Originally published in Wisconsin Lawyer Vol. 76, No.9
A Good Run:
Join us as the Wisconsin Lawyer celebrates 75 years in print - from our debut in September 1927 to the present. Explore the path we traveled to bring readers a nationally acclaimed, professional journal.
This is not your usual Wisconsin Lawyer article. It contains no practice tips, no updates on laws or court decisions, and no discussions of quandaries currently facing attorneys and their profession. On these few pages, Wisconsin Lawyer is presenting an article about ... Wisconsin Lawyer.
It seems only fitting, considering that the magazine reached its 75th anniversary last September. We held off celebrating this historic milestone until this year to coincide with the activities marking the State Bar of Wisconsin's 125th anniversary.
This is our chance to tell the story behind this publication, which faithfully lands in your mailbox or in-basket every month. Allow us to boast just a bit, too, as we're proud of the reputation Wisconsin Lawyer has earned in the bar publishing world.
"The Wisconsin Lawyer is an award-winning magazine, and it's recognized for being a leader," notes Danial Kim, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, and formerly deputy executive director of the State Bar of Michigan. "I think other state and local bars look to this magazine for how they can do a better job on their publications. I know when I was at the State Bar of Michigan, Wisconsin Lawyer was one of the magazines we looked to and respected very much."
Elevating the magazine to its current stature hasbeen a long process contributed to by many people. Significant among them are the numerous readers who over the years have contributed letters and editorials, been interviewed for articles, written articles and columns themselves, or served on the editorial board. Without their input, we'd have no magazine.
"In my tenure on the editorial board," says Madison attorney Robert Petershack, the editorial board's past-chair and a board member since 1996, "I've been happily surprised at the quality of the submissions we get from volunteers, mostly. It's amazing to me that a magazine that relies so heavily on volunteers is able to consistently produce the high-quality work we produce." In fact, the high quality of legal scholarship evident in substantive articles is recognized by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Board of Bar Examiners (BBE). The BBE, under a Supreme Court Rule effective July 1, 1992, may approve CLE credit for up to 15 hours of actual article preparation time.
So how did Wisconsin Lawyer grow and mature into what it is today? Let the story unfold.
Changing Faces and Formats
The idea of starting a magazine first surfaced at least as early as 1911, when Bar leaders broached the subject. Back then, members received their bound volumes of the proceedings of the association's annual meetings, at a cost of $1, including all meeting minutes, speeches, and so on. But those proceedings appeared only once a year. A journal published in between could help keep members informed and connected.
Philip Habermann, in A History of the Organized Bar in Wisconsin, 1986, sums up that 1911 effort to launch a magazine with two words: "Nothing happened." Additional attempts to get something rolling in 1919 and on into the 1920s met the same fate, purportedly because the Bar couldn't afford the expense.
Enter Gilson Glasier. He'd already taken on the duties, for which he received a small stipend, of serving as the Bar's secretary-treasurer and transforming his office into an unofficial Bar headquarters - as a sideline to his regular full-time job as state law librarian. In 1927, Glasier stepped up to assume yet another task: editing a Bar magazine that would appear four times a year. To cover the costs, he solicited advertising revenues (see the accompanying sidebar, "Earliest Advertisers"). The first issue emerged that September, and Glasier continued as editor for 22 years.
In 1949, a few months after Habermann became the Bar's first full-time executive secretary (following integration in 1957, he became the Bar's first executive director), he also took on the duties of magazine editor - besides those of administrator, lobbyist, convention planner, training coordinator, investment manager, and numerous others.
In 1974 the Bar hired its first full-time communications coordinator, Paul Jaeger. Habermann retained the title of magazine editor, a practice followed by succeeding executive directors until late 1980. But Jaeger was the person primarily responsible for producing the magazine - editing, design, proofreading - as well as writing press releases and performing other communications tasks.
When Jaeger left in 1979, Joyce (Birrenkott) Hastings took over his duties. She's been at the magazine's helm ever since under various titles, currently as Bar communications director and Wisconsin Lawyer editor. Hastings also serves as staff liaison to the State Bar Communications Committee, which functions as the magazine's editorial board. Notes Oshkosh attorney Alyson Zierdt, a veteran editorial board member, "One constant the whole time I was on the board was Joyce. She is the consummate professional."
