Vol. 83, No. 4, April 2010
I have been asked how it came to be that there are four candidates for the presidency of the State Bar. Let me explain. It has to do with the Bar’s governance generally.
The State Bar is ruled by a clique. This comes as a surprise to no one, or at least it shouldn’t. Many of us think this is a serious problem. The real champions of the status quo probably see this as a virtue because it guarantees that the organization will never change, or the change will be glacial. This article explains how the clique remains in power.
1) We are short of volunteers. Lawyers are busy and want to use their pro bono time to assist the humble and downtrodden in our society. (I am not naïve. I have seen lawyers use their pro bono hours to assist wealthy philanthropists. In such cases it is difficult to tell the difference between pro bono and business promotion.) But the fact still remains that the State Bar leadership comes from a very limited pool. There are a host of reasons why lawyers hesitate to volunteer for Bar duties. Geography is obviously part of it – I don’t know how a Bar president further than 70 miles from Madison can perform the function. Another problem is that many of our members feel that State Bar service is a waste of time.
2) The system is hard-wired to achieve the result. A cause is found in the structure of the State Bar. An inherent evil in all groups that are supposed to be representative is the nominating committee.
The State Bar nominating committee is appointed by the president subject to the approval of the board. Approval is pro forma. The president, desiring to pick his own successor, selects a nominating committee to achieve that end. (I broke the mold. I appointed outsiders and asked them to do what they could do about bringing in new blood.) The president is inclined to pick a nominating committee from the board and other close insiders. Not only does the nominating committee take certain directives from the president, but the members are friends with other insiders and are predisposed to select other insiders for high office. Therefore, the ultimate nominees, again, are insiders. Thus the circle remains unbroken and the members are faced with a one-party election reminiscent of Eastern Europe in the last century.
To the extent I could control the process, I urged the nominating committee to consider all interested candidates, insiders as well as outsiders. No volunteer was to be turned away. You will see a choice between two insiders and two outsiders. I represent to you that these four candidates are all the people who volunteered from the Milwaukee area. (Why Milwaukee only? That is a great question but beyond the scope of this article.)
The insiders are screaming about the process. They insist that the Bar president should be a majority victor and not a plurality victor. (Somehow they do not find this to be a problem when the nominating committee comes up with more than two candidates, as long as they are all insiders!)
So there you have it, folks. If you do not like the closed circle, you have one more chance to break it open. I think one more time may just do it – one more unequivocal voluntary bar president, especially an outsider, will probably (dare I say certainly?) result in major structural changes in the Bar, making it more attractive to volunteers and open to all lawyers. We are very close.