Part of my law practice consists of representing several small and medium-size municipalities in the Green Bay area. It is a part of my practice that I have always enjoyed. Given the relatively smaller size of these governmental units, the local officials and elected representatives of smaller municipalities often know many, if not most, of the voters. In turn, this knowledge usually lends itself to the choosing of officials and representatives who are responsive, diligent, and genuinely good people. Given the minimal or nonexistent pay received by most board and committee members, they are certainly not serving for any monetary recompense; rather, most want to maintain or better their communities. They are a cornerstone of any representative democracy.
In the not-so-distant past, many of these officials and representatives were lawyers. Lawyers were often found on town boards, city and village councils, and in the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly. Just as important, they were often found on various committees of both national parties and on school boards, zoning boards, and other local and statewide committees. Their knowledge of the law and constitutional principles helped facilitate legislative remedies to many of the problems faced by our country in the 19th and 20th centuries. Just as important, they were instrumental in stifling many of the unlawful and unconstitutional remedies proposed by some of our less astute fellow citizens. Their presence at crucial points in our country’s history was instrumental in protecting the liberties we all enjoy today.
Although combined statistics are unavailable, it is readily apparent that there has been a rather steady decline in the number of lawyers serving in local and state legislative positions over the past few decades. Some say it is due to the economic pressure being brought upon lawyers, thereby making the lack of remuneration caused by participating in the political process an insurmountable obstacle. Others contend that the regulatory environment in which the political process now takes place renders participation too onerous. Still others believe that politics and politicians no longer enjoy the same elevated status enjoyed in the past.
Public service provides an invaluable opportunity to educate and remind our fellow citizens of one salient fact – we are a country governed by laws, not any one group of individuals.
There is an element of truth in each of these arguments. We are all busier than we want to be with our careers. None of us ever has quite enough time for our families, our friends, and other pleasurable pursuits. Yet I would urge all State Bar members to at least consider becoming involved in the political process, be it elective or nonelective, local or statewide, legislative or administrative. From a strictly self-interest standpoint, it enables us, as lawyers, to protect our place in society against those who, either intentionally or unintentionally, seek to denigrate us and what we do. More important, it provides an invaluable opportunity to educate and remind our fellow citizens of one salient fact – we are a country governed by laws, not any one group of individuals. If for no other reason, this goal alone should encourage our participation.
Happy New Year to all.