Kevin Lyons: The Future of Law Practice is Top of Mind
Kevin Lyons is in the business of remediating and building. As an environmental and construction lawyer, Lyons has worked on long-term environmental clean-up efforts and shorter term construction projects, employing various problem-solving skills.
Combined with his vast experience in State Bar leadership roles, Lyons believes he’s the right man to lead the State Bar and its members, who face both large-scale changes in the legal marketplace itself, as well as short-term challenges in their own practices.
“I’ve been talking with various members to learn about their biggest challenges,” Lyons said. “As president-elect, I would use the year to gather information from lawyers and narrow the focus to what State Bar members think are most important. As president, I would work on those issues and continue the good work of presidents before me.”
Lyons, a Cleveland native, is of counsel at Davis & Kuelthau S.C. in Milwaukee. He earned a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. He thought about a Ph.D. in English Literature but changed his mind and attended U.W. Law School, graduating in 1970.
“I was interested in helping people solve problems, so the law seemed like a better fit for me,” said Lyons, who landed his first legal job with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., an honors program focused on trial practice.
But when Congress defunded the program, along with his opportunity to try cases immediately, he returned to Madison as an assistant district attorney. He stayed almost two years before deciding to pursue environmental law in private practice.
“I was always interested in the outdoors and environmental matters,” said Lyons, who has represented public agencies, small and large businesses, individuals and groups. “I also did some construction work as a law clerk, and continued in that area as well.”
While challenging environmental or construction matters can take years, even decades, Lyons also enjoys community projects with quick resolutions. This particular skill set, he says, lays a foundation to deal with the emerging and immediate needs of members.
The Experience to Lead
Active in State Bar activities since 2003, Lyons says he has the organizational knowledge to facilitate and lead effectively. He finishes his two-year term as State Bar treasurer in July and completes his third, two-year term on the Board of Governors.
He’s also the current chair of the State Bar’s Finance Committee, a member of the Executive Committee, and previously served on the State Bar Board’s Policy, Strategic Planning, and Bylaw Revisions committees.
He’s also former chair of the Construction & Public Contract Law Section and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section boards. In short, Lyons knows the operation.
“My time in leadership positions has helped a lot in understanding the unique interests of the various members of the board of governors, and the constituents they represent,” Lyons said. “It probably took me a year to understand the organization's structure.”
With experience in both section and board leadership positions, Lyons says he’s keenly aware of the complicated interrelationships that can make it difficult to understand how the bar functions. He’ll use that knowledge to hit the ground running, he says.
Lyons says the State Bar must stay ahead of the curve to prepare for the future of law practice. “Roughly 80 percent of our members work in firms with 10 lawyers or less, and they are getting competition from LegalZoom and other Internet-based providers who want to do the work that lawyers use to get business in the door,” Lyons noted.
Washington State now allows nonlawyers called Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs) to do legal work, he says, which addresses access-to-justice but could erode the lawyer’s role in smaller matters that often generate referrals and other business. This type of trend may quickly spread as other states consider similar measures.
In addition, bigger Wisconsin law firms, he notes, are facing increased competition from firms in Chicago and New York, looking to expand their reaches into smaller markets.
“Wisconsin lawyers are better positioned to serve Wisconsin clients than are online companies in California, or firms in New York,” Lyons said. “Where we are going as a profession with these external challenges is probably my No. 1 question.”
While long-term issues loom, so do immediate ones. Lyons would push continued support for a bill that returns 17-year-olds to juvenile court – a bill supported by outgoing Past President Patrick J. Fiedler – and facilitate continuity with other presidents.
“I would work closely with successors and predecessors to keep some continuity going on these issues,” said Lyons. “The State Bar is uniquely positioned to understand the issues facing Wisconsin lawyers. As president-elect, I would guide the organization’s role in taking appropriate steps to address immediate and long-term concerns.”
When He Isn’t Working or Volunteering
You’ll find Lyons on his bicycle, unless the roads are icy. He also enjoys golfing with his wife, visiting children and grandchildren, and attending Badger football games.
