Vol. 76, No. 9, September
A Good Run:
Wisconsin Lawyer Looks Back on 75 Years
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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