Vol. 83, No. 7, July 2010
Lawyers who have been in practice long enough to have tried cases in Dane County Circuit Court back in the 1980s may have appeared at some point before the Hon. James C. Boll Sr. On numerous occasions, they might have spotted a teenage boy in the courtroom’s gallery, keeping a watchful eye on the unfolding proceedings.
That teenager recently became the new president of the State Bar of Wisconsin. On May 5, the now-retired judge Boll and his wife were there to watch their son, James C. Boll Jr., get sworn into office at a ceremony during the State Bar’s Annual Convention in Madison.
“I started going down to observe my dad’s court when I was in eighth grade, and I continued through college,” Boll recalls. While he didn’t become a lawyer simply because his father was one, his aspiration to study law began early. “I don’t remember a time when I wanted to do anything else,” he says.
After graduating from Madison’s Memorial High School, Boll entered college with no doubt in his mind that eventually he’d pursue a law degree. He got his undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then earned his J.D. at Marquette University Law School in 1992. Before and during law school, he’d set his sights on becoming a litigator.
Boll started down that path in his first job after law school, working for American Family Insurance in its Milwaukee office. After seven years, he decided he wanted to return to his hometown, so he took a job doing insurance defense work at a Madison law firm. A year later, he became corporate counsel at Madison Gas and Electric, where he’s worked for 10 years.
Long active in the State Bar, Boll has served two terms on the Board of Governors and on various Bar committees over the years. Now that he’s at the helm of the Bar, he’s focusing on his key concerns, some of which connect back to his earlier committee work.
Scrutinizing Bar Benefits and Services
High on Boll’s list of projects for the coming year is improving awareness of the member benefits and services the Bar provides. “One of the problems the Bar constantly has,” he says, “is that members say the Bar doesn’t offer them any benefits or services. The Bar does, but it’s hard to get busy lawyers to pay attention.” Boll feels the Bar can do a better job of informing members about the benefits and services available.
One way to do that would be to put in motion an idea that surfaced in the Bar’s Insurance and Members Benefits Committee three years ago. Boll envisions having lawyers from around the state receive special training about the Bar’s benefits and services. They’d
then speak to attendees at such events as local bar association meetings.
“They would take a couple of minutes to stand up and talk about a benefit or service the Bar offers,” Boll explains. “That way lawyers can hear this from somebody they know. It also gives the Bar the opportunity to hear what members think.”
In addition, Boll has worked with the Bar’s Insurance and Member Benefits Committee to create a new subcommittee to study existing benefit plans and how the new national health care policy might benefit members.
The subcommittee also will examine the current Bar benefits-and-services structures. How many different committees currently deal with some aspect of member benefits or services? How might delivery of services and benefits to members be streamlined?
“Any organization, especially in this day and age, has to always be evaluating its member benefits and services,” Boll says.
Strengthening State and Local Bar Ties
During his president-elect year, Boll worked with the Local Bar Relations Committee to devise ways to strengthen local bars and their relationships with the State Bar.
Local bars all over the state, with proper support, could offer more benefits directly to their members, in Boll’s view. One successful example is the Dane County Bar Association’s mentorship program. The local bar implemented the program “with great administrative assistance from the State Bar,” Boll notes.
That program is now a template for other local bars to use or adapt to create their own mentorship program. That’s just one example of the possibilities Boll envisions. In conjunction with the Local Bar Relations Committee, he’s created a new subcommittee charged with creating an evaluation tool and soliciting requests from local bars regarding benefits and services they could offer to their members, with financial or administrative assistance from the State Bar.
“My hope is that other local bars will come up with ideas, and that this will mushroom,” Boll says. At the same time, he believes this arrangement will provide a conduit for local bars to relay their members’ requests for benefits and services to the State Bar.
Boll says such efforts pay off in two ways: ensuring that Bar members statewide get the benefits and services they need and “reinforcing the message that the State Bar is there for everybody,” he says.
Related to the latter goal, he notes that the Board of Governors agreed at its last meeting in May (in conjunction with the Bar convention) to add a second off-site meeting to its annual schedule. Thus, two meetings a year will be held at the Bar Center, in addition to two meetings held off site and one at the convention.
