June 15, 2017 – Oshkosh bankruptcy lawyer Paul Swanson hasn’t lost much of his youthful energy. Almost 40 years into law practice, adventure does not elude him, and he’s bound for his newest adventure as 62nd president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Last evening, at the State Bar’s Annual Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony, Swanson took the oath of office, administered by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack. With family, friends, and colleagues attending, Swanson vowed to foster the high ideals and integrity among the legal profession, promote public education of the legal system, and aid the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the administration of justice.
Swanson, of Steinhilber Swanson LLP, takes over for outgoing President Fran Deisinger on July 1. The Oshkosh native kept his remarks brief, thanking mentors, past State Bar leaders, and focusing on what he hopes to accomplish as president.
That includes continuing work on the mass and disparate incarceration problem in Wisconsin, continuing other efforts to improve member service, and a grassroots effort to encourage more lawyers to run for legislative office and get more involved in politics.
“I also want to do a better job of getting more judges involved in the bar. Judges are lawyers,” Swanson said. “I realize there are some ethical barriers, but lawyers and judges can do a lot of good together. Both groups can educate each other.
“I also want to continue efforts to make the bar more inclusive and diverse. The bar and leadership need to reflect the demographics of the population,” Swanson said.
The words of others spoke to Swanson’s chances for success. Deisinger and three federal judges noted Swanson’s ability as a lawyer, negotiator, leader, and adventurer.
“He has everything it takes to do that job,” said Deisinger, who will assume a State Bar leadership post as immediate past-president for another year.
New State Bar President Paul Swanson poses with his extended family at the Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony. Check out more photos from the event on the State Bar's Facebook page, or click here.
Stories and Perspectives
The Hon. Pamela Pepper, judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, emceed the event, offering insight on Swanson’s past. Judge Pepper is the former chief of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
“His parents wanted Paul to go to college. They thought that would be a very good thing for him to do. So they gave him money to go to college,” Judge Pepper said. “Paul thought the best thing to do with that money was to buy a sports car and go to Florida and work in the construction business and make a lot of money. So that’s what he did.”
But Pepper also noted the adventurous young Swanson quickly changed his tune. He ended up with an accounting degree from U.W.-Oshkosh and a law degree from U.W. Law School, graduating in 1979. In law school, he clerked at the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
That was the beginning of Swanson’s dedicated service to the State Bar. He became president of the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, practicing law with his father, who taught Swanson how to try cases while he learned the bankruptcy law area.
Catherine Furay, now chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, first met Swanson during their young lawyer days.
Furay said Swanson helped set in motion various programs, including statewide high school mock trial and an initiative to address the farm financial crisis in the 1980s.
“I succeeded Paul as president of the Young Lawyers Division. Somewhat unfairly perhaps, I received credit for those programs when they were really Paul’s idea,” Furay said. “This included two awards from the American Bar Association.”
Furay gave the awarded plaques to Swanson. “In the years since graduating law school, Paul has demonstrated unerring, unflinching dedication to service, service to the community, service to the public, and service to the bar,” Furay said.
Swanson has served in numerous State Bar leadership roles, including State Bar treasurer, chair of the Board of Governors, and various committee positions.
He’s also actively involved in the bankruptcy bar. At the same time, he’s a family man with wife, Jody, and two children, Michael and Alexandra, who recently graduated from college. But he always finds time for sport, the adventurous young man not far behind.
“He’s an avid athlete. He sails in the summer, he goes skiing in the winter. The last few years, he has hiked different parts of the Appalachian Trail,” Judge Pepper said. “He managed to organize a bankruptcy conference in Colorado at various ski resorts.”
Retired Judge Margaret Dee McGarity, of the Eastern District Bankruptcy Court, has known Swanson for three decades. She told stories of Swanson the lawyer.
Judge McGarity highlighted the time Swanson objected to one of her questions from the bench, noting it called for hearsay. “A lot of lawyers would not object to a judge’s questions … but Paul will face any problem head on. He’s not afraid of anything, apparently. I sustained the objection and told the witness not to answer it.”
McGarity identified Swanson as a highly effective negotiator, and someone with honesty and good judgment. “He has those qualities where he can be practical, creative, flexible, and persuasive – that’s where he really shines. You got a good one,” she said.