April 18, 2012 – From volunteer and pro bono service to exceptional service on the bench, many Wisconsin lawyers and judges work tirelessly in their efforts to attain justice.
During this National Volunteer Week (April 15-21), the State Bar of Wisconsin recognizes those lawyers and judges who go above and beyond the call of duty.
A number of them will receive awards at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Member Recognition and Networking Celebration June 14, 5:30-8 p.m., at the Chula Vista in Wisconsin Dells in conjunction with the State Bar annual meeting and two State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® Institutes.
This free event is open to State Bar members and their friends and families who would like to recognize the contributions of the award recipients. Registration is not required.
This article highlights several award recipients and concludes with a full list of honorees.
“Practicing law is taking care of paying clients, but it’s so much more than that. As lawyers, we also have a responsibility to the less fortunate among us.” – Mike Gonring, recipient of the Pro Bono Award for Lifetime Achievement
Michael Gonring – Pro Bono Award for Lifetime Achievement
To the detriment of Milwaukee Brewers’ fans everywhere, Milwaukee attorney Mike Gonring quit his Brewers beat-writing job at the Milwaukee Journal to attend law school in the 1970s, keeping a graveyard shift editing job to help pay for school.
But that was a good thing for Wisconsin citizens who have benefitted from the countless pro bono hours Gonring has logged during a 30-year career with Quarles & Brady LLP, Milwaukee.
“Mike is everything that every lawyer should strive to be in terms of pro bono work,” said Katherine Perhach, a partner at Quarles & Brady who is involved in the firm’s pro bono efforts. “It’s hard to put into words what Mike has meant to this firm in terms of his guidance and leadership in the community, and he definitely inspires other attorneys.”
Gonring (Marquette 1982) will receive the Pro Bono Lifetime Achievement Award from the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee. He’s the firm’s national pro bono coordinator, administering programs that recorded more than 18,000 hours of pro bono legal work in 2011.
Personally, Gonring has logged about 11,000 hours of pro bono work over 30 years, representing low-income individuals in cases ranging from immigration and consumer law, to landlord-tenant and criminal matters.
“When I first started 30 years ago, I just figured pro bono was expected. It was just part of the job that lawyers do,” said Gonring, who brought the first capital punishment pro bono case to Quarles & Brady in 1983, a year after starting at the firm.
“There are people out there with problems that only attorneys can help them deal with,” he said. “That sense of responsibility to low-income individuals is something I’ve always felt.”
His pro bono work hasn’t been completely selfless. “It’s been satisfying to help less fortunate people accomplish those victories that make a huge difference in their lives.”
Gonring has also helped establish pro bono partnerships with Marquette Law School, Children’s Hospital, and the Medical College of Wisconsin, among others.
He also coordinates pro bono work for the firm’s incoming associates and has served on various committees promoting legal services for the poor, including the Access to Justice Commission.
“It’s always good to look outside the window and see what’s happening in your legal community,” Gonring said. “Practicing law is taking care of paying clients, but it’s so much more than that. As lawyers, we also have a responsibility to the less fortunate among us.”
“If we can teach lawyers how to deal with workload and other pressures, then we can have lawyers who are more resilient and less prone to anxiety, depression and substance abuse.” – Deborah Smith, recipient of the Jack DeWitt WisLAP Award
Deborah Smith – Jack DeWitt WisLAP Award
A 2011 study revealed that “compassion fatigue” – the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effects of continual exposure to traumatic events – is very real for Wisconsin public defenders.
But we also know what can be done to mitigate the problems associated with it, and where to turn, thanks in large part to the efforts of Madison attorney Deborah Smith.
Smith, director of assigned counsel for the State Public Defender Office, helped facilitate the State Bar of Wisconsin’s groundbreaking study of Wisconsin SPD lawyers, which found that lawyers’ exposure to trauma can lead to high rates of symptoms like depression and functional impairment.
Smith chairs the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) Committee. WisLAP addresses the concerns of lawyers with depression, chemical dependency and other psychological and behavioral symptoms that may be related to the stress of practicing law.
“When it comes to helping fellow lawyers, Deb never says no,” said Hartland attorney Theodore Mazza, a WisLAP volunteer. “She has a unique capacity for compassion, coupled with a realistic approach to what is needed. Her contributions to the WisLAP program are beyond measure.”
“Deb has been a tireless worker both for the WisLAP program and for attorneys in need of assistance,” said Linda Albert, the State Bar’s WisLAP coordinator.
As a public defender, Smith (U.W. 1980) has seen how pressure impacts attorneys across the state, both criminal lawyers and lawyers who practice in other areas of law.
“I too often see and read about lawyers who are not doing well because life and the practice of law can be hard,” Smith said. “I volunteer with the WisLAP program because it’s always there to offer hope when a lawyer is feeling overwhelmed, and a hand up if a lawyer has fallen down.”
Smith, and many other WisLAP volunteers who participate in the program, have one goal in mind: Help lawyers be successful and healthy.
“If we can teach lawyers how to deal with workload and other pressures, then we can have lawyers who are more resilient and less prone to anxiety, depression and substance abuse,” Smith said. “I think that is exciting and important work.”
This dedication has earned Deb Smith the Jack DeWitt WisLAP Award. The WisLAP Committee recently renamed the award after the late Jack DeWitt, a former State Bar president and a strong supporter of WisLAP throughout the years.
“I came from a low-income household myself as a child, and I have always felt that more should be done to support people who are struggling financially.” – Stacia Conneely, recipient of the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award
Stacia Conneely – Outstanding Young Lawyer Award
Madison attorney Stacia Conneely (U.W. 2005) does not back down from challenges, and she certainly embraces new opportunities to be a voice for low-income individuals.
