Sept. 13, 2019 – Douglas W. Kammer, former president of the State Bar of Wisconsin, passed away unexpectedly Sept. 11, 2019. He was 74. Kammer, an attorney in Portage, served as president 2009-10.
“On behalf of all State Bar members, we send condolences to Doug’s family,” said State Bar President Jill Kastner.
Jim Boll of Madison, who succeeded Kammer as State Bar president, said Kammer’s election “gave a voice to members who felt they did not have one, and inspired many members to get involved in the State Bar who had never contemplated being involved in the past.”
A Portage Litigator
Kammer, U.W. 1970, was owner and senior partner of Kammer Law Office, S.C., which opened in 1972 in Portage. He concentrated his practice in litigation and real estate transactions, as part of a general practice.
Upon graduating from law school, Kammer joined Portage attorney Bill Murphy, then opened his own firm a year and a half later. “I was 26 years old when I opened my own shop. Of course I had no work to do,” he said in a profile in Wisconsin LawyerTM magazine in July 2009.
He subsequently found clients in the area of litigation, and tried cases around the state. In the course of this work, Kammer said he discovered a remarkable fellowship and generosity among Wisconsin lawyers.
“You can go to any lawyer in this town (Portage) and ask them when was the last time he represented someone for nothing, and he’ll tell you a date in the last two or three weeks,” Kammer said in 2009. “We have to take care of people in the community. We’re the only people who can do it.”
Kammer loved to travel, Boll said. “He also loved spending time at his cabin cutting wood, and relaxing with his children, Alex, Andy, and Aaron, and his grandchildren that he was so very proud of.” Kammer’s son, Alex, is a Middleton attorney.
State Bar President
While Kammer was State Bar president, the Bar enacted a financial transparency policy. Bar leadership also continued the longstanding work concerning the unauthorized practice of law, which resulted in a new chapter of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules – SCR Chapter 23, which regulates the unauthorized practice of law. At the time, Kammer said he considered this effort a great accomplishment, and one with the most profound implications for all State Bar members.
“Whatever I accomplished (as State Bar president), I did so only because of the hard work, prior work, guidance, and dedication of others. I was just lucky that success occurred on my watch,” Kammer wrote in his President’s Message column in June 2010.
Kammer was also an advocate for a voluntary bar. “Doug had a very strong view that the State Bar should be a voluntary organization and expressed that view through his actions over many decades,” Boll said. “Whether you agree or not with Doug’s view of the State Bar structure, it was clear that he was willing to spend his time and energy fighting for what he believed in.”
A Unique Leadership Style
Milwaukee attorney Nick Zales said he met Kammer for the first time in 2009 while serving on the State Bar Board of Governors.
Zales said he found Kammer’s leadership style a “breath of fresh air.” Kammer was not shy about offering his opinions, and was not afraid to ruffle a few feathers to make the Bar better for its members. “He had a keen interest in the welfare of our members, and worked tirelessly to ensure the Bar functioned in the best way to serve its members. He worked to help our members be the best lawyers they could be,” Zales said.
“I learned from Doug that believing in yourself and staying true to yourself are essential to being an effective lawyer and Bar leader,” Zales said.
Kammer, Zales said, loved people and wanted them to succeed. “He could have retired years ago, but enjoyed serving people as a lawyer.”
“He was a unique and fun-loving person, and I will never forget him,” Zales said.
See his obituary in the Portage Daily Register.