That high regard extends beyond the Bar's own. In 2002, Hastings received from her bar publishing peers across the country one of their most prestigious awards, the E.A. "Wally" Richter Leadership Award from the Communications Section of the National Association of Bar Executives.
Just as the names behind the scenes have changed, so has the name of the magazine itself. Dubbed in 1927 as the Bulletin of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin, it became the Wisconsin Bar Bulletin in 1949. Forty years later, a new name, the current one, emerged on the scene, accompanied by some understandable skepticism from readers. "A lot of lawyers had grown up with it being the Bar Bulletin," observes Marna Tess-Mattner, who has served as a Board of Governors liaison and Communications Committee member. "To date, you'll hear lawyers referring to the Bar Bulletin, even though there's been no such entity for 14 years."
Nonetheless, the editorial board deemed a new name necessary. "One of our concerns as I recall," Tess-Mattner says, "was that 'bulletin' implied more of a newsletter or digest type of publication. In the late 1980s, the direction the magazine was heading was to provide greater service to lawyers by including more in-depth articles." Hence, the first issue of Wisconsin Lawyer made its debut in January 1989.
The magazine's publishing frequency shifted from quarterly to bimonthly in 1952 and then to monthly in 1977, during Jaeger's tenure. This move "reflected a need by attorneys for more current information," Jaeger explains. "In the 1970s the pace was stepping up, across society and in the legal profession."
More frequent publishing allowed the magazine's content to be more timely. This step also served to incorporate into the magazine the Wisbar Newsletter, Supreme Court Digest, and the Legislative Bulletin, previously published separately. Pulling them together saved money and allowed all four publications to continue during tight financial times. (The newsletter, with its focus on association news, separated out again in 1982, and still exists today as Inside the Bar.)
To facilitate the merger of publications in 1977, the magazine also was reformatted. It grew from its original 6" x 9" size, once common among trade and professional magazines, to the current 8.5" x 11", and then from 1979 to 1981 it shrunk to an odd 6.5" x 9.75" size, which proved to be unpopular with advertisers. A standard quarter-page ad that worked in other magazines didn't fit with the odd proportions of Wisconsin Lawyer. Soon the 8.5" x 11" dimensions returned to stay.
Another feature that has undergone numerous transformations over the decades is the magazine's cover. Early covers simply included type. The August through December 1957 issues sported the first cover photographs, depicting progress of construction of the then-new Bar Center on W. Wilson Street in Madison. After that, cover photographs, often showing courthouses and law office buildings around the state, were a regular design feature. This marked an early step to boost the visual appeal of the magazine, right from the reader's first glance. It was only the beginning.
Between the Covers
As the outside look of the magazine changed, so did its inside pages, in terms of both appearance and content. In the early years, readers encountered page upon page filled with dense type. The only visual variety was in type size - bigger for subheadings and titles. No graphics graced the pages other than an occasional illustration in an advertisement.
Still, the look of the magazine's pages at any given time probably was considered good for its day. Page design evolved gradually over the years, hitting an accelerated pace in the late 1970s. Ripon attorney and former Bar president Steven Sorenson served on the Bar's Communication Committee from 1978 to 1990, and he remembers the major revamping of the magazine undertaken from 1979 to 1981. "We said, 'Let's take this from a stodgy magazine,'" Sorenson recalls, "'to something that can really communicate to our members and give them a useful tool.'" The overhaul resulted in more inside art, increased advertising revenues, and a greater emphasis on serving members' information needs (more on how this has evolved in a bit).
Today, illustrations, use of color, more eye-catching layouts, and other graphic design elements - all facilitated by computer technology - are key components of the magazine. These amount to much more than mere eye candy, Zierdt says.
"As a reader," she says, "I appreciate that there's more attention to physical appearance, such as the use of white space, headings and subheadings, and placement of art. The magazine is certainly more reader-friendly than it was when I started practice 22 years ago. You can home in more easily on what's important to you."
So what were members reading about in the magazine's early decades? Much of the material filling the pages related to Bar activities - summaries of annual conventions, board of governor and committee meetings, and so on. Local bar associations also reported their news.
Filling a huge chunk of the magazine back then were blurbs about individual attorneys and judges - reports on who had bought a home, suffered an appendicitis attack, returned from a trip to Europe, and the like. Personal interests and quirks also got lots of attention. For instance, July 1928 entries report that Judge R.A. Richards of Sparta "has gained a reputation as a weather prophet," and that Judge Frank Carter of Eagle River had a sideline as a magician and ventriloquist, performing for friends in his home-basement theater. These personal items gradually shifted to being more professionally focused (a forerunner of today's "In the News" section), but announcements of such events as weddings and serious illnesses persisted into the late 1940s.
