March 7, 2018 – Candidates for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s president-elect post are making their cases ahead of next month’s election. In this Q&A, Jill Kastner and Randall Nash highlight how they, if elected, would tackle the challenges facing the profession.
The State Bar president-elect, decided in April along with other leadership positions, serves a one-year term (starting in July) before serving a one-year term as president.
Nash (bio and platform statement) is a solo practitioner in Milwaukee. Kastner (bio and platform statement) is an attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin.
In your opinion, what makes a successful State Bar president?
Randall Nash: I have asked several people this same question. The answers have been interesting: Integrity, strong reputation, ability to bring people together, thoughtful, accomplished, a focus on getting things done. These all matter. My hope would be to inspire others to join in the activities of the bar.
My experiences on committees, at seminars, the board for Milwaukee Young Lawyers, or on the Board of Governors have been enjoyable and have even helped my practice. Private practice experience helps to understand the issues many State Bar members encounter in their practice. An appreciation for the issues faced by many attorneys in their practice is helpful. One goal would be to assist attorneys, to support them and provide competitive advantages wherever possible. A high level of competence would help to be an advocate for the members of the State Bar. Being a good listener with the ability to delegate and the humility to rely on others would be strengths. Be collegial and encourage members to be active in the bar.
Jill Kastner: The president is the voice of the State Bar and all Wisconsin-licensed lawyers. A successful president effectively uses the power of that voice to advocate for its members and for changes that make our justice system more effective, efficient and fair. This includes advocating for important issues such as access to justice, proper funding for the courts, adequate pay for our government lawyers and public defender appointments, promoting judicial independence, and enhancing public confidence in the justice system.
A successful president must also be a good administrator – keeping the bar focused on providing high-quality services to members and improving the administration of justice, while also exercising fiscal responsibility. The bar’s limited resources must be prioritized on essential and cost-effective programs that improve the lives and practices of our members. Our president must not be afraid to make changes that will improve existing programs or to cut inefficient programs to make room for new initiatives that will provide greater value to our members.
The State Bar has about 25,000 members, 24 sections, and four divisions. How can the State Bar best serve a membership with such diverse needs and different challenges?
Jill Kastner: The bar serves attorneys from different areas and backgrounds with diverse and dynamic practices both within and outside of Wisconsin. It is vital that the Bar remain focused on its strategic goals of (1) advancing the public trust and promoting a high-functioning justice system; (2) driving competitive advantages for our members; (3) making sustainable gains in access to justice; (4) promoting diversity and inclusion; and (5) ensuring strong fiscal management and economic growth to support our mission.
To best serve our members, the bar must be able to simultaneously advance its strategic goals for all of its members while also respecting the autonomy of its section and division boards. The elected officers and board members of our sections and divisions are in the best position to promote the interests of their members. Sections raise their own dues and should maintain the independence to use their funds to best benefit their members. Bar leaders must respect and utilize the knowledge of its section and division leaders to help meet the needs of all our members.
It is also very important that when appointing committees and task forces that the president makes careful and deliberate choices to make certain that different practice areas, stages of practice (age), geographic areas, and backgrounds are represented and have input as to the programs and initiatives the State Bar will offer.
Randall Nash: We have to listen to our members. With over 8,000 members in the sections, we must communicate with them and provide even more information on the services provided by the bar. The divisions have been very active and provide services that benefit us all. The bar should be sensitive to the challenges of private practice and the practice of our government lawyers. The challenges provide opportunities for the bar to focus its services and message.
I have been asked, “What does the State Bar do for me?” There is an increased focus at the State Bar to provide information on the services it has in place. Increased communication on the services provided by the bar would be helpful. Sometimes the communications need to be focused rather than so broad that they are overwhelming.
Some of the answers to that question are obvious. CLE seminars draw thousands of attendees each year. The annual conference provides CLE and networking opportunities. Legal research materials are available. The ethics hotline answers thousands of phone calls each year. We should be proud of our State Bar.
Suggestions from bar members are always welcome.
Other Officer Candidates
For information on the 2018 State Bar elections, visit the Elections Page.
Where do you see the future of the legal profession headed, and what can the State Bar do to best prepare its members for the future?
Randall Nash: There will be increased competition on those in private practice. Competition will not only be from nearby attorneys but from the Internet. There will be increased pressure to ask government lawyers to do more for less pay. The law will be more of a business and less of a calling.Technology will drive change. Online services should not be able to avoid regulation. Technology not only creates challenges but also creates opportunities. For example, many people and businesses check websites before hiring an attorney.
Recently there have been attacks on judicial independence. I expect this will continue. The State Bar specifically and lawyers generally need to speak up on the importance of independence for our judiciary. I am concerned that more needs to be done to convince the Legislature to provide the funding necessary for the administration of justice. For example, more law clerks for trial court judges. There has been some progress on pay levels for some government attorneys, but more is needed. The pay level for assigned attorneys is very wrong and needs to be addressed. The bar should be a strong advocate for change in these pay levels.
Jill Kastner: To serve our members, the Bar needs to be prepared to help lawyers understand and adapt to changes both in technology and the practice of law. The bar should continue to recognize our Legal Innovators and Wisconsin’s legal practice trends. It should also continue to provide assistance to members through Practice411 as they seek help with new technology and threats, such as electronic file management and cybersecurity.
Current trends also tell us that the way in which a client “shops” for an attorney and the type of service sought (limited scope / bundling) is evolving. The Bar needs to stay on top of these changes, keep its members informed and provide flexible and valued services that help Wisconsin lawyers be competitive in the evolving markets.
From Government Lawyers Division: What do you think the State Bar can do to better serve government lawyers?
