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  • InsideTrack
  • March 04, 2020

    Election Ahead: Q&A with State Bar of Wisconsin President-elect Candidates

    The candidates, both government lawyers, discuss what the State Bar can do to better serve government lawyers and help Wisconsin lawyers compete with market forces.

    March 4, 2020 – Candidates for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s president-elect post are making their cases ahead of the April election. In this Q&A, Cheryl Furstace Daniels and Michael P. May, highlight how they would tackle the challenges, if elected.

    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.

    Both candidates are government lawyers in Madison. May is the city attorney for Madison (retiring in June). Daniels is an assistant legal counsel for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

    Learn more about the candidates in this profile article, published in January, and link to their bio and platform statements in the sidebar.

    Lawyers aren’t just competing among themselves. They are also competing with outside market forces. What should the State Bar do to give Wisconsin lawyers a competitive advantage?

    Michael P. MayMichael P. May: The State Bar should focus on maintaining the quality and professionalism of its members. Over the long run, the market rewards those who present the best product. While I recognize the threats from new competitors, Wisconsin lawyers need to emphasize who we are and what we do best: being your competent, professional lawyer. Beyond this, the Bar should monitor those “market forces” to be certain they are not acting illegally or contrary to the public interest.

    Cheryl Furstace DanielsCheryl Furstace Daniels: The State Bar should continue to work with its members to offer leadership skills training that translates, not only to these members becoming leaders within the State Bar, but also within each lawyer’s work environment. This includes assisting members to develop additional skills in communication, marketing, assessing and understanding client needs, alternative pricing structures, delivering services efficiently, and new technologies to gain competitive success.         

    State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® has been working diligently to bring newer, relevant topics in the law to State Bar members. But new laws, technology, businesses, and procedures are created, sometimes at what seems the speed of light, so the State Bar needs to constantly listen to its members regarding their needs in these areas and find new methods for assisting members in learning about these topics so lawyers can demonstrate their value to both current and prospective clients. 

    In addition, the State Bar should bring together its members to work with other professions, to search out topics of common concern, find ways to work together on those issues, and show how lawyers can be partners with other professionals.

    The State Bar has about 25,000 members (15,000 active in Wisconsin), 24 sections, and 4 divisions. How can the State Bar best serve a membership with such diverse needs?

    Cheryl Furstace DanielsCFD: Learning and improving better communication and writing skills, harnessing technological advancements, working with limited resources, and how to empathetically deliver services to clients are examples of those issues that challenge all lawyers, regardless of practice area or stage of practice. As the organization serving all Wisconsin lawyers, the State Bar must always be proactive in assisting all lawyers with these challenges.

    The point of having sections and divisions within the State Bar is to give a place of ownership for members with different needs and challenges, based upon their particular practice areas or the particular challenges of being a nonresident member, newer member, government member, or senior member. The State Bar must continue to strive to work with the leadership in each section and division to ensure that each lawyer can have a specialty group that serves these diverse needs.

    However, the entire State Bar must be ready to take on the challenges facing all members. Currently, the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee is working on action steps to drive home that our diverse members ARE the future of the profession and must be welcomed, included, and developed into the leaders at their work places, within their communities, and within the State Bar. The task force that will be studying wellness issues in the profession is one that will be working on serious challenges that affect ALL members. The issue of attracting members to areas throughout the state affects newer and senior members, private practitioners and government members, and is the focus of the Greater Wisconsin Initiative.

    The State Bar also must continue to monitor, take positions, and speak out with legislative and administrative law-making. Current laws often have gaps, and new laws may have both intended and unintended consequences, and the State Bar must serve as a strong, well-researched voice for lawyers to advocate for laws that can work best in balancing the rights of all citizens.   

    Michael P. MayMM: The State Bar does a pretty good job of meeting those needs and challenges now!  First, do no harm. The knowledge and dedication of those on the boards of sections and divisions are incredibly important. Second, the State Bar must commit to listening to its members. The Bar should work with members to identify challenges and methods to address them. This includes active involvement by the Bar leadership with the section and division boards, as those attorneys know about the needs of their members. In addition, formal and informal surveys often provide valuable information on the concerns of the wider membership. The Bar should encourage sections and divisions to undertake such surveys. Gathering this data on a regular basis will help inform how best to serve our lawyers.

