Between the influences of family, 12 years of Catholic education, and many other experiences, I have learned that giving time to worthwhile causes is its own reward. All have helped me prepare for my term as State Bar of Wisconsin president.
Over the years, I have watched the State Bar grow and improve. I can say without exception that the staff, some of whom have been with the organization for many years, are dedicated, have members’ best interests at heart, and deserve a tremendous amount of praise for an outstanding job. Larry Martin will ably continue the work of the handful of executive directors who preceded him.
One issue I want to focus on is lawyers committing to public service on a greater scale. I have been involved in several cases in which governmental laws and regulations have figured prominently and have seen the effects on individuals of regulations and laws that are not well thought out. I have also observed that not many lawyers are involved in government.
Ones who have include my late senior partner, Jack Steinhilber, who was a state senator while maintaining a robust law practice; Jon Wilcox, also a state senator who maintained a full-time practice; Tom Barrett, who became a congressman and is now mayor of Milwaukee; and Peg Lautenschlager, who was in the legislature and then Wisconsin Attorney General. A former associate, Jessica King, ended up going from the Oshkosh Common Council to the Wisconsin Senate.
Very few lawyers today seem willing to run for public office; only a handful of lawyers are in the legislature. Our political process suffers as a result.
Lawyers are trained advocates but also understand that compromise is needed. We are trained to negotiate solutions, based on each position’s relative strengths and weaknesses. We are bipartisan in one sense of that word, representing opposing views.
During my term, I will encourage members to get involved as civic and political leaders. It is vital for lawyers to both make a living and help shape society. We are well trained at solving problems. Young lawyers should run for public office or get involved as leaders of civic organizations. Engagement builds a law practice, helps achieve name recognition, and provides experience in working with many people from all walks of life.
Laws and regulations,
no matter their purpose,
must be clear and focused
so that those who enforce
them, and the people who
live under them, know
what they say.
And there are the “perfectly good retired lawyers,” in the zenith of their career but with tremendous amounts of energy to expend, who can get involved on the larger political stage. We need to reenergize our grass-roots efforts at organizing the membership to influence the process. We know our local elected officials, or we should. We are their constituents and have a unique voice.
I am not asking you to be partisan with respect to any particular piece of legislation but to take a broader view of the legislative process. Laws and regulations, no matter their purpose, must be clear and focused so that those who enforce them, and the people who live under them, know what they say. Too often, laws are passed and regulations imposed without much thought to potential unforeseen consequences.
You will hear about grass-roots efforts to encourage civic and community involvement and may be asked to step forward to educate, inform, and persuade those who legislate the laws.
Together, we can effectuate respect and understanding for the law.