Vol. 84, No. 6, June 2011
Local bar associations create the local courthouse culture. When judges attend the local bar gatherings, not only do lawyers and judges get a chance to talk outside the courthouse, but business gets done. For example, in a county in which judges had not attended local bar meetings for some time, a process issue had been festering. But when judges attended a meeting, they said, let’s get this settled, and 20 minutes later, the problem was resolved. I’ve seen lawyers and judges hash out disputes over a beer, get the issues behind them, and move on.
Working out issues and working together to create public service projects or provide pro bono opportunities in the courthouse result in more efficient courts and create direct benefits to the public. The State Bar cannot do these activities. The State Bar can and does, however, provide resources to local bars to help them improve programming for their members and the public. This service to local bar associations is one of the State Bar’s many purposes set forth in the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules.
In April, 51 lawyers representing 33 local and specialty bar associations from across the state met at the State Bar Center in Madison for a day-long Wisconsin Bar Leaders’ Conference. Bar leaders learned how to create new pro bono public service projects while protecting their members from liability and potential conflicts and how to clearly define the lawyer-client relationship in these settings. They also learned about how to use these projects to help their members improve their time-management skills and cope with compassion fatigue and about ethical conflicts that can arise from volunteering, whether it is service on a volunteer board or representing nonprofit clients.
Local bar leaders also learned about the State Bar’s panoply of services and opportunities, from online services, to Web hosting, to start-up grants for public service projects, to providing technical support for strategic planning and organizational services. Attendees received another valuable benefit: the connections made with people who become additional resources for ideas, new perspectives, or just an ear when times get tough. Everyone had two scheduled opportunities to get to meet and know a little about each other and their bar association through a speed networking program, followed by break-out sessions organized by bar association size, where experienced bar leaders led discussions on the challenges facing bar leaders and the successes they enjoyed.
On one of the nicest Fridays in weeks, everyone stayed for the entire program because they were dedicated to making their bar association even better. We look forward to seeing your bar president-elect at the 2012 Wisconsin Bar Leaders Conference.