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  • January 04, 2023

    Find Fast, Accurate Answers to Legal Questions Outside Your Practice Area

    Is this a familiar scenario? A family member, friend, or client asks a legal question in an area of practice not familiar to you. Here are insider practice tips for 10 areas of practice in the Wisconsin Attorney's Desk Reference from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE.
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    Jan. 4, 2023 – One of the great challenges of being a lawyer is that quite often, people ask for advice in an area of law that you’re unfamiliar with.

    You could be a tax law practitioner or one who focuses only on health law – but a family member asks for advice on an issue with their employer. Or you could be a lawyer in a small town who focuses on family law, and a client asks you about starting a business.

    Where can you best find an up-to-date and accurate, yet quick answer? The Wisconsin Attorney's Desk Reference from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®.

    Here are 10 tips from Wisconsin lawyers who practice in those areas and have shared their expertise in the Desk Reference.

    #1: Employment law, by Drew Cochrane Pellitteri Waste Systems, Madison

    Question: Can my boss request to see my personal internet accounts?

    An employer cannot request or require an employee or applicant to disclose access information, grant access, or allow observation of a personal internet account as a condition of employment. An employer also cannot discharge or otherwise discriminate against a person who refuses such a request or opposes such practices (Wis. Stat. sections 111.322(2m)(a), (b), 111.91(2)(im), 995.55).

    #2: Appealing a civil case, by Michael S. Heffernan, Madison

    Question: Can I still file an appeal in my civil case?

    Time to appeal is always measured from the date of entry of the order or judgment, not from the date of service of notice of entry (Soquet v. Soquet, 117 Wis. 2d 553, 561). In general, an ordinary civil appeal must be initiated within 90 days after entry of judg​ment or order (Wis. Stat. section 808.04(01)). Or it must be initiated within 45 days after the entry of final judgment or order if the other party has given (served) notice of entry, which must be in writing, be given after entry, and contain correct date of entry (Wis. Stat. section 806.06(3)).

    #3: Organizing a business, by Timothy G. Schally, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee

    Question: I'm forming a new business. What are some differences between LLCs, LLPs, and limited partnerships?

    Generally, an LLC is a corporation for nontax purposes, but it will usually be treated as a partnership or proprietorship for income tax purposes (Wis. Stat. chapter 183).

    An LLP is a partnership for nontax purposes, except partners are not liable personally for partnership obligations (with certain exceptions). An LLP will usually be a partnership for tax purposes (Wis. Stat. section 178.0102(11)).

    A limited partnership must have at least one general partner who is personally liable for the obligations of the partnership. Limited partners generally are not personally liable, and a limited partnership will usually be a partnership for tax purposes (Wis. Stat. chapter 179).

    #4 Statutes of Limitation, by Peter M. Young and Jesse B. Blocher, Habush Habush & Rottier S.C., Waukesha and Wausau

    Question: How long do I have to sue if I think I have not been paid bonuses that are owed to me by my employer?

    A claim for breach of contract must be brought within six years (Wis. Stat. section 893.43(1)).

    #5 Bankruptcy, by Roy L. Prange Jr. and Brittany S. Ogden, Quarles & Brady LLP, Madison

    Question: I’m owed a lot of money by someone who has just filed for bankruptcy. What should I do?

    Secured creditors should take prompt action to protect their collateral position by filing appropriate motions, including motions to obtain relief from the stay or motions for adequate protection, and motions to prohibit the use of cash collateral.

    Secured and unsecured creditors should determine whether it is necessary to file proof of claim, consider whether to take an active role in the bankruptcy action and whether to object to other claims, and note all relevant deadlines.

    Unsecured sellers should promptly consider reclamation rights and priority claims for goods received by the debtor within 20 days before the petition date (11 U.S.C. § 503(b)(​9); 11 U.S.C. § 546(c)).

    #6 Criminal Law by Craig W. Albee and Gabriela A. Leija, Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin Inc., Milwaukee

    Question: A person I know entered an “Alford plea.” Does this mean they admit guilt?

    Wisconsin courts have discretion to permit “Alford pleas,” in which the defendant pleads guilty while either maintaining the defendant’s innocence or not admitting having committed the crime. (State v. Nash, 2020 WI 85 ¶ 33, 394 Wis. 2d 238; State v. Garcia, 192 Wis. 2d 845, 856–57 (1995); see also North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 37 (1970)).

    An Alford plea puts the defendant in the same position as if found guilty by a jury verdict but does not constitute an express admission that the defendant committed the act (Nash, 2020 WI 85, ¶ 34, 394 Wis. 2d 238).

    #7 Probate, by Emily G. Loe; Hale, Skemp, Hanson, Skemp & Sleik, La Crosse

    Question: I’ve just inherited a house in Wisconsin from someone who didn’t live in Wisconsin when they died. Where do we go for the probate proceedings?

    The estate is administered in any county where the decedent’s property is located (Wis. Stat. section 856.01(2)). Also, the court that first exercises jurisdiction over some property subject to probate in Wisconsin has exclusive jurisdiction (Wis. Stat. section 856.01(2)).

    #8 Independent Adoptions, Theresa L. Roetter, DeWitt LLP, Madison

    Question: I want to adopt my relative’s child. Can you represent all of us to complete the adoption?

    In an independent adoption, which is an adoption arranged initially without the assistance of a licensed child-placing agency (Wis. Stat. section 48.837), “a lawyer may not ethically represent or act as an intermediary for both the adoptive and biological parents in a private adoption proceeding because of inherent conflicts that cannot be reconciled.” (State Bar Comm. on Ethics, Formal Op. E-88-4 (1988) (citing ABA Comm. on Ethics & Pro. Resp., Informal Op. 87-1523 (Jan. 14, 1987)).)

    #9 Trademark Law by Christopher J. Hussin, Boardman & Clark LLP, Madison

    Question: I have a brilliant idea: I want to make a lot of money by putting a trademark on my pizza, which I call simply “Pizza.” Then other pizza companies will have to pay me if they use that term, right?

    Generic terms are words in common use as names for particular kinds of goods and are not capable of receiving trademark protection because they identify the product, rather than the product’s source (e.g., CORN FLAKES corn flakes). (Door Sys., Inc. v. Pro-Line Door Sys., Inc., 83 F.3d 169 (7th Cir. 1996); Liquid Controls Corp. v. Liquid Control Corp., 802 F.2d 934 (7th Cir. 1986)).​

    #10: Animal Law by Jennifer L. Amundsen, Amundsen Law Firm, LLC, Madison

    Question: If my friend is injured riding my horse, am I liable?

    Wis. Stat. section 895.481 immunizes a person from civil liability for acts and omissions related to the person’s participation in equine activities when a person is injured or killed due to the “inherent risk” of equine activities, unless a statutory exception applies.

    Find More Fast Tips and Resources in Unfamiliar Areas: The Wisconsin Attorney’s Desk Reference

    These tips, and hundreds more, are available in the Wisconsin Attorney's Desk Reference from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®. The Desk Reference offers essential information ​and resources for 11 practice areas, with 35 topics grouped by related subject areas. Intended as a primer, a refresher, or a starting point, the Desk Reference is a guide for any attorney who needs a quick answer to a question or an introduction into an area of law.

    The two-volume Wisconsin Attorney's Desk Reference is available in print and online via Books UnBound, the State Bar’s interactive online library, which recently underwent a significant upgrade.

    The two-volume print book costs $199 for members and $248.75 for nonmembers. For more information, or to place an order, visit the WisBar Marketplace at or call the State Bar at (800) 728-7788 or (608) 257-3838.

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