Attorney Sara Gullickson McGrane, president of the Minneapolis firm Felhaber Larson, is working to expand representation for underrepresented clients as board president of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

McGrane, Legal Aid board president since March, said the organization turns away 60 percent of eligible clients.

“We would love to see more money come in so we’re able to hire more people and help more people,” McGrane said.

McGrane carries a full labor and employment caseload at Felhaber Larson, where she is the 70-year-old firm’s first female president.

“I was reluctant to do it because I knew it was going to be a lot of time away from family,” said McGrane, mother of a 14-year-old son and 12-year old daughter. “But it’s important to show women in the firm that we are willing to take the extra time to be leaders.”

McGrane named young attorneys as chairs on half of a number of committees she established to address needs at the firm, which has 60 attorneys and 120 total staff.

“We’ve tried to branch out the leadership opportunities,” McGrane said.

In July, McGrane will become chairwoman of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section.

Q: What’s the significance of serving as Felhaber Larson’s first female president?

A: When I started out as an attorney I’d show up for a deposition and the male attorneys assumed that I was the court reporter. We’ve come a long way, but what’s disappointing is that 50 percent of law students are women but the number of women who are partners depending on the statistics you’re looking at is usually around 22 percent. So we’re not making the strides we should in keeping women in the profession.

Q: What has motivated you to volunteer with Legal Aid?

A: What is staggering is that in 2017 Legal Aid closed 10,648 cases. Sixty-four percent of clients are women and 55 percent people of color. Legal Aid is doing a miraculous job of serving a group of people who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity for service in matters that go back to human dignity.

Q: What issues are among the trends in labor and employment law?

A: We all thought when the #MeToo movement started that we’d see more harassment cases, and we haven’t seen that. What we’ve seen more of recently are pay equity cases. It’s a challenge nationwide when women are making 80 cents on the dollar of what men are making. So we are seeing more companies and organizations doing studies and surveys to make sure that they’re not paying their employees in equitably.

 

Todd Nelson