Vol. 80, No. 12, December 2007
Speech Recognition Technology a Godsend
I was delighted to see Nerino J. Petro's review of speech recognition software in your October 2007 edition. At the suggestion of my colleague Judge Jamie Duvall up north, I have been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 for all of my decisions and correspondence for over a year now. The program has been a godsend for such a ham-handed typist as me. The accuracy is remarkable (even for proper names and Latin phrases), the turnaround time for finished documents has been cut by two-thirds, and, for me at least, it frees up about 40 percent of a secretary/typist's time for more productive endeavors. Thus it paid for itself in just a couple of weeks.
I'm not certain why this technology has not swept the bench and bar like wildfire. Certainly, it is not due to any lack of proselytizing on my part. I suspect the reason lies in the prior failures in the technology. Anybody who experimented with voice recognition back in the 1990s, as I did, no doubt continues to shake from frustration. The problems from that era, however, have largely been eliminated.
Nonetheless, the technology is not perfect. For example, the program continues to fight me over the correct spelling of my last name. But then, so does a substantial portion of the bar. And every once in awhile, notwithstanding my best efforts, the darn thing issues a decision containing reversible error.
Judge Richard G. Niess, Dane County Circuit Court, Madison
Happy in a Small Town Practice
I enjoyed the State Bar executive director's column and the article "Recruiting Lawyers to Smaller Communities" in the October issue. When I graduated I wanted to try practicing in a small town, but I had some doubts, and many of the small town firms I interviewed with had doubts about me.
My doubts had more to do with lifestyle than with the practice of law. On the one hand, I felt a small town would afford me more balance. On the other hand, I still haven't fully accepted what my husband and I have termed the "6 p.m. syndrome." There was the Sunday not long after we'd moved to Prairie du Sac when I drove to all three grocery stores in town only to find they had closed at 6 p.m. My husband still tells people he thought we were moving back to Madison right then and there. Just last week, having put in 12 hours at the office and needing to conduct a nonprofit board meeting before I could call it a day, I was desperate for an espresso drink. Although there are at least three places that sell gourmet coffee within three blocks of my office, none of them were still open at 6 p.m.!
The small town firms I interviewed with took one look at my resumé - born and raised in Denver, undergraduate degree from a southern state, Peace Corps volunteer in Africa - and didn't think I was sincere about wanting to live in a small town. In the end, only one firm gave me a chance. I was late for my interview because even though I'd never been to Baraboo, I didn't think I needed directions to find my way around such a small town. They hired me anyway.
Twelve years later, although I've moved from Prairie du Sac to Baraboo and left two firms to start a solo practice, I am still here, and I couldn't be happier. I will always be indebted to my first firm for bringing me to Baraboo. Not only do I have a balanced life, I find my work meaningful because I have a lot of direct contact with clients who are ordinary people.
Small town practice is not for everyone. You will have a lot of autonomy and responsibility immediately. You will have your own cases and clients, you will be expected to bring in new clients, and you will be expected to get involved in the community. This requires a lot of initiative and confidence. There is a myth that you don't earn as much in a small town. Actually, depending on how many hours you work, what type of law you do, and what type of clients you have, I believe you can earn as much as big city lawyers. However, I and many of the small town lawyers I know choose to work less so we can spend more time with our families or pastimes, we derive personal satisfaction from serving ordinary people, and our consciences dictate that we charge modest rates. I encourage young attorneys to give small town practice a try - just bring your own espresso maker!
Nancy Thome, Baraboo
Judicial Election Commission Not Needed
I refer to the "President's Message" in the October Wisconsin Lawyer.
Insofar as courts in Wisconsin and elsewhere have arrogated to themselves legislative, as distinct from judicial, powers, that is, the ability to sit as a super-legislature reviewing and applying their own views to matters of public policy that have been or should be decided by the legislature, the campaigns for judicial openings should take on the trappings of legislative campaigns - much screaming, yelling, posturing, blatantly false statements, half-truths, outright demagoguery, scare tactics, and so on. At this point, there are some groups in Wisconsin that have an enormous stake in maintaining what has become the supreme court's status quo. Their success merely prompts other groups to act in kind. I agree with Justice Kennedy, one incidentally who leads the way in substituting his own legislative judgment for the policy decisions of duly elected legislators, that active participation in elections by all who might be affected by the outcomes is healthy in our democracy.
The solution offered by President Basting to the imagined "problem" he posits smacks of Truth Commission stuff, the out-of-date, out-of-touch remnants of Orwell's 1984. What silliness! And, expensive, given the staff that would be required to monitor candidates' statements, and so on. Why should my mandatory State Bar dues support such a thing? Am I not to be trusted to analyze statements in judicial elections myself just as I do in other elections?
Instead of seeking ways to spend more money and reward more cronies with membership on some unneeded, but high-falutin' sounding, commission, the president should seek to cut the expenses of the State Bar and leave the active democracy that needs to take place in the super-legislative judiciary we've now got (for better or for worse) to the voters. Nastier, Noisier, Costlier - I'm all for it.
Charles W. Sprague, Milwaukee
Price Correction for Reviewed Book
The October 2007 book review of Software Licensing Handbook (Raleigh, NC: Jeffrey I. Gordon, 2006) listed an incorrect price. The correct price is $44.95.
- WL Editors
Clarification to Marital Property Act Effect on Debt article
My article "After the Split: The Marital Property Act's Effects on Debt After Marriage" was published in the November 2007 Wisconsin Lawyer. After hearing some feedback, I felt the need to clarify a significant point. In my article, I said that bankruptcy courts have found modifications to divorce judgments to be appropriate. That statement, while broadly correct, contained an inadvertent pitfall for practitioners.
Specifically, in In re Zick, the Hon. Judge McGarity noted that while amendments to divorce judgments might be allowed when there are issues of spousal maintenance or child support, the Zick case involved only property division and so a modification of the divorce judgment was not allowed. In fact, the court sanctioned the lawyer and his client for trying to do so in violation of the bankruptcy court's automatic stay.
A detailed discussion of the interplay between the bankruptcy rules and Wisconsin's divorce laws was beyond the scope of my article; my point in writing now is to clarify that counsel needs to act carefully when a bankruptcy has been filed. Courts have varied on exactly when such modifications are appropriate, and there is no blanket rule. Two good sources of further information on these subjects is Sommer and McGarity, Collier Family Law and the Bankruptcy Code, and State Bar CLE Books' Marital Property Law in Wisconsin, Third Edition.
Briane F. Pagel Jr.