Vol. 83, No. 12, December 2010
From left: State Bar President Jim Boll, former State Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox, and attorneys Jim and Sarah Troupis discuss how members can help shape the association and the legal profession by participating in State Bar elections.
The mid-term elections are over, and no matter your ideological preference, I suspect you are like me and happy that we are no longer inundated with commercial after commercial telling us how unfit candidates are, whether to serve as city assessor or as governor (not to mention the media scrutiny of every aspect of each candidate’s personal life). If you want to serve the public in government these days, I would suggest that you start planning for it at birth.
With this type of environment affecting local to federal races, I can certainly understand why individuals do not want to serve the public as elected officials. As the State Bar of Wisconsin seeks and encourages members to run for the Board of Governors and officer positions, I want to assure you that, in my experience, this is not how the State Bar conducts its elections. The Board of Governors oversees the operations of the State Bar and sets the policy for our organization. Individuals run from 17 districts for two-year terms. The positions of president-elect, treasurer, and representative to the Judicial Counsel also are on the ballot in 2011.
In December 2008 I was nominated to run for State Bar president-elect. When my nomination was announced, I learned that my opponent would be Madison lawyer Jim Troupis. Jim and I had then known each other for about 10 years, and I have great respect for Jim’s ability as a lawyer and for the type of person that he is. In fact, if I had not been seeking the position of president-elect, I would have been a strong supporter of Jim. I did not run for State Bar president to oppose Jim Troupis – I ran to propose new ideas for our organization.
From December 2008 to April 2009, Jim and I both campaigned for president-elect. We did so in a way that would be almost unheard of in the present local, state, and federal campaign climate. We did it together. We agreed that we would only appear at local bar meetings and other events together. If one of us could not make a local bar meeting or other campaign event, the other would decline the invitation. We agreed that, when contacted by a group to speak, we would contact the other and appear together. We even travelled together to some events. During the campaign I met Jim’s wife and his charming and successful children. When we appeared in front of local bars or at other events, it was not unusual for us to, believe it or not, say complimentary things about each other. Not once did Jim or I say anything negative about the other during our more than 35 joint appearances around the state.
Following the election Jim formed his own law firm, in part to address some of the very policy issues we discussed during the campaign. He was recently joined by retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox as of counsel, to assist in appellate matters, and by his daughter Sarah Troupis (an accomplished lawyer in her own right – she argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in April on a major First Amendment case). In addition to focusing on state and national policy issues, his new firm addresses complex patent and business cases for plaintiffs and defendants using both traditional and alternative fee structures.
Jim recently commented that, “Running for State Bar president was an extraordinary experience and a real honor. Reconnecting with friends and colleagues helped me appreciate even more the dedication and integrity of lawyers in every corner of the state. It was very much the catalyst in my decision to form a new type of law firm that could take advantage of a very dynamic legal marketplace, take on constitutional and policy matters, and could address serious litigation in cooperation with other lawyers and firms from around the country.”
Whether it be as a candidate for an officer position or as a member of the Board of Governors, the willingness to serve is more important than the outcome of any State Bar election. I was lucky to run against an individual with such class and ability as Jim Troupis. Please do not let the existing state and federal political climate discourage you from offering to serve our organization and the profession. After all, I did not plan on running for State Bar president from birth, and thank goodness no one asked me about the fourth-grade incident involving exploding toilets at John Muir Elementary School. As President George W. Bush once said, “When I was young, I did young and foolish things.” For myself, I have to admit, some of it was really fun.