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  • InsideTrack
  • March 03, 2021

    Meeting Today's Challenges: Q&A with State Bar President-elect Candidates

    The candidates, both Milwaukee lawyers, discuss the important issues currently facing the legal profession and how they will lead efforts to address them.

    March 3, 2021 – Candidates for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s president-elect post are making their cases ahead of the April election. In this Q&A, Margaret Hickey and Odalo Ohiku highlight how they would tackle the challenges, if elected.

    Both candidates are Milwaukee lawyers. Ohiku is currently the deputy city attorney for Milwaukee. Hickey is a trial lawyer and shareho​lder at Becker, Hickey & Post S.C.

    Learn more about the candidates in this profile article, published in January, and find their bio and platform statements in the sidebar. The president-elect serves a one-year term before serving a one-year term as president.

    All State Bar elections (including for State Bar divisions and sections) will be held via an electronic ballot. Ballots are emailed by the second Friday in April, and the election closes at noon Central Time on April 23, 2021. Those elected take office July 1, 2021.

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

    Odalo OhikuOdalo Ohiku: Focus on universals. At our core, I believe all lawyers want to be good at their craft and want to help their clients. I also believe all lawyers want to be financially secure, and at some point, be able to pay off law school debt. Finally, I believe all lawyers want to have balance in their lives. If the State Bar focuses on fulfilling needs universal to all lawyers, it will serve its diverse membership quite well.

    Margaret HickeyMargaret Hickey: The State Bar has talented staff to support its diverse membership, in and outside the state, and in Sections and Divisions. However, we must use our staff and resources thoughtfully. Using Zoom or remote communication allows staff to support members more efficiently. Members can also save money by attending meetings remotely without travel expenses. It is critical that we use our finite resources consistently with the Bar’s mission. We must ensure that programs we fund are driven by our mission and strategic plan.

    2. The COVID pandemic has upended the legal profession in many ways and has required attorneys to quickly adopt new technologies to serve clients. How can the State Bar ensure members understand these changes and how to leverage them to provide high quality legal services?

    Margaret HickeyMargaret Hickey: One of the State Bar’s strengths is its ability to educate members. State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® is remarkably effective and efficient. The State Bar has created programming to train attorneys in new technology, advocated for attorneys to get “essential worker” status and permit Zoom appearances and depositions. We need to continue that work after the pandemic. The State Bar can teach us new technologies for remote work. It can advocate for continued remote appearances so that we can serve clients more efficiently and clients can save time and money on court appearances. Those who do not practice in courtrooms can also benefit from the many new ways to communicate, share documents, and encourage teamwork within offices. Not only do we need this for efficiency, but we also need ways to protect client data and information.

    Practice 411 can support attorneys in education and office management. Instead of a small law firm spending time and resources investigating new technologies, Practice 411 can do the work for us and summarize the best available technology for the most reasonable cost.

    Odalo OhikuOdalo Ohiku: I harken back to when I was a new lawyer. I was budding with theoretical knowledge, but empty on practical knowledge. In other words, I graduated law school, now what? I think the State Bar should fill the void between law school and the abyss that follows law school, namely, practicing law in the real world.

    I believe the State Bar should find ways to forge bonds with future lawyers while they are still in law school through programs such as the Diversity Clerkship Program. Likewise, I see no reason why the State Bar’s current mentoring program could not be expanded beyond new lawyers to reach future lawyers while they are still in law school. With the goal being to pollinate the lawyer-State Bar relationship early on.

    After law school, the lawyer-State Bar relationship would naturally continue to flourish. From there, I believe the State Bar has an obligation to anticipate market trends and provide programming that will equip its members with the knowledge, skill, experience, and judgment to seize new opportunities and the discernment to know when to phase out obsolete ways of doing business.

    Additionally, I believe the State Bar can provide targeted mini bootcamps or accelerators zeroed in on helping lawyers adapt to changes and re-position themselves to effectively serve their clients. Although I miss person-to-person contact, this pandemic has shown us you can accomplish a lot of meaningful work virtually. The State Bar should be our staunch ally in advocating that rudimentary court hearings continue to allow the option for remote appearance. This also provides greater access to justice for people in areas with a shortage of lawyers. If lawyers are allowed to appear remotely, this will increase the pool of lawyers available to help clients in those areas.

    3. Two of the State Bar’s major priorities include a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, and sustainable gains toward increased access to justice – including addressing racial inequality in the criminal justice system. As president, what would be your strategy for addressing these major issues?

    Odalo OhikuOdalo Ohiku: I will be bold and direct. I will confront the issues head-on. Sometimes, we dance around an issue so much, it gets murky, becomes a blur, an amorphous blob. Out of a fear of not wanting to upset the status quo, our intended objective morphs into reasons why we should keep things the same, and nothing changes.  