“The goal is to try to bring the Board of Governors to the local bars,” Boll says. “Local bar members would participate not only in the meetings, but also in social events afterwards.”
5 things on Jim Boll’s to-do list
- Educate members about their State Bar benefits and services.
- Strengthen local bars and their relationships with the State Bar.
- Help young lawyers make connections and participate in the State Bar.
- Increase pay rate for private attorneys who take public defender cases.
- Get the mandatory/voluntary bar issue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Reaching Out to Young Lawyers
Young lawyers are the Bar’s future leaders and, Boll notes, they belong to a generation that places a high value on staying connected. He believes the Bar can benefit by facilitating young lawyers’ efforts to make connections.
“Young lawyers are very social people as far as communications through Facebook and other social media,” Boll explains. “If they can develop personal relationships with each other through the Bar, I think it’s easier to get them involved in the Bar organization.”
That was the rationale behind an event held this spring in Milwaukee, organized in conjunction with the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division. The event had a CLE component plus social time. Many lawyers received funding assistance from their local bars to be able to attend.
“We felt it was important to get geographic diversity from around the state,” Boll says. “We had 125 young lawyers from the north, south, east, and west.” He hopes to have another event like this next year, and perhaps build to two or three events a year, each held in different parts of the state.
Another encouraging sign regarding young lawyers’ Bar involvement, Boll says, is the number who attended his swearing-in ceremony at the annual convention. “We had more young lawyers at the ceremony than anyone could remember seeing in past years,” he notes. “It was great to see them there, energized about getting involved.”
The level of compensation to private attorneys who take public defender cases is another issue Boll aims to address during his tenure as president. The current rate is one of the lowest in the country, he points out.
“As I travel the state,” Boll says, “lawyers tell me that they have to drive three or four hours to defend somebody because it’s so hard to find lawyers to do the work for only $40 an hour.”
The Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has created a subcommittee to work on solutions to the problem. “I’ve pledged to support that subcommittee to do whatever is necessary to raise the rate,” Boll says. “I firmly believe that if the State Bar president doesn’t stand up for people’s constitutional rights and stand with the public defenders and criminal defense lawyers, I don’t know what the State Bar president should stand for. It’s a very important issue to me.”
On another matter, Boll expects progress in the coming year on the mandatory/voluntary Bar debate. “It’s my firm belief that we have to get this issue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” he says, “so that it doesn’t continue to dominate not only Bar elections, but also the day-to-day operations of the Bar. How can Bar staff plan for the future if they don’t know what the organization’s structure is going to be?”
On the Personal Side
When he’s not thinking about his plans as Bar president or his duties as corporate counsel for Madison Gas and Electric, Boll focuses on family time and community activities.
He and wife Lorna (“Rory”) Hemp Boll – an attorney who holds an MBA and is vice president of Plumb Trust Co. in Madison – first met when they represented opposing sides in a case. They later got to know each other better when she went to work for American Family Insurance. They have been married for 14 years and have two sons, James III, age 11, and Christopher, age 9.
Boll ranks coaching his sons’ basketball and football teams among some of his favorite community activities, of which there are many. As just a few examples, he’s on the board of the Attic Angels, serves as vice chair of the Madison Plan Commission, and sits on the State Street Oversight Committee.
He also takes the time to travel frequently to North Carolina to see his sister, whose husband, also an attorney, died two years ago. She’s raising five children, including 9-year-old triplets and 12-year-old twins. “I visit them often,” Boll says, “and they spend a lot of time in Madison in the summer.”
When the families gather, that adds up to seven youngsters ranging in age from 9 to 12. “You can get a good five-on-five basketball game going pretty quickly,” Boll says.
Looking back, Boll says sports played an important part in his childhood, too. As a 13 year old he was just as eager to shoot hoops on a basketball court as he was to sit quietly in a courtroom watching a trial. The latter probably wouldn’t rate on most teenagers’ lists of favorite things to do for a couple of hours on a free afternoon.
“I guess I was just one of those fortunate people who found out early what I wanted to do in life,” Boll says. “There’s never been a day when I haven’t enjoyed being a lawyer.”