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  • Press Release
    November 07, 2018

    That's a Fine Idea! State Bar Reveals 2018 Top Legal Innovators

    NOV. 7, 2018    

    Kristen Durst
    State Bar of Wisconsin 
    (608) 250–6025                                               

    That’s a Fine Idea! State Bar Reveals 2018 Top Legal Innovators

    Madison, WI For the fifth year, the State Bar of Wisconsin is honoring the state’s top legal innovators through the organization’s “That’s a Fine Idea: Legal Innovation Wisconsin” initiative.

    This year the State Bar honors six legal innovator big ideas, including one lifetime–award winner.

    Lifetime Innovator Emerly Harlan: Champion of Diversity

    Diversity in the legal profession is a challenge that might never be solved outright, but Milwaukee attorney Emery K. Harlan, a partner with MWH Law Group LLP, is doing his part to help. Harlan’s current firm has 16 attorneys, including eight African Americans, one Hispanic, and 10 females. Harlan was a founder of the National Association of Women and Minority Owned Law Firms, created in 2001 to promote diversity by fostering successful relationships between diverse attorneys and both private and public legal clients. During the past couple years at MWH and for many years before that at his previous firm, Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan, Harlan worked to hire and promote minority and female attorneys.

    Sheila Sullivan and Team: Standing Up for Crime Victims

    The state’s Legal Services Corporation–funded civil legal aid providers, Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare, have established a victim rights project aimed at helping those who have survived crimes, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault. The pilot project began in fall 2017 with funding and support from the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victim Services, and thanks to a partnership with Wisconsin Judicare, the services are available statewide. The team includes project supervisor Sheila Sullivan and project attorneys Ann Rufo, Becca Donaldson, Kori Ashley, Susan Lund, and Rachel Sattler of Legal Action Wisconsin as well as attorneys William Baynard and Amanda Rabe and supervising attorney Beth Ann Richlen of Judicare. More than 200 people from nearly half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have received information, advice, or full legal representation since last December, and 91 cases were open as of mid–September.

    Abby Churchill: Helping Transgender Clients

    Transgender people face unique legal challenges, and Abby Churchill founded the nonprofit law center Trans Law Help Wisconsin to assist. The Trans Law Help Team has held six clinics to provide general legal information about the name and gender change process, which is more complicated than most clients think. The Trans Law Help team also is developing a statewide attorney referral network, with an eye toward developing resources outside of Madison and Milwaukee. The issue of inaccurate documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports can affect transgender people in any number of realms, from obtaining employment, to securing a loan, to providing proof of identity to law enforcement.

    Heidi Wegleitner, Rebeka Pritchett, Raphael Ramos, Don Tolbert, Maggie Niebler–Brown, and Sofia Ascorbe: Eviction Defense for Low–Income Tenants

    Tenants facing eviction, most of whom typically self–represent and lose their cases, have a better chance of gaining legal help in the Milwaukee and Madison areas thanks to the efforts of the respective local offices of Legal Action of Wisconsin, which have launched twin Eviction Defense Projects during the past couple of years. The Milwaukee County effort, staffed by project director Raphael Ramos, staff attorney Sofia Ascorbe, and paralegal Don Tolbert, has served 966 clients since early 2017 with help from 73 volunteer attorneys and 25 Marquette University Law School students. The Dane County project, begun in early 2018 and run by attorney Heidi Wegleitner and paralegal Rebeka Pritchett, has served 210 clients with 361 hours from 16 active pro bono attorneys and more than 100 hours of student help. Attorney Maggie Niebler–Brown coordinates the organization’s overall Volunteer Lawyers Project, while Deedee Peterson supervises its development.

    Collin Schaefer, Anne Smith, Eric Englund, and Louis Condon: Seeding Success for Startups

    Entrepreneurs starting companies often focus on their product or service ideas and the funding they need to birth those ideas. But they’re sometimes less mindful of careful planning around corporate governance, such as formation of necessary advisory and governance boards and the completion of proper legal forms. Madison–area attorneys Anne Smith, Eric Englund, and Louis Condon and angel investor and entrepreneur Terry Sivesind founded an organization called Madison Seed Accelerator, Inc. (aka Madworks) in 2014 that has evolved to tackle this set of governance challenges, prompted by the need they saw and encouragement from the entrepreneurial community. Madworks has since worked with several dozen startup companies to ensure they build a solid foundation. Program manager Collin Schaefer, who is also an attorney, says the goal of the pro bono program is to build companies that last.

    Karen Renee: Creating a One–stop Shop for Finding Court Reporters

    Karen Renee has been a court reporter in the Milwaukee area for about a decade and has owned Milwaukee Court Reporters for the past five years. She created to provide a platform where attorneys and paralegals can, with the click of a few buttons, choose court reporters and videographers based on their qualifications, certifications, years of experience, pricing, availability, and customer ratings. The database now has nearly 7,000 entries in almost all 50 states.

    More information about our 2018 Wisconsin Legal Innovators and their work is available here.

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    The State Bar of Wisconsin is the mandatory professional association, created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, for attorneys who hold a Wisconsin law license. With more than 25,000 members, the State Bar aids the courts in improving the administration of justice, provides continuing legal education for its members to help them maintain their expertise, and assists Wisconsin lawyers in carrying out community service initiatives to educate the public about the legal system and the value of lawyers. For more information, visit

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