Inside Track: President-elect candidates address member concerns, State Bar's role moving forward:

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  • President-elect candidates address member concerns, State Bar's role moving forward

    President-elect candidates Kevin Klein and James Carney have a vision for the State Bar of Wisconsin's role in assisting attorneys throughout the state.


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    Feb. 2, 2011 – Recently, InsideTrack posed questions to both candidates on the focus of a future post, pressing issues facing the profession, and the concerns of State Bar members.

    Kevin Klein

    net kleinlaw pctcnet Kevin Klein, Phillips

    If elected, what would be your focus as president-elect and eventually, president?

    My focus as president-elect and president will be to maximize member benefits and services and positively impact member relations to eliminate the disconnect that exists between the State Bar and its members. This can be accomplished through member-to-member contact, and through increased communications, as discussed below.

    I have been working on these matters, and through leadership, I have the support of members and the State Bar administration and staff. My work has been positive and productive. Unlike a policy-orientated focus, which might be subject to factors beyond our control, we are able to move forward on member-to-member contact, and communications, regardless of the circumstances.

    What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the legal profession?

    The most pressing issue facing the legal profession is managing current economic factors and consequences. At every turn, the profession as a whole is facing economic pressure. The unauthorized practice of law directs potential earnings to non-lawyers. Technological advances add economic pressure both in-office and through non-lawyer competition. Political forces will seek to restrict recoveries, and perhaps tax legal services. Inadequate resources for the payment of fees to assure representation for indigent litigants will further reduce the availability of quality representation. Funding cuts may further stress the court system and reduce opportunities for government lawyers. Hiring practices in a slow economy will reduce positions available for new attorneys, forcing many to attempt to begin solo practices without experience, and resulting in many not being able to service loan debt. Even established attorneys will modify their practices based on economic slowdown.

    The State Bar cannot flip a switch and eliminate these economic concerns. But more than ever, the State Bar must be attuned to the needs of members, must address the needs promptly and efficiently, and must fashion appropriate solutions and policies. To avoid issues by promoting State Bar “status quo” is simply unacceptable.

    When you talk to members of the State Bar of Wisconsin, what are their biggest concerns, and how should the State Bar address them?

    By far, members’ biggest concerns have to do with the State Bar’s lack of relevancy for the member. The concerns are expressed in different ways: “What does the Bar do for me?” “Why do we need the Bar at all?” “The Bar is not relevant for me.”

    These questions or comments, repeated over and over, confirm the disconnect mentioned above. Having served on the Member Benefits, Member Relations, Member Benefits Advisory, and now Insurance and Member Benefits Committees (currently co-chair), I identified what I called a disconnect. The State Bar did provide services and benefits, but did so from an “inside-out” perspective. Members were not aware of or did not understand State Bar services and benefits; or those services and benefits were not well received.

    The State Bar was also not receiving valuable input or feedback from members. There were obvious questions: “What good are services or benefits if they are unknown or unused?” and “How can the Bar address members’ perception of Bar irrelevance?”

    A few things to note: 1) I have been instrumental in creating the current member benefits and services focus. My approach is innovative, positive, and productive. My leadership in this area is unmatched; 2) the approach and structure now in place are not at odds with the State Bar. In fact, the current focus is embraced by the Bar and its staff. We are moving forward with something the Bar now recognizes is absolutely necessary and critical to the success of the Bar into the future. Any suggestion that the State Bar could continue to operate “inside-out” without member input and feedback is neither realistic nor beneficial; 3) the current structure allows our committee members and ad hoc members the opportunity for member-to-member contact through local and specialty bars, resulting in an increased understanding of benefits and services for members, and resulting in constructive feedback for the State Bar. These efforts reduce disconnect and increase Bar relevancy. The Bar exists for its members, and through appropriate leadership, the Bar can maximize benefits and services and can improve member relations.

    The State Bar cannot ignore the opinions of members. To the contrary, the Bar should receive information and feedback through the structure I have helped create. By acting on concerns, and with appropriate information, the Bar will benefit by being vibrant and strong; member participation will increase; and member dissatisfaction will be reduced. We will continue to promote increased communication among all components of the State Bar, and through local and specialty bars. These communications will maximize State Bar efficiency, ease transitions into the future, and promote the commonality we have as attorneys. You will be part of an organization that recognizes your input, and strives to make you want to be a member.

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    James Carney

    com jcarney cdtlaw James Carney, Janesville

    If elected, what would be your focus as president-elect and eventually, president?

    My primary focus as president-elect and as president will be member benefits. I believe when you strip away all of the various issues the State Bar leadership and the administrative apparatus of the State Bar deals with, the core mission of our organization should and must be the delivery of quality benefits and services to our members.

    For example, the State Bar must deliver cost-effective seminars, which are subject-matter appropriate and timely in location and format. Online seminars and taking live seminars to locations that have not been served in the past have both been popular and effective ways to deliver CLE credits. We added the Ultimate Pass option a few years ago, which has proved to be both cost-effective and popular with our membership. We started Fastcase, a very valuable online research tool. Fastcase has continued to evolve and is a very significant benefit to our membership. Member benefits need to continue to improve to meet our needs.

    What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the legal profession?

    Obviously, the economic and time pressures of the practice are extraordinary. This is an ongoing battle we all face. It is neither new nor unique to the current times, but has been amplified by the recession. Continued emphasis on quality member services, while not raising dues must be a priority.

    I agree with several of the past presidents – including Basting, Kammer, and others – that the unauthorized practice of law is a significant issue confronting our profession. I believe it goes deeper than just affecting us as attorneys. It is an extraordinary disservice to the public, especially those who suffer at the hands of people who are giving them legal advice, and even services, but are not licensed to do so. I know past presidents have worked very hard advocating before the Supreme Court to deal with this issue. The Supreme Court did issue a ruling regarding UPL this past year, but much is left to be done as to regulation and enforcement. As a result, I believe the State Bar leadership needs to continue to advocate strongly on this issue. 

    When you talk to members of the State Bar of Wisconsin, what are their biggest concerns, and how should the State Bar address them?

    What I hear most often from members of the Bar is a general belief the State Bar does nothing for them. There seems to be a perception among many State Bar members that they are required to belong to an organization and that organization takes their money and does little for them. This is an errant perception in my mind, and it needs to be actively combated.

    When I ran for the Board of Governors in 2006, I had very little knowledge of how the State Bar was governed or even the extent to which the State Bar had authority over our profession. I learned very quickly the State Bar has effectively no authority over the practice of law in the State of Wisconsin. As we all know, this organization is imposed upon us by the Supreme Court, and on many issues we respond to Supreme Court directives. For example, the State Bar does not set required CLEs, has no control over OLR and does not determine the amount of various fees and assessments which the Supreme Court sets but the State Bar is required to collect.

    What the State Bar does well, and what we need to communicate to our members, is respond to mandates imposed on us. Delivering services that are efficient and cost-effective for members is paramount. Communication and explanation of the role of the State Bar organization vis-à-vis our members must always be a continuing priority of Bar leadership.

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    Other State Bar elections

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    Candidates for Judicial Council

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