WisBar News: State Bar Board Hears Reports on Diversity, Challenges Facing New Lawyers:

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  • State Bar Board Hears Reports on Diversity, Challenges Facing New Lawyers

    Joe Forward

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    Board of Governors

    Incoming State Bar President Robert Gagan (far left) with several members of the newly elected Executive Committee of the State Bar Board of Governors. From left, Christopher Rogers; Andrew Chevrez, Joseph Cardamone; Jill Kastner; and Kevin Lyons. Not pictured: John Danner.

    June 25, 2014 – At its final meeting of the fiscal year today in Lake Geneva, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors received recommendations to foster more diversity in the legal profession and to help younger lawyers facing tough challenges.

    The State Bar’s Diversity Task Force and the Committee on the Challenges Facing New Lawyers delivered final reports with recommendations after considerable study on both issues. The fiscal year 2015 board, under incoming State Bar President Robert Gagan, will determine the next course with respect to the recommendations.

    Board Hears Diversity Task Force Report

    The State Bar’s Diversity Task Force, chaired by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Carl Ashley, released the “Diversity Task Force Report & Recommendations," which makes recommendations to foster more diversity in the legal profession. Judge Ashley appeared at the board meeting to strongly encourage continued efforts on diversity inclusion.

    "The recommendations in the report are just a starting point," Judge Ashley said. "This report provides the State Bar with a blueprint to demonstrate a serious commitment to address diversity and inclusion."

    Judge Carl Ashley

    "The recommendations in the [Diversity Task Force Report] provide the State Bar with a blueprint to demonstrate serious commitment to address diversity and inclusion." Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Carl Ashley, Chair of the Diversity Task Force.

    Outgoing State Bar President Patrick J. Fiedler directed the creation of a task force in 2012 to determine the role of the State Bar in promoting and furthering diversity within the law schools, the profession, and the State Bar. The Diversity Task Force worked for more than a year to develop a plan to further diversity in Wisconsin’s legal community.

    The task force conducted research, reviewed the diversity efforts of other bar associations, and held 15 listening sessions with lawyers and a variety of stakeholder groups in Wisconsin’s legal community.

    The resulting report recognizes the State Bar's past efforts to promote diversity, but notes that the State Bar can do much more to promote immediate and long-term diversity inclusion.

    “Success will require support and commitment from the State Bar leadership to make diversity and inclusion a priority both in word and action,” the report states. “Greater diversity and inclusion engenders more public confidence and trust that our legal system is fair and reflective of the public that it serves.”

    As a first step to promoting diversity and inclusion, the report recommends that the board adopt the following broad definition of diversity:

    "The term ‘diversity’ has a dynamic meaning that evolves as the demographics in the state change. It is an inclusive concept that encompasses, among other things, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation and disability. Inclusion helps to create a culture that embraces people from the widest range of talent and experience and promotes understanding and respect for all people and different points of view in the legal profession."

    The task force encourages the State Bar to incorporate this diversity and inclusion concept into its mission statement, and makes the following other recommendations:

    • Appoint a standing Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee. The committee would assist, coordinate, and facilitate the incorporation of diversity efforts. "We believe this is important because it allows the bar leadership to take the steps necessary to ensure implementation is carried out," Judge Ashley said.

    • Create a Law Student Outreach Subcommittee. The subcommittee would play a leadership role in forming and marketing collaboration among law schools, the State Bar, and employers to encourage and support diversity and inclusion. This subcommittee would revitalize the Diversity Clerkship Program and consider new initiatives such as mentoring, pipeline, and job shadowing programs.

    • Establish, update, and publish reliable data. This would include yearly census data on the diversity of the State Bar membership. This baseline of information would enable an objective evaluation of the diversity programs and initiatives that are needed. This includes the collection of voluntary data in State Bar dues statements.

    • Be a model of diversity and inclusion. The State Bar should serve as a model of diversity in the legal profession and inclusion as it pertains to its own organizational structure and staff.

    • Take a leadership role in promoting and furthering diversity and inclusion in all facets of the Wisconsin legal profession. The State Bar should advance the cause of diversity and inclusion by adopting the recommendations and setting a course to demonstrate a commitment that truly embraces diversity and inclusion.

    In the next fiscal year, the board will likely discuss and consider taking action on some of the recommendations outlined in the report. Judge Ashley said "the most unfortunate thing we could do is not move forward."

    Board Hears Challenges Facing New Lawyers Report

    The State Bar’s Committee on the Challenges Facing New Lawyers released a report that outlines recommendations the State Bar and other stakeholders in the legal community can take to help newer lawyers who facing post-recession challenges, including high student loan debt, fewer job opportunities, and other career-stifling factors.

    Committee co-chair David Jones said the State Bar risks losing a generation of lawyers who feel increasingly disillusioned about the legal profession and the practice of law. "If we follow through on some of these recommendations, I think we can be a leader on how a State Bar can come together, embrace newer lawyers and give them more opportunities," Jones said.

    The State Bar has been studying the challenges facing new lawyers since 2012, when then-State Bar President Jim Brennan recognized the need to compile statistical, anecdotal, and other sourced information to identify the challenges facing new lawyers. A 10-member “Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force” was formed. 

