Vol. 80, No. 5, May 2007
Thirty years ago this month, the State Bar hired a young woman to provide support to the predecessor of this publication. Today, that woman is the now long-serving Director of Communications and editor of this magazine. Joyce Hastings is the first State Bar staff member to serve the members and the organization for three decades, surpassing the tenures of executive directors Phil Habermann (1948-74) and Steve Smay (1978-99) by several years.
In the 30 years since Joyce Birrenkott was hired on May 27, 1977, much has changed at the State Bar. Through hard work and the strong leadership of Joyce and the lawyers serving on the Communications Committee, the Wisconsin Bar Bulletin, a monthly magazine that could not decide whether it was a law journal, practice manual, or membership newsletter, has been transformed into the award-winning Wisconsin LawyerTM magazine you hold in your hands. In 1977 the magazine was produced using electric typewriters, paper galleys that were hand cut and pasted into place on layout boards, black and white photos that were measured for cropping and marked with grease pencils, and hot lead type for printing. Today, almost everything is done using computers, including emailing the electronic final version to the printer for printing.
The original State Bar Center, constructed nearly 50 years ago on Wilson Street in downtown Madison, began as a simple one-story building for a handful of staff, then grew to two stories in 1969, and then doubled in size in 1982 to accommodate the need for substantial meeting space and the additional staff needed to support new programs and services for members. Finally, in 1999, the current Bar Center with its numerous meeting rooms and spacious Assembly Hall was built when the original Bar Center could no longer be expanded.
State Bar membership has changed dramatically in the years since Joyce was hired. In July 1977, 10,672 attorneys were members, including 2,386 (22 percent) who resided outside of Wisconsin and 221 (2 percent) who were emeritus members. Today, there are more male attorneys residing in Wisconsin (10,808) than the total number of members 30 years ago. Of the 22,341 lawyers licensed to practice in Wisconsin today, 15,433 live and work in-state and 6,908 (31 percent) live and work outside of Wisconsin. And substantially more members are emeritus, with 1,319 (6 percent) holding that status today.
Although it took 64 years, from 1879 to 1943, for the first 150 women to be admitted to practice in Wisconsin, now the majority of our youngest lawyers are women. In 1985, the first year that membership statistics were broken down by gender, 1,888 women were members (13.8 percent of all lawyers admitted to practice). Today, 30 percent of the lawyers licensed in Wisconsin are women. This year, 512 members under age 30 are women, or 51 percent of all lawyers under 30.
In 1977, State Bar members could serve on the 36-member Board of Governors, on the 11 standing and 18 special committees, on the 12 section boards, or on the Young Lawyers Division Board. Two of the special committees, the Lawyers in Government Committee and the Liaison in Washington DC Committee, evolved into the Government Lawyers Division and the Nonresident Lawyers Division of today. Currently, the Board of Governors numbers 50 members, there are 25 sections instead of 12, and there are 24 special committees, but only four standing committees.
Major issues in 1977 included implementing the court modernization amendments to the state constitution that created the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the current circuit court system, educating members about lawyer advertising, and providing legal services to the poor. And when Joyce joined the Bar, the youngest member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court was the newly appointed Shirley Abrahamson, the State Bar president was George Steil, a partner of current president-elect Tom Basting, and the treasurer of the Young Lawyers Division was current president Steve Levine.
Five years after joining the State Bar staff, Joyce was named editor of the Wisconsin Bar Bulletin and then named Director of Publications in 1986. During 1988, she led the transformation of the Bar Bulletin into the Wisconsin Lawyer with the first issue appearing in January 1989. Just one month later, the first issue of the Wisconsin LawyerTM Directory appeared. Only a few years after that we began to hear about something called the Internet. When it was decided that the State Bar ought to have a presence on the Internet, Joyce took the leadership role in creating the first WisBar Web site as well as its most recent revision that you see today. Joyce's expertise has not gone unnoticed nationally. She is regularly called on by the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) to speak on publishing, both conventional and Web-based, and to advise other bar associations about how to improve their communications. In addition, she has served as chair of NABE's Communications Section and recently received its highest honor for leadership in her profession and service to her colleagues.
There are many reasons that the State Bar of Wisconsin enjoys a strong, positive national reputation. Joyce Hastings, her leadership, and her work over the last 30 years certainly are a part of the foundation of that reputation.