Neenah attorney Kathleen Brost is sworn in as State Bar president by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack. The ceremony took place at the State Bar Center in Madison in August and was recorded for the celebration event on Sept. 16 – a departure from tradition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the full swearing-in ceremony here.
Sept. 17, 2020 – In a year like no other and in a ceremony like none before, Neenah attorney Kathleen Brost was sworn in as the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 65th president.
Brost took up the post on July 1, 2020. She was sworn in via a virtual ceremony on Sept. 16, 2020, a nearly three-month delay due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Oshkosh attorney Sherry Coley hosted the virtual ceremony as emcee for the “unprecedented” event. “We are so happy to have Kathy join the ranks of leadership,” Coley said.
In becoming president, Brost succeeds Past President Jill Kastner of Milwaukee. Joined by Madison lawyer Cheryl Daniels as president-elect, it is the first time women hold the top three leadership positions in the State Bar. “What an honor to be part of the three women presidents in a row,” Brost said. “And for this event to happen on the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote is truly special. As special as this event is, I’d really prefer that it was just an everyday occurrence that happened all the time.”
Brost is currently a trust and financial advisor at Legacy Private Trust Company in Neenah. A former solo practitioner for about 12 years, Brost plans to support attorneys and firms throughout the state, with a special focus on solo practices and small firms. “I’m interested in supporting the solos and the small firms because that is so much of the State Bar membership,” she says.
Oshkosh attorney Sherry Coley hosted the virtual ceremony as emcee.
During her year as president, Brost plans to advance State Bar priorities such as increasing access to justice, championing diversity and inclusion, helping attorneys survive and thrive, and supporting the judicial system.
A Celebration, COVID Style
Typically, the presidential swearing-in ceremony is held in mid-June at start of the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference. However, the 2020 conference to be held in Elkhart Lake at the Osthoff Resort was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I was really looking forward to seeing all of you in person at the Osthoff Resort,” Brost said. “It would have been a great party – but having it by Zoom allows so many more of you to attend.”
The ceremony included the traditional passing of the gavel – with the 2020 version featuring 17 past presidents – from John Walsh, 1989-90, to Chris Rogers, 2018-19, and Kastner – “passing” their own gavels via video from their offices and homes, completed by Kastner "passing" live on video to Brost.
John Walsh, State Bar president 1989-90, participates via recorded video in the traditional passing of the gavel during the ceremony.
In August, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Brost met at the State Bar Center in Madison, where the oath was administered in person and recorded for the ceremony.
Speaking briefly prior to administering the oath, Chief Justice Roggensack congratulated Brost.
An important criteria for outstanding leadership is to be an effective listener, Chief Justice Roggensack said. “A leader must have the patience to hear others out, so she can fully understand their positions, concerns, and even their dreams. … Effective listening does require a particular kind of skill – I understand that Kathy is a very good listener.” “One thing I am certain. The presidency, when combined with COVID-19, will provide Kathy with plenty of leadership challenges,” Chief Justice Roggensack said.
Kate Knowlton of Wauwatosa introduced Brost as president, speaking via live video during the ceremony.
‘A Significant Leader’
With the celebration via video, Kate Knowlton of Wauwatosa had the honor of introducing Brost as president. Knowlton said that “the swearing in of our new president – the sacred oath taken by an elected member of our profession, to uphold, secure and lead the very best parts of what we have all chosen to do – is an important moment” that allows for greater reflection.
Brost exhibits energy and optimism, and excels at building and maintaining long-term relationships. “A hallmark of her style is absolute sincerity – yet another invaluable attribute of her leadership at the State Bar,” Knowlton said.
Knowlton has worked extensively with Brost on organizing the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference. “In the midst of challenges we face as a nation, a community, a profession – including the divisive and disrespectful rhetoric in the world that is directly impacting our work and daily living – we are fortunate to have Kathy’s sincerity, optimism, commitment, and humanity.”
Speaking via live video during the ceremony and pictured in a photo with State Bar President Kathleen Brost, Past President Jill Kastner of Milwaukee spoke of the historical significance of the event: "This is the first time a women president of the State Bar passes the gavel to the next woman president," she said.
