The launch of this blog provides the Litigation Section with a new opportunity and valuable tool to discuss practice-based issues with its Section members and others interested in civil justice.
This blog comes 40 years after the Section’s first newsletter (prepared on a typewriter) was copied and mailed to members. The Section’s listserv was implemented in 2006, enabling timely updates to section members and giving members a useful practice tool for obtaining information on potential consultants and expert witnesses, and for getting advice on litigation-related problems. A blog now provides an invaluable platform for the exchange of ideas on practice issues.
The modern era of the Litigation Section began in the mid-1970s when the section’s name was updated from the “Negligence Law Section” to the “Litigation Section,” signaling its broadened focus. The bylaws of the Litigation Section, Article II, clearly set out the multiple purposes of section activities:
- To bring together members of the State Bar of Wisconsin who have an interest in civil litigation, insurance law, and tort law;
- To encourage the communication and exchange of ideas among attorneys who practice civil litigation;
- To participate in the presentation of educational seminars concerning developments in civil litigation, insurance law, and tort law through meetings, programs, and publications;
- To further the development and improvement of civil litigation practice, insurance law, and tort law by commenting, where appropriate, on proposed state and federal legislation; and,
- Subject to State Bar rules, to prepare amicus curiae briefs in appellate cases involving significant issues for section members.
In fulfilling these purposes, the Litigation Section has always recognized the diverse perspectives of its members (i.e., plaintiff/defendant) and viewed this diversity combined with a shared interest in improving civil justice as a strength of the Section. A former section chair noted in a 2004 message to members on the purposes of the Section:
I think it important that our members understand the roles of the section. We should not be advocates for one side or the other or the special interest groups that are made up of Wisconsin’s lawyers. Instead, I view our role as one of education of our members, communication among our members, and protection of the civil justice system in Wisconsin.
Scott C Minter (U.W. 1976) is a senior lecturer and interim director of Continuing Legal Education at the U.W. Law School. He has been the reporter to the Litigation Section since 1992 and the Wisconsin Civil Jury Instructions Committee since 1980
A significant activity of the section is to provide a bipartisan, even-handed analysis of proposed legislation and to comment on its impact on civil litigation practice. A former section chair commented on this role of the section:
An additional purpose of our section is to, when appropriate, comment on proposed state and federal legislation. We are a section with a unique perspective and while keeping in mind that we represent the entire cross section of those who practice civil litigation, it is incumbent upon the section to take positions on legislation that we think affect our membership. We do so by regularly reviewing pending legislation that will impact litigation in the State of Wisconsin. As a general proposition, we try to act in the interests of all of our section members, and the State Bar in general. There are many attorney organizations that represent the various advocacy groups, including plaintiffs, defendants, businesses and consumers. The Litigation Section is unique, however, because its membership includes the total cross section of all of those groups and is, therefore, best able to present an unbiased position. As such, our section takes seriously its responsibility to conduct a comprehensive and objective review of all pending legislation that affects the civil justice system in Wisconsin. (Emphasis added.)
The following list, taken from past section newsletters, is representative of section board activities on behalf of the section:
- Tracking the development of administrative regulations (e.g., medical records copying costs).
- Reviewing “Arbitration Guidelines in Personal Injury Actions” developed by the State Bar’s Professionalism Committee covering issues such as disclosure communications, scheduling, rules of evidence, and the hearing process.
- Reviewing the ABA’s “Ethical Guidelines for Settlement Negotiations” which cover issues such as client control of negotiations, withdrawal of lawyer if client refuses to settle, and secrecy provisions.
- Reviewing county restrictions on access for inspection of vehicles by experts prior to destruction of the vehicles.
- Analyzing possible revisions to Section 102.29 of the Wisconsin Statutes covering workers' compensation.
- Reviewing tort reform and other litigation-related legislative proposals, for example: Daubert legislation, municipal tort immunity, and products liability.
- Providing suggestions and substantive input to the Wisconsin Civil Jury Instructions Committee on new instructions or revisions to existing pattern instructions in Wisconsin Jury Instructions-Civil.
- Reviewing the issue of secrecy agreements in personal injury settlements; developing a proposed rule for consideration by the Board of Governors and Wisconsin Supreme Court.
- Reviewing practice issues and abuses arising from application of the decision in Burnett v. Alt, 224 Wis. 2d 72, 589 N.W.2d 21 (1999). In Alt, the court held that a witness was justified in refusing to answer questions calling for expert opinions when the witness had not been engaged as an expert.
- Co-Sponsorship of the Annual State Bar Conference.
- Preparing an amicus brief with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
These types of activities will continue. The past meeting of the section’s board two weeks ago covered the following issues as part of the Section’s education and legislative-review roles:
- Litigation Section sponsorship of the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference
- Legislative Review: statute of limitations on property damage claims and wrongful death; medical malpractice; minor driver sponsor’s bill; and collateral source rule.
- Judicial Council Request for Input from the Litigation Section: The Council’s Appellate Procedure Subcommittee requested input on whether Wis. stat. Section 808.075(4) should be amended to specifically permit a circuit court to continue to try a case where issues have been bifurcated and a final judgment or order in part of the case is on appeal.
Section Member Involvement. A former chair of the section once noted, “Our section is an active one and its success is truly dependent on the involvement of its members.” Now, section members have a blog to share ideas, advice, and viewpoints on section issues. Bruce Bachhuber’s introduction to this blog welcomes submissions from section members. Let’s hope this new blog furthers the exchange of information that has been a hallmark of this section over the years for the benefit of members and civil justice.