An article, "What a Client Expects of His Lawyer," appeared in the February 1949 issue, a reprint from the Missouri Bar Journal. In the introduction, the author decried the lack of information in legal publications about "practical questions." But his article, he stated, would present precisely that.
The appearance of this and similar articles signaled a shift in the Wisconsin Bar Bulletin's approach in 1949, under Habermann's direction. Articles offering practical guidance or discussing vital everyday concerns of lawyers began to fill the magazine. Rarely were these written specifically for the Bulletin. Most were reprints of speeches presented at state and local bar meetings, or articles from other legal journals.
Thus began a new era in the magazine's content. It shifted to providing more information that was directly related to lawyers' ever-changing information needs and concerns. (For a rundown on content over the years, see the sidebar "What They Were Reading Then.")
But even with this turn to more practical information in the 1950s, the vast majority of articles still were drawn from speeches delivered at Bar meetings or reprints from other journals. With the 1979-81 revamping, mentioned earlier, the editorial content swung more toward articles written specifically for the magazine. "We wanted to disseminate new, useful information," Sorenson points out, "not just rehash what had already been out there for a while."
This bent toward fresh, up-to-date, practical information persists to the present. The current focus, however, stretches beyond just nuts-and-bolts information about practicing law, points out Madison attorney James Peterson, current chair of the magazine's editorial board. "We also publish articles that deal with the values and purposes of the law profession," he says.
One example he cites is a recent article about the USA Patriot Act and the potential risks it poses to civil liberties. "I guarantee that fewer than 10 percent of our members actually need to know about the Patriot Act because of their livelihood," Peterson says. "But I think it's part of being a responsible attorney, of being familiar with the law, our Constitution, and our form of government."
Marquette University Law School professor Daniel Blinka, who coauthors the monthly court digests in Wisconsin Lawyer, believes the magazine fills a gap in the legal literature. "If you pick up a copy of a law review, you find that the articles tend to be long and arcane," he says. "And I'm standing in the middle of a glass house here throwing bricks, because I've written a few of those myself. What I value in Wisconsin Lawyer is that it gives readers timely articles that address, in a succinct, readable way, the issues of interest to practitioners and the courts."
In the late 1960s, Madison attorney Daniel Hildebrand began delivering an annual speech at a Dane County Bar Association meeting in which he highlights what he believes were the most important Wisconsin Supreme Court and (since 1978) Wisconsin Court of Appeals decisions in the prior 12 months.
"Phil Habermann attended one of my speeches," Hildebrand recalls, "and said that he thought it would be a great idea to publish the speech in the Bulletin." Hildebrand consented, and in 1977 his article became a regular annual feature. It still runs today, making Hildebrand one of Wisconsin Lawyer's longest-running regular contributors.
"Joyce [Hastings] tells me it's a very popular, well-read article," he says. "That's why I take the time to do it - to be of service to the members of the Bar."
Out of the hundreds of appellate cases decided each year, how does Hildebrand choose just a few to highlight? "Actually, it's fairly easy," he explains. "I look at those decisions that either change the law or are based on public policy that would be of interest to lawyers in general."
To this day, he also continues to give his annual speech to the Dane County Bar Association, in response to popular demand. The key difference between his speech and his annual contribution to Wisconsin Lawyer, he says, is that "my article doesn't tell the great jokes I have in my speech."
Another regular contributor for many years was Arnold LeBell, who from 1975 through 1986 compiled a monthly digest of Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions. After LeBell retired, Marquette University Law School professors Daniel Blinka and Thomas Hammer took on the task, continuing to the present.
"Our approach," Blinka says, "is to summarize the cases in a way that's helpful to the practicing lawyer - to answer the question, 'Should I read this, and do I need to look at it now?' These are not intended to be analytical critiques or exhaustive summaries." The full text of each decision is available on the WisBar Web site.
Each month, Blinka and Hammer summarize all supreme court decisions, and they usually select a dozen or so of the roughly 30 cases on average each month that the court of appeals orders published. For the latter, "What we look for," Blinka explains, "are cases in which the court of appeals grappled with novel issues, or tried to generate some consistency among what lower courts were doing. Or maybe the court reached out to a different state for a solution to a legal problem."