When she was a new solo practitioner, Brost, according to Knowlton, turned to the State Bar for “in her words, ‘lots and lots of help’” in trying to figure out how to run a law practice. Brost thoroughly understands solo and small-firm work and has a “comprehensive understanding of the role the State Bar can and should play for its members.”
“Kathy is a significant leader for this difficult time,” Knowlton said.
Brost: The Four Initiatives
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to have been elected president of the State Bar. I can think of no greater honor than to be elected by my peers,” Brost said.
Brost, who began her term July 1, 2020, takes up the leadership role in a year that sees not just the coronavirus pandemic, but also civil rights protests and unrest in Wisconsin and across the country, as well as natural disasters affecting members across the U.S. and world.
“This year continues to be an unusual and challenging year,” Brost said, one that requires a team effort for all State Bar leadership, staff, and members. “This isn’t just ‘my’ year – this is all of our year. This is about doing what’s best for the State Bar member attorneys and the communities which they all serve. ”
“The trick is getting the right people to the table, in creating an environment in which each person feels comfortable enough to express their opinion and have a civil discussion of the issues to come to the best possible solutions,” Brost said. “And frankly, we need this now more than ever.”
During the ceremony, President Kathleen Brost spoke via live video of her four State Bar initiatives, which includes a focus on racial equality and justice.
Brost said her term focuses on four major initiatives. They include:
The Racial Justice Task Force
“When I took the oath of office, I promised to aid the Supreme Court in improving the administration of justice. The U.S. has a racial equality problem when it comes to justice, and how you are treated may depend on the color of your skin or what your background is. Therefore, while diversity and inclusion cuts across all aspects, race, gender, etc., the focus this year is on racial equality and justice.”
“Most people don’t join an organization if they don’t feel welcome,” Brost said. “If we want an organization of inclusive excellence, one which is grounded in fairness and respect, valued and belonging, safe and open and empowered and growing, make good decisions to prepare the State Bar for the future, it behooves us to seek out diverse candidates to become attorneys, seek out more diverse candidates to join our committees and board and to create an environment in which everyone feels welcome to share their experiences, knowledge, expertise and opinions.”
The task force, headed by Kastner, is already at work to establish concrete steps for the State Bar to take to increase diversity and inclusion, and particularly to increase racial equality and justice, Brost said.
Find out more on WisBar.org.
The Greater Wisconsin Initiative
With northern and western counties in Wisconsin having fewer and fewer practicing attorneys whose average age is over 60, there are few new attorneys taking their place. “This is an access to justice issue,” Brost said. “This issue is large and multifaceted, and stems from many causes,” including lack of internet service, high student loan debt.
Brost wants the State Bar to continue working with local communities and other professions to find solutions that will help lawyers practice in rural and low-population areas.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
The Lawyer Well-Being Task Force
The pandemic has only exacerbated the high levels of stress for lawyers across the state and the U.S., with lawyers facing challenges of working at home, schooling for their children, the necessity of using new technology to maintain contact with clients while maintaining client confidentiality, and more.
“The State Bar has joined the American Bar Association in establishing a Lawyer Well-Being Task Force to determine what practical steps the State Bar and the courts should take to increase the well-being of attorneys throughout the state,” Brost said.
Thriving During the Pandemic
This is not a task force, Brost said, but a focus of the Bar to test and adopt innovative solutions for State Bar members.
“The pandemic gave the State Bar the opportunity to offer free town hall meetings to attorneys from throughout the nation,” Brost said. “And our Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference is entirely online next month.” During the pandemic, lawyers are evolving their practice methods to find better ways to not only survive the pandemic but thrive, she said.
These four initiatives are focal points for the State Bar and its leadership. “And they help my goal to give back to the State Bar and the legal profession,” Brost said.
Brost invites State Bar members to join in and get involved. “Consider running for the Board of Governors or your local bar. Join a section or a committee to share your knowledge and expertise. Volunteer in your community as a poll worker or by doing pro bono,” Brost said.
“There are many ways that all of you can help the State Bar and the legal profession go forward because you and I were both a part of it.”
Find out more about Brost in the July/August 2020 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.