    Governor Jones

    "If we follow through on some of these recommendations, I think we can be a leader on how a State Bar can come together, embrace newer lawyers and give them more opportunities." - David Jones, co-chair of the Committee on the Challenges Facing New Lawyers.

    In November 2013, the task force released a report that outlined the various struggles facing new lawyers in Wisconsin. The task force based the report on national and state-based research, held listening sessions, and sent survey questions to more than 200 young lawyers in Wisconsin. The answers were sobering.

    Arthur Harrington, co-chair of the task force, said Wisconsin’s new lawyers were “facing a depression, both emotionally and economically.” The task force urged the formation of a committee to make recommendations on how the State Bar could address the challenges identified.

    In January 2014, State Bar President Patrick J. Fiedler formed the 14-member Committee on the Challenges Facing New Lawyers to bring forth concrete solutions. The committee was tasked with developing recommendations by June 2014.

    The 14-member Challenges Facing New Lawyers Committee split into subcommittees to explore how new attorneys can get more job experiences, learn business and practice management skills, understand student debt issues and options, and obtain more mentoring and leadership opportunities, among others.

    A number of solutions emerged. Listed below are various recommendations the committee believes can help new lawyers address the challenges they face. In the next fiscal year, the committee’s report and recommendations will serve as a springboard for further discussion and potential board actions.

    • Encourage legal incubators. A number of “legal incubators” sponsored by law schools or other organizations help new lawyers gain real-life experience under the supervision of experienced lawyers. The committee on legal incubators recommends the State Bar encourage the law schools to start incubator programs for graduates. It also recommends outreach to local bar associations and nonprofit groups to determine whether such entities would be interested in starting incubator programs.

    • Help navigate law school debt. The subcommittee on student loan debt recognized that the problem will take “sustained, constant attention from the leaders of the Bar to ensure our new lawyers have a chance to start their careers” without an unsustainable debt burden. Thus, the subcommittee made recommendations related to helping graduates understand their loan repayment options and reducing amounts borrowed for law school.

    • Provide more governance and leadership opportunities. This subcommittee on governance explored ways to give new lawyers more opportunities to serve in leadership roles, which would allow them to be advocates on issues affecting newer lawyers. That includes a recommendation to expand the number of new lawyer seats on the State Bar Board of Governors.

    • Foster mentorship programs. The subcommittee on mentorship recommended the creation and support for voluntary mentorship programs through a number of steps, including a comprehensive survey to determine what mentorship opportunities are currently being offered. The subcommittee also recommended support for a rule that would allow voluntary mentors to obtain CLE credit.

    • Tailor CLE programs. The subcommittee on CLE made a number of recommendations to specifically assist new lawyers. For instance, the subcommittee recommended a “New Lawyer Track” of CLE programming at State Bar Institutes and Conferences, and support to help minimize the cost of CLE to newer lawyers. The subcommittee also encouraged support for rule changes to allow CLE credit for programming that gives newer lawyers practice management and business skills.

    • Promote more business and practical learning. A subcommittee on clinical and business education identified a number of ways the State Bar can encourage more “hands-on” learning experiences for newer lawyers. Those include the following support for experiential learning initiatives and clinical programs offered by the state’s two law schools and the creation of more CLE opportunities to help new lawyers learn about practice management and the business-side of law practice.

    Other Board Actions

    The board elected a new chairperson of the board and new members to the board’s Executive Committee, among other leadership appointments.

    Governors Swanson and Coley

    Sherry Coley (right), outgoing chairperson of the Board of Governors, passes the baton to Paul Swanson, who assumes the role of chair in fiscal year 2015.

    The board elected Paul Swanson (Oshkosh) as the board chair for fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015). The board also elected six new members to the board’s Executive Committee, which “exercises all the powers and performs all the duties of the board between the meetings of the board.” The committee is comprised of the president, president-elect, past-president, board chair, and six other representatives.

    The six new committee members are: Joseph Cardamone (Kenosha); Andrew Chevrez (Milwaukee); John Danner (Minocqua); Jill Kastner (Milwaukee); Kevin Lyons (Milwaukee); and Christopher Rogers (Madison).

    The board also approved President Fiedler’s five appointments to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation Board. Reappointees are: Mary Lynne Donahue (Sheboygan) and Grant Birtch (Neenah). New appointees are: Terry Grosenheider (Madison); the Hon. Judge Edward Leineweber (Lone Rock); and Karma Rodgers (Milwaukee).

    The board elected three members to the ABA House of Delegates as representatives of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Grant Killoran (Milwaukee) and Patricia Struck (Madison) were appointed as new representatives. Christina Plum (Milwaukee) was reappointed.

    Finally, the board voted to sunset four policy positions which are generally out-of-date or no longer relevant. Those include positions on expert and lay witness testimony, consolidation of mass litigation, product liability, and self-help repossessions.

    Upon request, interested members may obtain a copy of the minutes of each meeting of the board of governors. For more information, contact State Bar Executive Coordinator by org jmarks wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6106.