Wisconsin Lawyer: A Good Run: Wisconsin Lawyer Looks Back on 75 Years (Sidebar):

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  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    September
    01
    2003

    A Good Run: Wisconsin Lawyer Looks Back on 75 Years (Sidebar)

    Dianne Molvig

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    Skim through the magazine over the years and you'll gain a glimpse of history and societal trends. Editorial board volunteers and magazine staff conducted a decade review of key topics and social issues covered in 75 years of Wisconsin Lawyer. Here's a brief look at some of their findings.

    Late 1920s and 1930s. The magazine devoted most of its pages to Bar association information and news about individual attorneys. Articles often were taken from speeches presented at Bar meetings. A few major topics included unauthorized practice of law, new automobile insurance laws (accidents were rising dramatically as autos became more common), unemployment law, lawyers' and judges' image (whether judges should wear robes), Bar integration, professional ethics, and the bank merger movement.

    In 1929 the Bulletin published the first-ever Bar- recommended statewide minimum fee schedule; revisions were published until the schedule's demise in 1973. Many items touched on how Prohibition, gangsters, the Great Depression, and other issues affected lawyers, the public, and the judicial system. For instance, a piece called "A Warning Against Mob Violence," decrying radical organizers among farmers facing foreclosures, appeared in the January 1934 issue, taken from an attorney's speech delivered to an Elks Club in New Richmond.

    1940s. World War II weighed heavily on the country, as it did on the legal profession. News items abounded on which attorneys were off to war and articles spoke to, for example, "Legal Assistance to Servicemen" and "Lawyers' Opportunities in the New Army." A February 1943 news item, "U.W. Law School Depleted," reported that enrollment was down to 90, compared to 400 before the war. After the war, discussion appeared about the need for lawyer refresher training. Other key subjects were unauthorized practice ("Accountants May Not Practice Tax Law"), Bar integration, and the public image of attorneys.

    Dianne Molvig is a frequent contributor to area and national publications.

    The February 1948 issue published a resolution drafted by the Bar's Civil Rights Committee and adopted by the Bar, stating, "anyone who publicly or by acknowledged membership in the Communistic Party aids, supports or assists the World Communist Movement to accomplish its objectives in the United States is unworthy of his office as a lawyer and should not be permitted to become or remain a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association." However, no discussion appeared on the violation of Japanese-Americans' civil liberties as they were hauled off to internment camps in the 1940s, or of Sen. Joe McCarthy's abuses during his communist witch-hunt in the 1950s.

    1950s. This decade saw growing awareness of the economics of practice, with such articles as "Applying Business Techniques to the Law Office" and "The Importance of Management in the Law Office." Minimum fee schedules appeared as supplements to the magazine. Unauthorized practice and professional image continued to be concerns, as exemplified by such articles as "Unauthorized Practice of Law by Real Estate Brokers" and "The Practicing Lawyer Must Practice Public Relations, Too." The broadening of the law also is evident, for example, "Television and the Law" and "Estate Planning - The New Concept."

    1960s. Articles discussed changes in divorce law and children's rights. Other topics included tort law, group legal service plans, the formation of Judicare, the pros and cons of increasing specialization in law practice, free-press issues, and crime prevention. Unauthorized practice of law, Bar integration (the Lathrop case), ethics, estate planning, and office management continued to be predominant subjects. An announcement states that Bar CLE programs now are available on videotape. Phil Habermann wrote in the February 1964 issue (p. 17) that "The crying need of today's lawyers is for relief from an excess of work."

    In his October 1966 President's Page, Ray McCann wrote, "In both parties, there are competent men or women for each and every (judicial) vacancy." This is one of the rare acknowledgements appearing in the magazine in its first 40 years that women were lawyers, too. Still, a statistic from the late 1960s reveals that women comprised only 2 percent of Wisconsin's lawyers.

    Barely evident in the magazine were signs of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but some evidence appeared of the dissension surrounding the Vietnam War. For instance, Bar president Richard Tinkham's August 1968 column, "Where is the Voice of America?," encouraged attorneys to speak out on public issues. It spurred one attorney's letter to the editor explaining why many saw civil disobedience as their only recourse for change, which in turn drew a letter from an attorney who questioned whether the Bulletin "has become a vehicle for the dissemination of leftist propaganda."

    1970s. In this decade of numerous transitions in the profession, the magazine covered continuing legal education, specialization, public relations (an August 1971 article reports that lawyers' image is at an all-time low), malpractice insurance, lawyer advertising, diploma privilege, use of legal assistants, and court reorganization (creation of the state court of appeals). Other articles covered do-it-yourself divorce, legal assistance to Vietnamese refugees, consumer protection laws, and the creation of Wisconsin's Legal Services Corporation. Economics of law practice and Bar integration continued to surface as topics.

    1980s. Added to many topics already mentioned were marital property law reform, tort reform, courthouse security, alternative dispute resolution, copyright law, and attorney stress. More information on environmental law emerged as this became an established specialized practice area. Computer technology and online research sources arrived in law offices. A May 1989 article reported that DNA testing is now admitted as evidence in 12 states. Women played a larger role in the profession, spurring surveys and discussions of such issues as gender bias and balancing family and career.

    1990s. The September 1995 issue presented "An Internet Primer for Attorneys" and announced the upcoming launch of WisBar, the State Bar's own Web site. Technology topics burgeoned throughout the 1990s, for example, "Lawyers' 30 Top Computer Tips" (August 1996), "Security on the Internet" (December 1997), "Search and Seizure of Computer Data" (February 1999), and many more. Articles discussed new concepts in law practice, such as multidisciplinary practice and unbundling legal services. The state's judiciary gained extensive coverage throughout the decade as it dealt with computerization, courthouse violence, media presence during trials, and civility in the courtroom.

    2000 plus. In this decade thus far, we've seen new topics added to the ever-growing mix: planning for disaster recovery, toxic mold litigation, branding the profession (a response to the long-standing concern about the public's perception of the legal profession), new DNA laws, civil liberties concerns related to the war on terrorism, and truth in sentencing, to name only a few.