Vol. 82, No. 6, June 2009
Last July, I said with confidence that my job as president for one year would be to do what the Bar needed during that year. The year has passed at a dizzying pace, and a few things were accomplished, but so far, the to-do list is not any shorter. A year is so short and the work of an organization like this is too broad for any one president to feel that her goals were met during her term. But, I hope that my year of service, all in all, has provided some important beginnings.
The Access to Justice Commission was approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 13, 2009. The commission is a good start to addressing the overwhelming unmet need for legal services experienced by Wisconsin’s low-income residents. In May 2007, the Board of Governors approved the Access to Justice Study Committee report. The report’s key recommendation was to create the commission. Appointees from the supreme court, the State Bar, the legislature, and the executive branch will serve on the commission.
Clearly, the mandatory nature of our organization has drawn attention this year. The Membership Committee studied the voluntary/mandatory membership issue and surveyed State Bar members. A total of 57 percent of the members surveyed support the voluntary bar, but only 14 percent of the respondents identified “working to change to a voluntary bar” as their top priority for the State Bar. Items receiving a higher score included providing products and services for the profession, being a voice for the profession, and providing continuing legal education. These results were posted on our WisBar Web site, and our technology gurus created a blog for feedback on this important issue. No comments were posted to the blog, and very few members privately provided feedback. The Membership Committee has conducted its work with professionalism and dignity. The committee has referred its study to the Board of Governors and to the Strategic Planning Committee. The committee has worked hard and has taken the first steps toward the reasoned, reasonable conversation necessary to make this an informed discussion.
Because of the willingness of the Executive Committee to learn new skills, the planet is a bit greener. Not without a little grumbling, the committee members viewed meeting materials online and avoided printing thousands of pages of materials. It is my hope that the Executive Committee will carry on the electronic materials project next year, and that the Board of Governors will begin working with electronic materials. The Executive Committee also took the first steps to develop a strategic plan for the Board of Governors. That draft includes the goals of making the board representative of the Bar population and making the Bar population representative of the state population.
The Board of Governors has worked to address the myriad issues surrounding judicial elections. In the wake of a supreme court campaign that brought notoriety to our state, the board has conscientiously studied the issues raised by the Seifert case. Deliberately, and with extensive member, section, and committee input, the board decided to file an amicus brief in the Seifert appeal. Further, the board will continue to study pending legislation that affects judicial elections. I am proud that in my year as president, we actively sought the input of our members and made our decision-making process transparent.
I have seen first-hand the deep respect accorded to our association across the state and country. As I’ve worked with executive director George Brown and all the directors and staff, I’ve seen the extraordinary talent of the Bar’s employees, simply the most skilled and energized staff anywhere. I thank each and every Bar employee for your professionalism and for making this so easy.
I have seen the enormous fund of talent, intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm our volunteer lawyers contribute daily to advance the cause of “excellence in legal services in an accessible, valued justice system.” These selfless contributions to the public’s understanding of the law, to access to justice, and to service to the judicial system come from thousands of devoted lawyers who exemplify professionalism. Between our dedicated staff and our faithful volunteers, I know that these new directions will endure.
I am so privileged to have represented you as president of this outstanding association. Thank you for the chance to do and see and learn and start a few things.