June 13, 2019 – Jill Kastner was sworn in as the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 64th president last evening in Green Bay at the organization’s Annual Meeting and Conference, noting that her presidential year isn’t a spotlight for her personal successes as a lawyer-leader.
“It isn’t about me. It’s about you as members of the bar,” said Kastner, an attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She is the first women to lead the State Bar in a decade, and just the sixth woman president in the State Bar’s 64-year history.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack administered the oath of office, noting the State Bar president’s role in assisting the Wisconsin Court System in the administration of justice. The chief noted that State Bar presidents face challenges.
“It’s often been said and I believe it’s true: the ones who challenge us most, teach us best,” the chief said. “The court will be relying on your leadership, whatever your vision.”
Oshkosh attorneys Sherry Coley (emcee) and Jessica J. King spoke about Kastner, whose one-year term begins on July 1, 2019. They said Kastner, who was elected last year, is the right person to lead the membership of approximately 25,000 lawyers.
“Let her lead, and you will not be disappointed,” said King, a former Wisconsin Senator, Kastner’s college classmate at U.W.-Oshkosh, and longtime friend. Both were part of U.W.-Oshkosh’s national champion National Model United Nations teams in the 1990s.
presidents of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Front row, from
left: Patricia Ballman (2002-03); incoming President Jill Kastner
(2019-20); and President-elect Kathy Brost. Back row, from
left: Diane Diel (2008-09); Michelle Behnke (2004-05); and Susan Steingass
(1998-99). Missing from photo: Pamela Barker (1993-94).
Kastner thanked colleagues, friends and her family – her parents, siblings, her husband and two children – before discussing her role and her vision for the year ahead.
Kastner enters her presidential year at a challenging time for the State Bar as a mandatory organization. But Kastner, who graduated from UCLA Law School in 2000 and did high stakes intellectual property litigation in Silicon Valley for six years before returning to Wisconsin, said she is ready for the challenges the year will bring.
She mentioned her college professor at U.W. Oshkosh, the late Dr. Kenneth Grieb, who taught and mentored many students through the National Model United Nations competition. Kastner’s U.W.-Oshkosh team won nationals all four years.
Kastner said she learned a valuable lesson back then. In her freshman year, she outdueled the Model United Nations competition at regionals with a cutthroat approach, rather than the diplomatic strategy that her mentor, Dr. Grieb, had taught them.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Chieft Justice Patience Roggensack (right) administered the oath of office, noting the State Bar president’s role in assisting the Wisconsin Court System in the administration of justice.
“It was my first year of competition. I had just gotten my resolution passed – not through that negotiation stuff he had taught us about. But I’d won,” Kastner noted.
“So what if I’d made people upset doing it. He didn’t agree. And as he was berating me about my many failings, he said four words that I have never forgotten, ‘it’s not about you.’ Simple, profound words. I remember my 19 year old self hearing his wise words and thinking to myself ‘Old man, you have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
“Fast forward a couple decades and people are asking me about ‘my year” and ‘my plan.’ Let me be clear, it’s not about me. It’s about you, as members of the bar.”
Kastner said she will explore how the bar can better serve the members so they can better serve their clients, and she wants to ensure that lawyers who may be struggling get the help they need before an issue becomes a problem.
“It’s also about the priorities of the State Bar,” she said. “Increasing access to justice, promoting a high-functioning justice system, ensuring a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and driving competitive advantage for our members and the organization.”
Several past presidents of the State Bar attended the swearing-in ceremony to support Jill Kastner.
Let’s Get to Work
Kastner said Wisconsin took a big step toward increasing access to justice and promoting a high functioning justice system by increasing private bar public defender rates and other court funding, which are longstanding State Bar priorities.
“Now let’s get to work building upon this success and bridging the justice gap by getting younger attorneys to practice in our more rural and underserved counties, particularly in our more northern Counties,” Kastner said. “Let’s also work to get more funding for civil legal services and expand the number of pro bono hours lawyers provide to low income individuals. To improve our justice system, the bar needs to work hand in hand with our courts to ensure there is adequate funding, staffing and security.”
“To promote diversity and inclusion, we will continue the great work of our Leadership Summit and Academy, both designed to train young lawyers from diverse geographic areas, practice settings, and backgrounds to be future leaders of the bar,” she said.
Several family members and friends attended the presidential swearing-in ceremony for Jill Kastner.
She noted the State Bar’s board is actively implementing action plans to prevent sexual harassment in the legal profession, and to promote diversity and inclusion. Starting July 1, four of the State Bar’s six highest officers are women, and three are people of color.
“This did not happen by chance. This does not mean we have accomplished our goal, it just means we are moving in the right direction,” Kastner said.
“But there is still work to do. There are still many members who do not feel that the bar provides value to them – rural lawyers, government lawyers, solos … already the Bar is redoubling its efforts to bring more services, including WisLAP, ethics, and Practice 411, to our more northern counties – instead of expecting them to come to Madison.”
Kastner said the State Bar staff is working with sections and divisions, including the Solo Small Firm & General Practice Section and the Government Lawyers Division, to improve programming and work jointly to ensure the State Bar is providing value.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
“This is too much work for any one person,” Kastner said. “This is why we have dozens of volunteers from across the state and even non-resident lawyers who are working together to serve their fellow lawyers.”
“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to help lead the bar forward over the next 12 months. I am looking forward to working together with all of you, so that we can build on our successes and continue the important work of serving our members.”
Kastner succeeds outgoing President Christopher Rogers, who will continue a one-year service to the State Bar as an immediate-past president. Rogers said serving as State Bar president is the “singular highlight of his professional career.”
Rogers said he’s excited about the year ahead because “Jill Kastner is going to be an unbelievable State Bar president.”