Fran Deisinger: Wants to Ensure Services Provide Value to All Members
Fran Deisinger has a unique perspective. As the former president of the Milwaukee Bar Association (MBA), a voluntary membership association, he’s led members who value the services and opportunities that a bar organization can provide.
Now, he’d like an opportunity to ensure members of the State Bar experience the benefits offered by this mandatory organization, and he’s running for president-elect to ensure the services and benefits offered provide value to all members.
“We are in a time of really remarkable change,” Deisinger said. “For the State Bar, it is exceptionally important that the elected leaders answer the question of whether the services and benefits provided by the organization fit the needs of the membership.”
Deisinger, a Milwaukee native, is a shareholder in the litigation practice group at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., where he began his legal career.
He earned his B.A. degree at U.W.-Milwaukee, double-majoring in film history/criticism and Latin. Although he’d thought about law as a career in high school, he didn’t think of it much again until after college, when a friend encouraged him to attend law school.
Shortly after that discussion, he took the LSAT. A little more than three years later, in 1982, he graduated from U.W. Law School and joined Reinhart, starting in general litigation. For more than 15 years, Deisinger has served as Reinhart’s general counsel.
“I provide ethics and liability counsel to all the lawyers in the firm and to our firm’s management,” Deisinger said. “That consumes a large part of my time, but I also represent lawyers outside the firm and have done that for quite a number of years.”
Whether it’s counseling lawyers or law firms about ethics matters or representing lawyers who have a grievance against them with the Office of Lawyer Regulation, Deisinger says he enjoys the role because he “loves working for other lawyers.”
Through his work, Deisinger says he understands many of the challenges that lawyers face daily. This work experience, along with a collegial approach to leadership, will assist efforts to make the State Bar relevant for all members, he says.
The Experience to Lead
Deisinger was about eight years into law practice at Reinhart when he realized something: he felt the need to know more Milwaukee and Wisconsin lawyers. So he went to a meeting of the MBA Professionalism Committee to meet other lawyers.
A few years later, he became a director of the MBA, serving for four years before he was elected MBA president-elect, preceding a one-year term as president (2009-10).
MBA presidents serve multiple-year terms, serving as vice president, president-elect, president, and past-president. In addition, since 2011, Deisinger has served as the president of the MBA Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the organization.
“It gave me the opportunity to meet hundreds, even thousands of other lawyers in the community through my bar participation. That’s what I really wanted out of my participation,” he said.
“No matter where we practice, whether we are in a big firm or government service, solo or small firm practitioners, we all work on an island to some extent. It’s helpful to hear what other lawyers have to say about the challenges and the issues.”
Although Deisinger’s leadership experience is limited to the local bar level, he says a bar association’s primary obligation is the same at any level: serving its members.
“I think the nominating committee recognized that I was an effective leader at the MBA in terms of using the resources, size, and human capital of the organization in order to provide good services and benefits for our members,” Deisinger said.
Deisinger said he’ll use his leadership experience and the organization’s resources to address the remarkable changes in the legal profession and the legal marketplace.
“It’s hard to predict specific issues that would be on my plate,” Deisinger said. “But I’m seeing a great number of challenges. For instance, young lawyers are coming out of law school with significant amounts of debt. In addition, they don’t have all the same opportunities as lawyers in my generation did.”
As president-elect and eventually president, Deisinger would explore how the State Bar can be more receptive to the changing needs of its diverse membership.
“The membership includes different populations with different needs. It’s the obligation of State Bar leaders to ensure the State Bar is providing value to every lawyer, especially since every lawyer is required to be a member. That’s a challenge.”
Deisinger notes that bar organizations have an important role in advancing the cause of justice in Wisconsin through programs and services that help the public and the lawyers who serve them. “There’s a lot of ways to do it, but it has to be a core ethic,” he said.
When He Isn’t Working or Volunteering
Deisinger likes “hacking around” public golf courses in Milwaukee and vacationing with his wife at their cabin in Vilas County. He’s also a movie and college basketball buff.