Originally published in Wisconsin Lawyer Vol. 76, No. 3
Association adopts first minimum fee schedule in 1929
To celebrate its 75th anniversary, throughout 2003 the Wisconsin Lawyer will include "From the Archives," a monthly column devoted to lively snippets from past issues. Material is quoted directly and attributed when the contributor is known. More in-depth coverage of the magazine's publishing history will appear in September, as part of the State Bar's 125th anniversary celebration this year.
July 1928, at 118: At the Madison convention, Mr. A.W. MacLeod, supreme court clerk, presented a fee schedule that he compiled from 19 local bar associations, a portion of which is presented here. That compilation gave the range of fees in each category and eventually led to the promulgation of the first recommended statewide minimum fee schedule, which the Association formally adopted in June 1929. The minimum fee schedule saw several revisions until its demise in 1973 following a U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust investigation on fixed fees.
Minimum fees had a great impact on the economics of law practice; lawyers were keenly aware of the profession's poor economics, which was made more uncertain by clients who shopped for the lowest fees.
In his "History of the Organized Bar in Wisconsin," Phil Habermann wrote, "[T]he adoption of fee schedules by the bar association were, in light of the times and conditions, both es-sential and useful. The sad state of the bar economics..., fraught with nonbusinesslike practices and lack of record keeping, made the publication of the fee schedule ... timely and helpful."
To catch a thief
Jan. 1930, at 61:"District Attorney Paul B. Conley of Lafayette County staged a fake 'hold-up' last fall for the purpose of getting a confession from a prisoner in the county jail. According to prearrangements, two detectives held up a storekeeper at Argyle. The supposed victim gave the alarm, a pursuit followed, and the two supposed 'holdup artists' were arrested and placed in the county jail, along with the other prisoner. They began to be confidential about their crimes, boasting of what they had done, and it was not long before the other prisoner chimed in with a history of his own wrongdoing. Meanwhile a court reporter was lying on the floor outside the cell, taking notes. A confession followed."
Destroying gambling by slot machines
Jan. 1930, at 20: "County Judge Leicht, of Marathon County, recently ordered that slot machines confiscated by the deputy sheriff be destroyed and the money in the machines be sequestered until the owners came for it. It is believed that destroying gambling devices, confiscating the money, and fining the owners, where found, form a combination of events which may well go a long way toward breaking the slot machine method of gambling in this county."
Ambulance chasing investigation decreases litigation in Milwaukee
Jan. 1930, at 8: "At the beginning of the fall term of the Milwaukee court, the calendar clerk reported only 943 jury cases against 1,139 last year, and 606 equity cases as against 889 the previous fall. The chief reason given for the sharp reduction in the number of cases pending was the recent ambulance chasing investigation, followed by disbarment actions against prominent attorneys. It is said that this has caused lawyers to be wary about beginning personal injury suits that have little or no merit."
April 1930, at 92: "Judge T.C. Martin, 86, Waukesha, oldest city clerk in Wisconsin, entered another of his many political campaigns as unopposed candidate for reelection. He entered public life in 1872. He is the only living member of the bar in this section who was admitted to the state bar without passing the usual state bar examination, enacted by the legislature after he was admitted."
And wipe off that spray of legal verbiage
April 1930, at 112: Milwaukee Bar Association members commented upon suggestions made by Judge George Thompson, Hudson, who said that "lawyers spray 'legal verbiage' not wisely but too well. Judge Thompson's advice to the lawyers was to state their cases in short, concise English terms that juries can easily understand." Walter Bender said it had been his experience that "lawyers 'do get down to business' in stating their cases to juries because they find that is the best way to make a good impression upon the jurors. George Affeldt scouted the idea that lawyers are long winded, popular opinion not-withstanding."
What's up with that?
July 1930, at 177: "Judge S.B. Schein of Madison recently ordered all tree sitters in Madison down, on the grounds that sitting in a tree for days at a time will bring serious physical injury to any child and that this is a violation of Sec. 48.01 of the statutes, this being a part of the Children's Code."
Christmas spirit pervades courts
Jan. 1930, at 42: "On a cold and wintry day early in December when ice and snow covered the streets and pavements outside, a Christmas spirit seemed to pervade the civil court room of Judge Michael Blenski, Milwaukee. He announced a recess, and from his bench addressed attorneys in the room, asking them not to start any unlawful detainer cases until after the Christmas holidays, and also asked them not to garnishee wages,
"'You need the money for your clients,' Judge Blenski spoke. 'Landlords need money for taxes and insurance. But poor working people shouldn't be driven from their homes just now. ... You lawyers can wait a little longer for your money. Don't garnishee wages. Don't evict tenants.'
"A withered, gray man of sixty trembling rose from his seat in the rear of the courtroom. His faded winter overcoat was buttoned tightly about his thin, shrinking body. He had been out of work for many months. His rent was long overdue, his wife and children are cold and hungry. He beamed as he walked toward the judge to thank him.
"All the other Civil Court Judges made similar requests to the attorneys."
It's a dirty job, but nobody wants to do it
July 1931, at 168: "E.L. Risberg, municipal judge at Cumberland, declined to seek reelection last spring, but was reelected by voters who wrote his name in on the ballot. He refused to qualify for the office because it interfered with his growing law practice. No other lawyer would accept the appointment and the bench of this court still awaits an occupant."
Reduced railway fares to Superior convention
April 1931, at 70: "Application has been made for special rates of one and one-half fare for the round trip over all railroads. ... The very reasonable rates under this plan, which is known as the 'certificate' plan, are illustrated by the following: Madison to Superior, and return, $18.03; Milwaukee to Superior, and return, $20.07; Janesville $20.13; Beloit $20.87. Train schedules are convenient. Those leaving from Milwaukee and other southern points in the state can probably go most conveniently by way of Madison, leaving there at 9:25 p.m., arriving at Superior at 7:40 the next morning." Attendance at the Superior convention was reported to be about 350 members and guests, "which was splendid considering the distance of Superior from the center of the lawyer population of the state."