Brennan highlights important issues ahead as State Bar’s 56th president
June 8, 2011 – Milwaukee attorney James M. Brennan took his oath to become the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 56th President this evening, vowing to promote the professional interests of lawyers and improve access to justice for the public.
Brennan’s friends, family and fellow State Bar members took part in a swearing-in ceremony and reception at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, held in conjunction with the State Bar’s Annual Meeting and State Bar PINNACLE’s June 9-10 Real Estate & Business Law Institute. Brennan will succeed President Jim Boll, starting July 1.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki led a moment in prayer before Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson administered the oath to Brennan, who promised to support Wisconsin lawyers, promote public service and “aid the supreme court in the administration of justice.”
The chief justice noted that Brennan, current executive director of the social and legal service agency Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is the first lawyer from the legal aid segment of law practice to become president of the State Bar.
“We think that’s quite a marvel, quite a feather in the cap for the State Bar, that it draws its presidents from the corporate world, the public interest world, and from private practice in both small and large firms,” Abrahamson said. “Because it’s lawyers across the board, doing all sorts of legal work, that aid the people of this state.”
New State Bar president Jim Brennan promised to support Wisconsin lawyers, promote public service and “aid the supreme court in the administration of justice” at his swearing-in ceremony.
It’s also quite a feat for the affable and quick-witted Brennan, who spoke of a newfound inspiration to service after nearly dying in 2008. In fact, he was clinically dead of cardiac arrest for more than 12 minutes before his wife, a nurse, resuscitated him with CPR.
“After seven days in a coma, four months of brain injury rehabilitation, and learning once again to read, to write, to think, and problem solve, I’m here today,” said Brennan, who thanked his wife, Ruth, and two daughters.
“I’m here today grateful, I’m here today humbled, I’m here today as a servant, and it’s my sense of gratitude that really drives me as a person,” he said.
He noted that core professional values and the basic values of family and faith helped him rebuild and restructure his sense of service with enlightened commitment. That commitment led him back to Catholic Charities and the State Bar presidency.
The task ahead
Brennan, who spent 30 years in trial practice with the Legal Aid Society and as chief staff attorney before his move to Catholic Charities in 2007, said he will use his past experience to further the mission of the State Bar.
Under his leadership, Brennan said the State Bar will continue to provide high quality, relevant, cost-effective services that respond to member needs and serve the interests of the public.
Brennan, who oversees a family-based immigration practice at Catholic Charities that assists nearly 4,000 low-income families per year, also said that policy issues, access to justice, and bar governance will be primary issues State Bar leadership will undertake.
“The State Bar will continue to actively advocate for public support for access to justice,” said Brennan, who noted that each year nearly a half million people in Wisconsin face a significant legal problem without the assistance of a lawyer.
“In order for us to say we provide special skills that deserve protection … we have to undertake and perform a meaningful, credible job at providing access to legal services,” said Brennan, who will advocate for public funding and other sources of revenue.
A an advocate of volunteerism and active involvement with professional associations, Brennan has served on committees and boards within both the State Bar and the Milwaukee Bar Association. He has also received numerous public service awards.
He wants to focus on ways to make the justice system better, and to support lawyers in their efforts to navigate the obstacles they face today and in the future.
Brennan concluded by stressing the important role lawyers play in protecting the public, and quoted the late Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. – former Peace Corps director and a leader in the war on poverty – when Shriver told ABA members in 1965 that:
“The extension of legal services to the poor is only a means of a more universal end—one we both share—the establishment of the rule of law.” He added, “It is that ordered quest for dignity, for justice, and for opportunity which is the central concern of society today.”
Brennan said for lawyers, that “ordered quest” remains a central concern today, and called on members of the State Bar to help him work towards improving the administration of justice for Wisconsin residents.
For pictures of the swearing-in ceremony, visit the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Facebook page, or click here.