Vol. 80, No. 6, June 2007
by George C. Brown, executive director
Last month I Had the privilege of attending the Kenosha County Bar Association's memorial service for the lawyers and judges who passed away in the last few years. The service was run like a court session. The county sheriff served as bailiff, Deputy Chief Judge Mary K. Wagner served as presiding judge, and the memorial remarks, including remarks by Justice Louis Butler representing the Wisconsin Supreme Court, were entered into the court record. In all, it was an impressive service, and I was honored to have been invited.
As I sat in the jury box with court of appeals judges and county court commissioners, listening to speakers pay tribute to the significant roles these deceased lawyers played in the lives of so many people in their county, I was again reminded of the importance of our county bar associations. The Kenosha County Bar Association memorial service provided more than recognition to those lawyers who had ably served the bench and the bar. By eulogizing those lawyers who have gone before them, the association recognized that the lives and the work of the lawyers attending the memorial are important to the continuing success of the community they serve. And the ceremony informs lawyers new to the community, lawyers who may never have known those being memorialized, that they, too, are expected to meet or surpass the examples set by those being remembered.
I have attended bar meetings in nearly every county in our state, whether memorial services like this or business meetings and social gatherings. And each time I am reminded in many different ways how county bar associations create the legal culture in their communities. I have attended meetings where long-simmering courthouse issues have been quickly settled because the judge attended the meeting and the lawyers felt comfortable enough to speak their minds in a manner that ended with a conclusion benefiting nearly everyone. I have witnessed the universal applause given to young lawyers new to the community and watched the beaming, if not somewhat embarrassed, smiles sweep across their faces. I have enjoyed the welcoming camaraderie of receptions and dinners, golf outings, schuetzenfests, and three-day-long annual county bar meetings where judges, commissioners, and lawyers leave their titles at the door and meet and talk and solve problems or resolve grudges as friends.
But county bars do more to create the local legal culture than merely by holding gatherings and memorials. Public and member service is an important part of nearly every county bar. Some county bars meet monthly, or even weekly, and provide continuing education opportunities. Some hold extensive Law Day programs, coordinate pro bono services, and develop educational materials for courthouses and juries and people facing important, life-changing situations. Others help sponsor high school mock trial teams, including providing lawyer-coaches and raising or donating money to schools to help defray transportation and other costs. Some draw on State Bar resources, such as the Local Bar Grant program that provides grants up to $2,500 for public service projects, to help develop their programs.
While the State Bar can provide resources, such as local bar grants or leadership training through the Wisconsin Bar Leaders Conference, it is incumbent on the county bar associations to create the positive local legal culture that allows lawyers to thrive and better serve their clients. And from everything I have seen, they are doing a fine job of it.