Nov. 6, 2019 – Kathleen Brost admits she started her solo practice with no clue of what it took to be successful.
In 2004, Brost began her solo practice with no experience in managing a firm or practicing in litigation. In fact, coming from a corporate practice, she had no idea that it would take so much time each day to simply handle administrative tasks.
Brost, however, wasn’t deterred. Instead, she turned to the State Bar for help – from the members of the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section and the seminars at the Solo & Small Firm Conference during its early days in Milwaukee.
“There was so much that I didn’t know,” she said. “And so much that I learned, thanks to them.”
With this help, she went on to build a thriving practice, counseling clients nationwide (in particular, fraternal benefit societies) on tax and insurance-related issues.
“I started from scratch,” Brost said. “I worked out of my house – I was a true solo for about 12 years.”
Her experience led to connections with other solo and small-practice lawyers in Wisconsin – and to more than a decade of dedicated work on her part to help them thrive.
“I wanted to give back for all the assistance I received when I started out as a solo attorney,” Brost said.
Service to the Solo and Small-Firm Lawyers
Past Recipients of the John F. Lederer Service Award
Brost is the 2019 recipient of the section’s John Lederer Distinguished Service Award.
The award is presented annually to an individual, group, or organization exemplifying the late John Lederer’s leadership, spirit, and dedication. Nominees must show leadership in furthering the mission of the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference: to educate and support solo and small-firm lawyers as they practice law, manage their businesses, and enjoy their lives.
Nominations are evaluated on showing continued, selfless service to projects, efforts, or organizations of benefit to solo and small-firm practitioners across Wisconsin.
“This year, the award goes to someone who not only exemplifies the values of John Lederer, but who does so in such a graceful, sincere, accessible, and honest way, that she inspired confidence and leadership in everyone around her,” said Kate Knowlton, section chair. “Kathy forms relationships that are not only productive, but fun.”
Section board member Shannon Wynn chaired the award committee, which was advised by former board member Nancy Trueblood.
“I can think of few others who fit the criteria of this award so perfectly,” Trueblood said. "Kathy is a dedicated lawyer, CLE speaker and State Bar leader, but she also models for others how to balance that dedication with the rest of life.”
Making a Real Impact
Brost, in addition to being State Bar president-elect, is now an officer at the Legacy Private Trust Company in Neenah. She worked as a solo attorney 2004-15 after working about 12 years as in-house counsel for Aid Association for Lutherans (now part of Thrivent Financial).
Her experience prompted her dedication to the section and the conference, and to helping out solo lawyers. “And the volunteer work gave me the collegial interaction that you don’t have as a solo attorney,” she said. The interactions also were a great source of tips for running a practice.
Brost has been immersed for more than a decade in serving on the section’s board – as chair (2015-17) – and on the planning committee for the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference. “I love the conference,” she said. “I think it’s one of the better events run by the State Bar.”
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
She was involved in the inception of the CLE seminar Business School for Lawyers, the Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force, and on committees and task forces researching rural practice and succession planning.
“We were trying to come up with better procedures to help attorneys,” she said.
And it wasn’t so long ago that she also served on the award committee.
“These past winners were very involved in volunteering and making a real impact on attorneys in solo and small firms across the state,” she said. “To be considered on that same level – is amazing. I’m very honored.”
Her recommendations to all new and solo or small-firm attorneys: Get involved. “It’s important to give back and contribute to the profession, and it’ll really boost your practice. And the camaraderie you get out of it pays for itself. You’ll meet lifelong friends.”
Looking Ahead: The Greater Wisconsin Initiative Task Force
Coming up soon is her year as State Bar president, beginning July 1, 2020. She is already drawing on her background to take steps toward a solution to a difficult problem: that attorneys are becoming more scarce in areas outside of Milwaukee, Madison, and the Fox River Valley.
“We need to reverse this trend,” she said.
She has formed the Greater Wisconsin Initiative Work Group, consisting of lawyers in counties outside the metropolitan areas of Wisconsin. “We will talk about the issues and about how to fix them,” she said. “We want to continue to help these attorneys across the state.”