Vol. 85, No. 4, April 2012
On Feb. 27, 2012, the Wisconsin Supreme Court closed another chapter of challenges to the integrated bar. The court rejected the notion of a SCR 10.10 commission to audit the performance of the State Bar and denied Petition 11-04 for a voluntary bar without further hearing. Although it has been 30 years since the court last ordered a SCR 10.10 performance audit, in the intervening years, State Bar performance concerning the membership and public purposes for which it is organized has been robust. While challenges remain, the fact that the State Bar is fulfilling the purposes for which it is organized is a matter more appropriate for judicial notice than for audit.
The last court-ordered 10.10 audit also arose in the context of a challenge to the integrated bar at a time when State Bar operations, governance, finances, and public service commitments had come under scrutiny by some members of the supreme court. That 10.10 audit outcome was positive, but the process revealed that State Bar leaders needed to be more proactive in educating the court and members about the Bar's operations, governance, finances, and public service.
Since then, State Bar financial operations have changed greatly, including the creation of a systematic annual budget process; a long-term financial plan, including investment and reserve policies; an audit committee to supplement the work of the annual external audit; and a strategic plan that is reviewed annually by the Board of Governors. Governance changes extended board membership to more nonresident lawyers, young lawyers, government lawyers, and senior lawyers. Revised bylaws allowed board chairs to build a more diverse board membership through liaisons with minority bar associations, clearly empowered the board in its policy-making role, and charged the executive committee with the management function. All these finance and governance changes allowed Bar leaders to better perform fiduciary and stewardship duties without general dues increases.
Member and public services that support lawyers have proliferated since the last audit. The Bar added a full-time staff position to coordinate pro bono resources in the delivery of legal services to Wisconsin's low-income residents. The State Bar ethics consultant became a full-time resource to our members. The Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP), the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP), and the Fastcase research tool help lawyers serve their clients.
One of the core public functions of a bar association is to improve the delivery of legal services to individuals. The State Bar of Wisconsin has long provided the leadership and vision necessary to increase access to justice. The State Bar's groundbreaking statewide access-to-justice study and "Justice Gap" report launched the first successful effort for state funding of civil legal services in 40 years. The supreme court responded to the State Bar's advocacy by establishing the Access to Justice Commission to carry forward the work of the Bar. At one time, access to justice held the attention of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government.
Had the supreme court ordered a SCR 10.10 performance audit of the State Bar, it would have learned, quite simply, that the State Bar is well executing the purposes for which it is organized. The court could then take comfort, as I do, in that pertinent bit of American wisdom: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."