Nov. 4, 2014 – Innovation. It’s a buzzword these days. But what is it, and how does it apply to the legal profession? In the November Wisconsin Lawyer, readers will learn why innovation is important, and who’s doing it in Wisconsin’s legal community.
In “That’s a Fine Idea! Wisconsin Legal Innovators 2014,” writer Dianne Molvig profiles the movers and shakers who are putting new ideas to work and solving problems to improve the delivery of legal services to their clients and their communities.
Legal innovators are lawyers and legal organizations that use technology in new ways to improve client services, serve a new market, or develop new strategies for marketing and business development. They provide pro bono or reduced-cost legal services in new ways or create greater internal efficiencies through operational changes. And legal innovators create best practices to promote workplace diversity.
“Quite simply, innovation means developing new ways of doing something to create value or an advantage,” said Susan Schaubel, a court commissioner in Sheboygan County and chair of the State Bar’s Communications Committee’s Innovations Subcommittee. “For the legal profession, an innovation improves the experience of consumers of legal services or the lawyers providing those services.”
So who are Wisconsin’s legal innovators? You’ll find out in the pages of Wisconsin Lawyer, available online and in mailboxes soon. But here’s a sneak peek:
Kelly Twigger, E-discovery App: A State Bar of Wisconsin member who started a company, ESI Attorneys, which developed a new iPad app called eDiscovery Assistant™. It helps lawyers and judges find cases, statutes, and procedures on e-discovery issues.
Mike Gonring, The Milwaukee Justice Center’s Mobile Legal Clinic: It’s a bus staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students that stations at various locations in Milwaukee. Clinic volunteers provide free legal consultations. In the first year, the clinic helped 94 clients.
How a Nontechie Built a Virtual Practice – 10 Questions with Thomas Burton
In this “10 Questions” column, readers learn how a young, cash-strapped attorney was able to go solo through a virtual law office.
“I felt that if I could keep my overhead reasonable, I could provide certain transactional legal services at a reasonable price and still make a living.” – Thomas Burton
Anne Smith, The Law & Entrepreneurship Program at U.W. Law School: Law students gain hands-on experience in business legal matters by assisting small business owners and nonprofit organizations around the state. Sixteen Wisconsin law firms serve as advisors.
Karen Christenson, Milwaukee County Family Drug Treatment Court: Spearheaded by the Hon. Karen Christenson, now retired, a team of attorneys and other professionals helps address parents’ substance abuse problems. The goal: returning children to parents if possible.
Beth Ann Richlen, Northern Wisconsin Legal Advice Project: An online legal clinic run by Wisconsin Judicare, the clinic’s lawyers answer legal questions submitted by indigent clients, many with transportation or other issues that restrict their ability to access services.
Other noteworthy innovators:
Bobby Peterson – helped develop a new technology at ABC for Health to make it easier for providers and consumers to find health insurance;
Maureen Atwell – a prosecutor who uses search warrants to compile social media evidence for prosecuting child support cases;
Syovata Edari – a defense attorney who uses video and multimedia tools at sentencing hearings to tell a story about her clients;
Michael Ostermeyer – fostered the Partnership Development Program, which puts partners at Quarles & Brady through an MBA-style curriculum at the University of Notre Dame to better assist business clients.
Tanya O’Neill – chairs Foley & Lardner’s Working Parent Coach Program, which provides coaches for attorneys who take parental leave or reduce their schedules to accommodate family life.
Are you a legal innovator? Do you know one? Wisconsin Lawyer will feature legal innovators again in 2015. A call for nominations will be coming in April. Please nominate! Wisconsin Lawyer wants to highlight the good innovative work out there.
Employment Law: Marijuana in the Dairyland
Twenty-one states now allow some form of marijuana use, usually for medicinal purposes. Two states, Colorado and Washington, now allow the recreational use of marijuana by persons age 21 or older. Legal uses in Wisconsin are extremely limited.
But what happens when a Wisconsin employee visits and legally lights up in another state? Can the employer fire that employee? Chicago-based lawyer Francine Bailey tackles the question in “Reefer Madness: Lighting Up in the Dairyland.”
Bailey notes that Wisconsin employers are subject to the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against an employee for off-duty activities, with some exceptions. So does an employer discriminate when firing for legal marijuana use?
Probably not, Baily concludes, noting that Wisconsin’s courts have not yet dealt with this issue, but other jurisdictions have found no discrimination in such circumstances.
Adhesion Contracts and the Federal Arbitration Act
The purpose of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), passed in the 1920s, was to allow businesses of similar bargaining power to arbitrate their disputes. Now, arbitration clauses are often part of take-it-or-leave-it adhesion contracts against consumers.
In “Unequal Bargaining Power: Navigating Arbitration Clauses,” Chicago-based attorney Jeffrey Salas discusses recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions solidifying the FAA’s application to consumers and the Wisconsin courts’ responses to the landmark cases.
He concludes that the FAA’s purpose – increasing freedom to contract, “has turned into a weapon against parties with little to no bargaining power,” and legislative efforts to modernize the FAA and protect consumers from unequal bargaining have failed.
Columns and Viewpoints
As I See It: In “Adults Only: Returning 17-year-olds to Juvenile Court,” Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Walsh makes the case for sending 17-year-old offenders back to the juvenile justice system, a State Bar-supported proposal.
Ethics: In “Keeping Blog Posts Ethically Clean,” Wausau attorney Dean Dietrich, vice chair of the State Bar Professional Ethics Committee, reminds attorneys of the ethical traps that exist when blogging. That includes criticizing judges.
Solutions: Susan Spoerk explains why law firms should identify and understand the behaviors that underlie a firm’s organizational culture in, “Organizational Culture: Predicting a Law Firm’s Success.” Spoerk has a master’s degree in leadership.
Technology: Want to start a solo practice? Are you on a tight budget? In “Going Solo Without Breaking the Bank,” Illinois-based attorneys Nerino Petro and Bryan Sims explain how to outfit the new law office on $1,000, $2,500, or $5,000. Petro previously served as the State Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Program advisor.
Managing Risk: Attorney Tom Watson of Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, answers the question: “Can Turning Away Clients Really Be Good Business.”
Final Thought: In “Watch Out for the Whitecaps Ahead and Avoid Rough Water,” Madison attorney Kevin Palmersheim borrows some lessons from sailing to explain that lawyers mustn’t view legal issues narrowly. They must also look at the waters ahead.