The public interest lawyer and mother of two children works for Legal Action of Wisconsin, but also volunteers her time in a number of leadership roles.
She currently chairs the State Bar’s Public Interest Law Section (PILS), serves on the Advisory Board of the Consumer Law Litigation Clinic at U.W. Law School, and is an active participant in the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.
That’s not all. Conneely also helps administer the Dane County Foreclosure Prevention Task Force and volunteers her time at its monthly workshop for citizens facing foreclosure, not to mention other volunteer extensions of her work at Legal Action of Wisconsin.
For her efforts, Conneely will receive the 2012 Outstanding Young Lawyer Award for Public Service, presented by the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.
“I have known Stacia since I was a student at U.W. Law School and her commitment to equal justice is unparalleled and inspiring,” said Beth Ann Richlen, a PILS board member.
In her six-year career, Conneely has also volunteered time to speak to and mentor law students interested in public interest law, Richlen said. In addition, her leadership on the PILS board has fostered section membership growth and awareness of public interest law challenges.
“Stacia’s strong and articulate leadership led the Public Interest Law Section through a tumultuous legislative session for those who care about low-income individuals and consumer rights,” said Richlen, an attorney at Wisconsin Judicare Inc., Wausau.
Conneely’s passion for public service may have sprung from her childhood in Nebraska, where she worked for nonprofit organizations as a teenager.
“I came from a low-income household myself as a child, and I have always felt that more should be done to support people who are struggling financially,” she said.
Assisting those who are struggling financially is particularly difficult as state and federal budgets for public interest organizations have been reduced. But tough times don’t stop Conneely from recruiting lawyers to help the cause.
“There are opportunities for lawyers to volunteer their time, or take pro bono cases if they have an interest in public interest law but can’t find a full-time opportunity,” she said. “Cases are always available, and mentors are there to help.”
Other award winners
Other lawyers and judges receiving awards at the Member Recognition and Networking Celebration include:
Michael Gengler, Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award: Gengler, Madison, will receive this award from the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee. The nominating committee said that Gengler, after a long and distinguished career in corporate and business law, “immersed himself in learning family law in order to respond to Legal Action of Wisconsin’s acute need for family law volunteers.” Between 2006 and 2011, Gengler invested nearly 3,000 hours handling more than 45 cases for Legal Action of Wisconsin.
John Hendricks, Leonard Loeb Award: Hendricks, Superior, will receive this award, presented by the Senior Lawyers Division. The award acknowledges the work of a senior lawyer whose outstanding leadership has advanced the fundamental goals of the legal system. Read more about Hendricks’ contributions in a recent article.
Hon. Barbara A. Kluka, Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award: Retired Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Barbara A. Kluka will receive the State Bar’s Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award, presented by the State Bar’s Bench and Bar Committee. The award acknowledges the contributions of a jurist who has served more than one full term as a circuit court judge and has demonstrated outstanding, long-term judicial excellence and leadership toward improving the quality of justice. Read more about Judge Kluka in a recent article, which highlights her contributions.
Hon. Maryann Sumi, Judge of the Year Award: Judge Sumi, of the Dane County Circuit Court, will receive this award from the State Bar’s Bench and Bar Committee. The award recognizes an outstanding circuit court judge who has improved the judicial system during the past year by his or her leadership in advancing the quality of justice, judicial education, or innovative programs. Read more about Judge Sumi in a recent article, which highlights her contributions.
James P. Peterson, Donald O’Melia Local Service Award: Peterson, Milwaukee, will receive this award from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting charitable and educational programs that promote public understanding of the law and improvement of the administration of justice. The award recognizes a lawyer who has made a significant public service contribution in his or her local community. While maintaining an active business law practice, Peterson serves on several corporate boards – including one that provides innovative foster care, education, and mental health services to more than 2,000 clients every day – dedicating hundreds of pro bono hours every year.
Bobby Peterson, Dan Tuchscherer Outstanding Public Interest Law Attorney Award: Peterson, Madison, will receive this award from the Public Interest Law Section. The award recognizes a lawyer who has demonstrated a selfless, lifetime commitment to working in the public interest area. In 1998, Peterson helped organize the State Bar’s Public Interest Law Section. Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards and honors for his work promoting access to healthcare.
Todd Cleary and Michael Skindrud, Hon. Charles Dunn Wisconsin Lawyer Author Award: Cleary, Milwaukee, and Skindrud, Madison, will receive the Communications Committee award for their December Wisconsin Lawyer article entitled, “Health-care Reform: What You Should Know.” The Dunn Award recognizes writing excellence. The Dunn Award subcommittee said the article is “well-written and comprehensive in its treatment of the landmark 2010 Healthcare Reform Law.”
Ellen Frantz, Hotline Attorney of the Year Award: Frantz, an attorney in La Crosse, will receive this award from the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS). The Lawyer Hotline Program is a public service component of the LRIS. Hotline attorney volunteers answer simple legal questions over the phone, allowing callers to better assess whether they wish to hire a lawyer or use the resource information provided to them. Each year, the LRIS committee recognizes an individual attorney or law firm which has provided long-term, continuous service to the Lawyer Hotline program.
Paul Conrad, Nonresident Lawyers Division Founders Award: Conrad, an attorney in Washington D.C., will receive this award, presented by the State Bar’s Nonresident Lawyers Division. The award recognizes a nonresident member who has brought positive change to the division and has actively participated in State Bar activities for many years. Conrad is a past president of the NRLD and has served intermittently as a Board member of the NRLD since 1996.
Melissa Longamore and Kathryn Finley, Outstanding Public Interest Law Student Award: Longamore, Marquette University Law School, and Finley, U.W. Law School, will receive this award presented by the State Bar’s Public Interest Law Section. Both law students are active in clinics and programs designed to assist clients with immigration issues, among others.