    How can the State Bar better serve government lawyers?

    Michael P. MayMM: Government lawyers’ concerns with the State Bar generally fall into two categories. The first is a belief that the State Bar offers too few programs of relevance to government lawyers. In order to meet this challenge, the Bar should explore offering joint programs with some of the entities that do offer more relevant programs. This includes the DOJ, the League of Municipalities, and others.

    The second concern is that the cost of dues and CLE programs are too high. This is a big problem for State-employed attorneys, as the State of Wisconsin is penurious in funding these costs. The Bar should continue to encourage the State to pay these costs of doing business, to increase the economic well-being of government lawyers and, in short, to treat them fairly. The Bar should examine whether a system of stipends to government lawyers could support attendance at CLE programs. Finally, Bar leadership should make an effort to meet with and discuss issues of concern to government lawyers. The members may have more creative ideas about addressing their concerns.

    Cheryl Furstace DanielsCFD: Government lawyers are served best in the State Bar when they can participate fully and equally with their private practitioner counterparts for the betterment of the profession and the public’s understanding of the law. The State Bar, with its Government Lawyers Division, should advocate to help government entities understand that government lawyer participation in the State Bar is good for honing the skills of their lawyers and problem solving on issues that affect both public and private entities.

    Government lawyers who wish to participate in State Bar activities often have constraints on time and use of government resources. State Bar leadership must always be mindful of making participation as efficient and cost-effective as possible for government lawyer members.

    The State Bar needs to continue to make a priority of advocating for having enough lawyers, fair wages and paid dues, manageable caseloads, and other resources throughout the public justice system and throughout all governments. The State Bar must also be an advocate with the legislature as to the consequences to the justice system whenever new or amended laws are passed. This is particularly important since government lawyers are often constrained as to advocacy on these issues.

    If elected, how would your talents and experience translate as State Bar president?

    Cheryl Furstace DanielsCFD: I will bring all my experiences as president of the Wisconsin Law Foundation during two different times of needed restructuring, in leadership of the Young Lawyers and Government Lawyers divisions, service on the Board of Governors and on several different committees, into my presidency. My work as a government lawyer over many years has been to actively listen to the public, stakeholders, public servants, legislative leaders, and other lawyers to make decisions as wisely as possible and to, as much as possible, craft the best outcomes for all involved. I plan to use all of those skills on behalf of the members. 

    Michael P. MayMM: I have served 16 years as City Attorney for the City of Madison, and 25 years in private practice in the Boardman Clark law firm of Madison. My experience in these two very different legal settings – as a government lawyer in a city devoted to public participation and as an attorney in private practice facing all the needs of a group of lawyers serving numerous clients -- give me insight into the range of issues facing a wide swath of attorneys. In each of these practices, I was part of the management of the law office, supervising 15 other attorneys as City Attorney for Madison, and serving as Chair of the Executive Committee for the 50-some lawyers in the Boardman firm at the time I was there.

    Not only will my diverse practice and management experience help me to be an effective State Bar President, I became skilled in working with strong-willed and often adversarial persons to come to reasonable conclusions. At Boardman, this included working with not only the many attorneys with their own perspectives and concerns, but with all of the support staff with their concerns. At the City of Madison, this included working with three different mayors, years of a changing 20-person elected Common Council, dozens of department heads, along with hundreds of other city employees, and a very engaged public. I have learned to navigate the legal, political, and personal shoals presented to me, and help resolve difficult situations with reasonable decisions.  I would bring those skills to the State Bar presidency.

    Finish this sentence in 30 words or less: I am the best person to lead the State Bar because…

    Michael P. MayMM: I have a diverse background in government law and private practice, I have management experience, and I can help persons with very different interests reach reasonable results.

    Cheryl Furstace DanielsCFD: I have sought out, listened to, and worked very well with diverse groups of State Bar members throughout my career to find solutions to issues facing lawyers and the public.

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