Sign In
  • InsideTrack
  • October 21, 2020

    Working to Promote Lawyer Well-Being in Wisconsin

    Oct. 21, 2020 – Major players within Wisconsin’s legal community have come together to address an important issue: the health and well-being of Wisconsin lawyers.

    Recently, a Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being was formed to address and recommend how Wisconsin’s legal community can better address substance abuse and mental health issues that affect lawyers, members of a stressful profession.

    The task force includes members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and State Bar of Wisconsin leadership, judges, representatives from regulatory agencies, specialty bars, the law schools, solo, small, and large firm practioners, corporate counsel, public defenders and prosecutors, and others with an interest in keeping lawyers healthy.

    La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Todd Bjerke is the chair of the task force. He talked with the State Bar recently to provide an update on the task force’s work.

    Lawyer Well-Being is a Priority

    In 2016, a landmark study revealed that members of the legal professional have higher rates of substance abuse and mental health issues than the general population.

    That led to the formation of a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which released a report in 2017 with recommendations to address and improve lawyer well-being for different segments of the lawyer population working in different settings.

    Now, in collaboration with the State Bar’s Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP), the Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being is developing a state-specific plan. The task force convened this fall and hopes to conclude its work with specific recommendations next year.

    “The law profession is a stressful one,” said Judge Bjerke, who has worked many years on lawyer well-being issues and is the current chair of the WisLAP Committee.

    For the last 10 years, he has run La Crosse County’s Veterans Court, so he sees first-hand how the stresses and trauma of military service affect the lives of veterans. Judge Bjerke himself served in the U.S Marine Corps and the Judge Advocate General Corps.

    “A lot of times, attorneys are highly educated and have an appearance they want to make to their clients and the public and the people they work with.

    “When there are stigmas attached to their lives, such as alcoholism, mental health, or other issues that could undermine the ability to perform properly.”

    Thus, attorneys may ignore a potential well-being issue, hide it or try to suppress it. “In those cases they don’t deal with it or even know they have it,” Judge Bjerke said.

    The task force is working on recommendations to help reduce that stigma. One of the goals is to help lawyers become aware, as early as possible, of the stresses they are facing and help them find ways to reduce stress before problems arise.

    The Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being has more than 40 members, representation from all different settings in Wisconsin’s legal community.

    WisLAP is Confidential and Here to Help

    Feeling overwhelmed? The Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) is a member service of the State Bar of Wisconsin that provides free confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families in coping with substance abuse or dependence, mental health challenges, or other stressors that negatively impact the quality of life and the practice of law. The​ ​program is designed to help members and their families build on their strengths and to provide support through services that promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

    WisLAP offers the following services:

    • Initial evaluation
    • Referrals
    • Peer assistance
    • Consultation
    • Education, including CLE programs
    • Outreach
    • Intervention

    WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
    WisLAP Manager: Mary Spranger (800) 444-9404, ext. 6159
    WisLAP Coordinator: Jason Magill (800) 444-9404, ext. 6151

    Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being

    Hon. Todd W. Bjerke, La Crosse Co Circuit Court (Chair)

    Atty. Lindsey Draper, Director-at-Large, National Client Protection Organization

    Hon. Brian K. Hagedorn, Wisconsin Supreme Court

    Hon. Rebecca F. Dallet, Wisconsin Supreme Court

    Hon. Jill J. Karofsky, Wisconsin Supreme Court

    Atty. Kathleen A. Brost, President, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Atty. Jill M. Kastner, Past President, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Atty. Cheryl Furstace Daniels, President Elect, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Mr. Larry J. Martin, Executive Director, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Dr. Jeneise Briggs, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Atty. Emily L. Stedman, Past President, Young Lawyers Division Board, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Atty. Dean R. Dietrich, Past President, Senior Lawyers Division Board, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Atty. James J. Casey, Jr., Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates

    Atty. Jacquelynn B. Rothstein, Director, Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners

    Atty. Keith L. Sellen, Director, Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation


    Atty. Julie M. Spoke, Deputy Director of Intake, Office of Lawyer Regulation

    Atty. Emily Kite, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, U.W. Law School

    Erin Hayes, U.. Law Student

    Atty. Anna Fodor, Assistant Dean of Students, Marquette University Law School

    Hon. Michael Bohren, Waukesha County Circuit Court

    Atty. Bryant Park, Employer Relations and Diversity Initiatives Coordinator, UW-Madison

    Atty. Gia Pionek Valle, Pionek Valle Law Group, LLC

    Atty. Mpoli Simwanza-Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, State of WI Department of Justice

    Atty. David Hudec, Social Security Advocates of Wisconsin

    Atty. Shawn Paul, Paul Law Office, LLC

    Atty. Lauren O. Otto, Otto Steiner Law SC

    Atty. Timothy A. Burkard, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

    Atty. DeAngela M. Luna, Assistant General Counsel, Northwestern Mutual

    Atty. Gina M. Pruski, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office


    Atty. Elizabeth R. Gebert, Langlade Co District Attorney’s Office

    Atty. Katja Kunzke, President and CEO, Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.

    Ms. Jessica Beyer, Wisconsin Association of Legal Administrators

    Julie Bonasso, RYP Global LLC

    Paula Davis-Laack, Founder and CEO, Stress & Resilience Institute

    Ralph M. Cagle, Past President, State Bar of Wisconsin

    James Frisch, James W. Frisch Attorney at Law

    Jenifer Bizzotto, Wisconsin Judicare, Inc.

    Saveon DuBois Grenell, Buelow Vetter Buikema Olson & Vliet LLC

    Kimberly Brown Pokorny, Chief Administrative Officer, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation

    Ylonda Glover, Director, Alma Center, Inc.

    Mary Spranger, WisLAP Manager, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Jason Magill, LPC, WisLAP Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Tamra Paulson, WisLAP Administrative Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin

Join the conversation! Log in to comment.

News & Pubs Search

Format: MM/DD/YYYY