Jill Kastner: The Bar needs to recognize and unequivocally support the important role of government lawyers in our bar, in our society and in the administration of justice. This is a challenging time for government lawyers as rising healthcare costs, stagnant salaries, increased public scrutiny, politicization and other issues cause some to feel under attack. In this time of dynamic changes, the Bar must advocate for government lawyers, as it did for pay progression. This includes proper pay for government lawyers and to keep independent attorney positions in government agencies.
The Bar must also work closely with the Government Lawyers Division to provide direct benefits such as CLE on retirement and financial planning specifically for government lawyers as well as programming for transitioning government lawyers.
Randall Nash: Many government attorneys must pay their own State Bar dues and CLE costs. More members of the State Bar should be aware of this expense, which impacts the salary of some of our public servants. In recognition of this expense, perhaps the State Bar could develop grants to provide some level of financial relief to government attorneys to assist with the costs of dues or CLE. The State Bar may be able to provide free CLE or less expensive CLE directed to government attorneys. The State Bar can advocate for pay levels which recognize the need for, and benefits provided by, government attorneys. Advocacy may be the most important service that can be provided by the State Bar.
Government attorneys are public servants who deserve more respect from society generally and the State Bar specifically. The State Bar should be at the front advocating for government attorneys. These concerns are shared by many attorneys in private practice, such as sole practitioners and small firm attorneys. The bar needs to be sensitive to the costs of being an attorney.
From Young Lawyers Division: What can we do to ease the divide/always-talked-about differences between Milwaukee/Madison and the rest of the state?
Randall Nash: The State Bar already does some things to involve the parts of the state that are not Madison or Milwaukee. For example, the annual meeting this year is in Lake Geneva, and in future years in Green Bay, Elkhart Lake, and Wisconsin Dells. Each year the Board of Governors holds two or three meetings outside of Madison. The bus tour in northern Wisconsin was a great idea and will be continued. Every third year we elect a President-elect from outside of Madison and Milwaukee. Our leadership often attends local bar association meetings. We should continue these efforts and be receptive to this issue.
I am concerned that legal needs are not being met in some of the most northern parts of our state. Many young people are drawn to the bigger cities, especially if they have large school debts. We need to encourage young attorneys to get real experience in underserved parts of the state while also coming up with practical solutions to help ease the financial burden of doing business in these areas.
Jill Kastner: The Bar must serve all members – urban and rural. To do that, the Bar cannot rely on good intentions alone. Instead, bar leaders and staff must take deliberate steps to ensure that its leadership and programming is balanced. One way the president can do that is through the appointment process. When appointing attorneys to serve on committees and task forces, it is important to consider where the attorney is from, the practice area, background, etc. A committee comprised of all Milwaukee/Madison attorneys or all big/medium firm attorneys will not give you the broad insights and perspectives needed to make the best decision. The people who decide where to devote Bar resources and what CLEs, conferences, and other programs should be done must be representative of our diverse membership.
From Young Lawyers Division: What is the Bar doing, and what more should it be doing, to help address the approaching retirement of the Baby Boom generation of attorneys? Specifically, how can the Bar help ensure that legal services for those retiring attorneys’ clients will transition to younger attorneys?
Jill Kastner: Currently, the Bar has the bus tour to encourage young lawyers to practice in our more rural areas – the idea being that they will take over the practices of retiring attorneys and ensure that our rural communities have access to legal representation and services.
Succession Planning: The Bar has developed materials to assist attorneys (young and old) with succession planning, including a registry. The Bar should continue to promote this program to aid in the orderly transition of cases where the attorney passes or is incapacitated.
End Emeritus Status for Practicing Attorneys: The Bar needs to petition the Supreme Court to end emeritus status for practicing attorneys. At age 70, attorneys can waive dues, Supreme Court assessments and CLE. With attorneys practicing and billing clients well into their 70s, 80s and beyond, it is irresponsible to waive the CLE requirement. It is also fiscally imprudent to allow practicing attorneys to stop paying dues and assessments at a time when our general membership is declining. I have no objection to emeritus status for attorneys who have transitioned their clients/cases to younger attorneys but want to stay active in the Bar and its committees. However, the rule must be changed so that all attorneys practicing law must continue to pay their dues and assessments and complete their CLE requirements.
Randall Nash: The Bar is very aware of the retirement of the baby boom generation. For the first time ever, we now have declining membership and that will continue until the two Wisconsin law schools increase the number of people graduating.
Some of the local bar associations have mentoring programs. These programs should be bolstered by the State Bar as a place where young lawyers could talk to older attorneys about clients transitioning when the older attorney retires. That is how some attorneys sell their practice. This would help ensure younger attorneys are in a position to take over previously successful client relationships while also receiving steady mentorship through the early years of their practice. The State Bar has always been and should continue to be an advocate of mentoring programs.
Perhaps the best activity for a young attorney would be to network and to be active in the bar. That is how we meet other attorneys. When I was a young attorney, I spoke at several seminars. I met other attorneys and talked to them about referring cases or other types of work. Like many marketing efforts, it took some time before it paid off. The most important activity is meeting other attorneys. They can be a great source of referrals and support. However, I am sensitive to the idea that younger attorneys are more pressed for time and finances than ever and the ability to attend, or volunteer to present, such seminars is difficult.
Finish this sentence in 30 words or less: I am the best person to lead the State Bar because….
Randal Nash: I hope to inspire others to join in the activities of the bar. My career in private practice gives me an appreciation and understanding for issues faced by many attorneys.
Jill Kastner: I am a passionate advocate with a proven track record for developing and implementing quality programs that provide value to our members and benefit our profession and our communities.