    I will not tiptoe around the issues. I will be deliberate and intentional. I will say: "This is what we are doing." I will also explain this is why we are doing it.

    Right now, a palpable fervor exists. I believe we must come together as a bar and seize this magnificent opportunity to embody change. We must have difficult conversations, and be open and honest with each other. I will get us started now.

    If elected, I will be our State Bar’s first black male president-elect. Honestly, I feel a mix of emotions. I feel sad because I wonder why it has taken so long to get here. Yet, I feel happy because I feel like we are making progress. I also feel anxious because I internalize the weight of being a “first.” If I don’t do well, I could spoil opportunities for deserving others. Let's talk.

    Let’s also build upon what we already have. Past presidents Fran Deisinger, Paul Swanson, and Chris Rogers called attention to Wisconsin’s mass and disparate incarceration problem. As president, I will continue their fight for fairness in our criminal justice system.

    Margaret HickeyMargaret Hickey: The State Bar’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is stated in the D & I Action Plan. We need to update and implement that plan at all levels both inside and outside of the Bar, in the justice system and in the practice of law. Members of our Bar should represent the public who we serve, in ethnicity, race, gender, orientation, age, ability, and every other relevant aspect. We also need to educate our attorneys about why diversity matters and how our practice improves if we understand the impact of diverse points of view.

    Serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee, I am passionate about trying to get the law schools more involved in this work. The law schools attract diverse and representative student bodies, but then we often do not see these new attorneys remain in Wisconsin, despite the diploma privilege. We need to figure out why and remedy this. Perhaps we need to advocate for more in-state law students even though this may be contrary to the law school goals. Students from Wisconsin are more likely to stay in Wisconsin. Maybe we need to make sure that law students get out to actually “see” the state, including the benefits of practice in rural areas. This could be accomplished by taking students on tour, perhaps virtually. Lawyers from around the state could present to students about the positive benefits of working in Algoma, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Marinette, Wausau, or Hudson. We know why we enjoy the practice in our area and we should be ambassadors to the law schools on this topic.

    We need to be leaders on achieving racial equity in our justice system. We are working on this through the Racial Justice Leadership Group to identify where the problems lie. We need to help solve disparate incarceration issues in the state. Our relationships with the state administration, legislators, and judges put us in a unique position to evaluate and advocate for systemic changes to address racial inequities.

    Access to justice could not be more important than now when people are unemployed, have been evicted, lost public benefits or otherwise need, but cannot afford, legal services. I would like to see us raise money or resources to help the nonprofit agencies that currently serve those in need. They can best provide efficient, low cost effective legal services. Those of us in the private practice, corporate, government or other areas should support the attorneys who serve low income clients because they help our entire community. One way to do this is advocating for Wisconsin’s budget to include civil legal services. Wisconsin is the lowest of the Midwest states in funding civil legal services.

    4. What, if anything, should the State Bar do differently to ensure the organization is relevant and valuable to all members?

    Margaret HickeyMargaret Hickey: The State Bar needs to support younger, rural, and nonresident attorneys better. Attorneys are aging out of the practice and we need to ensure that those behind us are not handicapped by huge student loans, fewer opportunities and lack of mentoring. It can advocate for loan forgiveness programs. We can and do provide lower cost CLE. We should find out what newer, rural, and nonresident attorneys need to be successful and meet those needs so we have a vibrant, viable future.

    Odalo OhikuOdalo Ohiku: Demystify itself. Tell our members everything we do as a State Bar and how our work benefits them and our community.

    Be more visible. Show our members we are an active, living, breathing, and thinking State Bar present with them through it all.

    Show members the money. Unpack our State Bar Dues and show our members what portion is actually dues versus mandatory Supreme Court assessments. Although Supreme Court assessments are collected contemporaneously with State Bar Dues, that money goes to our Supreme Court, not our State Bar. Since both are collected at the same time, however, it’s easy to get tunnel-vision and see a singular bill known as State Bar Dues. This misnomer must be rectified.

    Next, we need to show our members how their money is spent, where it goes, and how it benefits them—our Ethics Hotline and WisLAP immediately come to mind.

    Finally, we need to show our members how to make money (be profitable) while staying sane and living a balanced life. Our State Bar can accomplish this by providing relevant, topical, and engaging continuing legal education, training, and programming.

    I am the best person to lead the State Bar because …

    Odalo OhikuOdalo Ohiku: I am not afraid to be vulnerable, think big, and relentlessly pursue the mission and vision of the State Bar.

    Margaret HickeyMargaret Hickey: I have the experience and passion to do so. My leadership experience, work on access to justice programs and in mentoring show my readiness to be president-elect.


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