Timeliness is essential so that readers learn about the decisions as soon as possible. If the courts' published decisions land on Blinka's and Hammer's desks at the end of June, for instance, they have less than two weeks to read all those decisions and prepare their digests to get them in the August Wisconsin Lawyer. "So we drop everything," Blinka says, "and focus our attention on that."
Lawyers who because of the nature of their practices need information sooner on court decisions can always go to the WisBar Web site for instant access. "It's not like they have to sit around wringing their hands waiting on Blinka and Hammer," Blinka says.
But for most attorneys, the monthly synopses provide all they need. "Many lawyers have told me over the years that they rely on the digests as a way to keep up," Blinka says. "In fact, I've talked to several lawyers who say they clip out our digest entries and file them by area of law."
A much more recent regular monthly contributor to arrive in Wisconsin Lawyer is George Brown, who writes a column called "Inside the Bar." It debuted in July 2000, the first issue published after Brown became executive director. "As your new executive director," he wrote back then, "one of my ongoing responsibilities is communicating with you. This column is but one method."
In urging Brown to go ahead with his new column idea, the editorial board felt it would be helpful for members to hear directly from the person running the association day-to-day. "Unless they're actively involved in Bar activities," notes board member Tess-Mattner, "members don't have a clue who the executive director is and what he does. This makes him visible to everyone, instead of just being a faceless name."
Counting among the magazine's regulars, of course, are the dozens of Bar presidents who have written the monthly "President's Page," a standard feature since 1949. In addition to functioning as a barometer on issues affecting the profession and association, presidents' columns reveal the authors' personalities and concerns. For example, Richard E. Sommer (president, 1979-80) passed on writing a monthly column, saying "No one reads it anyway." And who could forget Donald L. Heaney's (1985-86) cozy fireside chats or Gary L. Bakke's (2000-01) heartfelt columns on dealing with depression?
And appearing every year since February 1989 is the annual Wisconsin Lawyer Directory, listing contact information for all Bar members, plus information on courts, state offices, the Bar association, and more. The Directory now serves as the magazine's January issue each year, and survey respondents consistently rank it among the top three most highly valued Bar resources.
The Journey Continues
As you've seen, Wisconsin Lawyer always has been - and still is - a constantly evolving creation. The process of shaping and reshaping the magazine relies heavily on reader feedback, whether from formal surveys or casual comments. What will the ever-evolving Wisconsin Lawyer look like in the future, in terms of content, format, and editorial approach? Time and readers' needs will tell.
"As the legal profession gets more specialized," points out editorial board chair Peterson, "it's more difficult to identify topics and articles that are of interest to the entire readership. The profession is a lot of different professions, not just one."
How will the magazine's print and online versions (the latter available since 1997) interrelate in the future? Could the online magazine offer expanded content that doesn't fit in the print magazine's limited space?
"We often get articles that are excellent," Peterson says, "but we feel they don't appeal to the broad range of readership." Such articles, aimed at niche segments of the profession, perhaps could be placed in the online Wisconsin Lawyer, which has no space restrictions.
Will the day come when the Wisconsin Lawyer Directory is available only online, rather than as the 700-plus pages of print? In the last readership survey in 1998, 58 percent of responding lawyers said that even if the Directory were available online, they'd still want a print copy. That response may change in coming years. Similarly, readers' expectations about the print and online versions of Wisconsin Lawyer itself will evolve.
Whatever form it takes, Wisconsin Lawyer will continue to play a key role in fulfilling lawyers' information needs and enhancing their relationship with the State Bar. "With today's pace of life and law practice," notes ABA's Kim, "there isn't as much personal interaction anymore among bar members. So the value members get from a bar association in large part comes from things they receive, like a monthly magazine. Having a top-notch publication like Wisconsin Lawyer contributes to members staying connected with the Bar and feeling they're part of a group. It's almost as if the magazine is more of a joining force for the Bar than it was before."
Former State Bar executive director Steve Smay, who now works for Loislaw, agrees. He sees many state and local bars' newsletters and magazines from around the U.S. Wisconsin Lawyer stands out as one of the most professional, and Smay says that conveys a message.
"For a lot of members, the magazine is the only contact they have with their Bar association," he says. "And that's also the case for other people around the country who are in the bar business. The Wisconsin Lawyer is the part of the State Bar of Wisconsin that everybody sees."