread the mission and multiply the impact of individually living it.
Elizabeth Odette is a 2004 graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law and a partner at Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P.