June 19, 2023 – More than 500 people recently attended the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Annual Meeting and Conference (AMC) at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, including around 400 members and a record-setting number of state and federal judges.
From the opening plenary session on “cancel culture” to the closing session on “strategies for resiliency,” attendees immersed themselves in nearly 20 breakout sessions, including four panels featuring state and federal judges.
More than 25 vendors in the expo hall educated members on how their products and services can improve law firm efficiencies or help their business operations, and attendees celebrated colleagues at the Presidential Swearing-In Ceremony, the Member Recognition Ceremony, and the Marquette/U.W. Law School Alumni Reception.
Judges, lawyers, and legal administrators joined together to connect, learn, and relax in the historic (and some say haunted) Pfister Hotel.
If you missed it, the 2024 Annual Meeting and Conference will take place next year, June 19-21, 2024, at the Hyatt Regency and KI Center in Green Bay. Until then, here are some tips and takeaways from the 2023 AMC in Milwaukee.
“Stop, listen, consider, decide.” That’s a step-by-step process for creating civility in the courtroom, according to Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Kristy Yang, one of three of judges and three lawyers discussing “Civility and Safety: A Panel Discussion with Judges and Attorneys.” Judge Yang said the simple process allows lawyers and judges to be proactive decision-makers, rather than reacting based on emotion.
Thursday's CLE session on “Civility and Safety: A Panel Discussion with Judges and Attorneys" included Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Kristy Yang, seated at the table second from left.
Lynn Laufenberg, a civil litigator for more than 45 years, said instances of incivility have been rare during his career. But he has seen it happen to younger lawyers, where opposing counsel will attempt to gain an edge through bullying or intimidation.
“Professionalism means showing respect for your colleagues, including opposing counsel, until they show they don’t deserve that respect,” Laufenberg said.
“Uncivil lawyers are, in my view, just bullies. Those susceptible to it may be those who lack confidence or preparedness on the issues in the case.”
“I believe civility starts with the judge in the courtroom,” said Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Michael Fitzpatrick. He’s also a former circuit court judge. “If you don’t know the next words out of your mouth because you’re so perturbed, stop talking.”
As for attorneys, “the most effective attorneys that I’ve seen both in private practice and on the bench are the most polite attorneys,” Judge Fitzpatrick said. “There’s no reason to raise your voice or be mean in your remarks about counsel.”
“People may not remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel,” said Racine Attorney Pat Cafferty, quoting poet Maya Angelou. “I think that’s something we should all be conscious of in the court room. I think that jurors are very conscious when they are watching lawyers interact with one another, with judges and witnesses, and other staff in the courtroom. They are very conscious of how people are being treated and they will take it out on you if they believe you are mistreating people.” Having a “junk yard dog” who is barking in the courtroom is totally ineffective, Cafferty said. “People just don’t react well to it.”
“Treat others like you want to be treated,” said Madison-based attorney Michael Crooks. “If you practice that way, you will have a much more pleasant experience than if you practice the opposite fashion.”
For instance, Crooks said, “if someone calls requesting an extension of time, I always grant it, as long as it doesn’t compromise my client’s rights.
Just remember this, what goes around comes around.”
Switching gears, Milwaukee attorney Mark Cameli moderated a different panel of judges in “Appellate Advocacy: Thoughts from the Bench.”
“For sufficiency of the evidence, when a jury verdict is attacked,
we look at whether there is any credible evidence under any reasonable view, that supports the verdict,” said Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer.
“It is a very high bar. One of the things we see is clients saying, ‘that wasn’t fair, that wasn’t right. The jury got it wrong.’ But our job is to see whether that standard is met. There’s a huge amount of deference built into these standards of review.”
Judge Neubauer said the affirmance rate for the Wisconsin Appeals Court is around 85 percent. “And that is because of these standards of review,” she said. “And there’s a reason for that. The jury was there, they saw the witness, they saw the demeanor.”
On Thursday night at the conference, the State Bar celebrated its
2023 award recipients, including Judge Carl Ashley, Chief Judge of Wisconsin's First Judicial District, recipient of the Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer Award (left); and Judge Ramona Gonzalez of LaCrosse County Circuit Court (right), recipient of the Lifetime Jurist Award. For more photos of the Member Recognition Celebration,
see the album on the State Bar Facebook page.
“Our role is different than the court of appeals,” said Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky. “If it comes to us, it can’t be because you think there was an error down below. Our role is development of the law.”
“Also, look at who is on the court. You don’t even need to count to seven. Count to four. If people could look a little bit ahead, or a little bit behind, or just thought more about who is on the court,” they may have saved a lot of time and money, Karofsky said.
The role of attorney is both advocate and counselor, noted Judge Michael Brennan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. “One of the toughest things to say as a counselor to your client is, ‘we are not going to succeed on this issue.’”
“The number of times, in our court, that you are going to prevail on appeal as a result of it being the fourth or fifth issue, is extremely small,” Judge Brennan said.
“If you do a fourth and fifth issue, it doesn’t have a good chance of succeeding,” given page and word limits on the briefs, and other factors, Brennan said. “Have the discussion early on as to why you are not including it.”
“It’s interesting as I’m listening to all three of you, these might be some of the most important things we’ll hear today,” said Cameli, moderator. “Because if you don’t get this part right, if this deliberative process is off in some way, the enormous cost, the enormous heartache, the enormous stress involved is incredible.”
“You have to make the record clear because when it goes up to the court of appeals, it’s black and white, it’s just the words. There’s nothing else,” said Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Mary Lazar, one of three judges on “Making the Record: Tips for Winning at the Trial and Appellate Courts.” “So, you have to make sure you are keeping an eye on that record.”
At the Friday ethics plenary, Timothy Samuelson, director of the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation (standing second from right) wearing a head scarf from the television show "Survivor," speaks to defend his place on in the fictious "island" (aka firm) in the ethics CLE session's version of the famous television show.
“Make sure you pinpoint exactly what pages you want and what lines,” when introducing deposition testimony into the record, says Brown County Circuit Court Judge John Zakowski. “You don’t want to say you’re introducing a deposition and not be specific about what in the deposition you want to have as part of the record.”
“We need to understand who would testify to what. It is that simple, but it needs to be that precise,” said Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Brian Blanchard, discussing offers of proof and getting them on the record. “The big project here, from our point of view, is to fairly review what the circuit court was actually presented with.”
“Engage in bottom-line discussions with the client,” said mediator and former U.S. Magistrate Judge David Jones on a panel discussing “Better Advocacy, Better Outcomes, Happier Clients Through Successful Mediation.”
“Talking to your client about how the mediator is going to help us assess risk, and what the mediator’s job is … sometimes there’s an expectation that the mediator is going to resolve the case. Let them know that the mediator is there to help the client and the lawyer and the other side see the case from different perspectives.”
“Encourage your client to have patience for the process,” said mediator and Marquette University Law Professor Jill Sopha.
About two dozen vendors attended the conference's Legal Expo.
“The mediation statement is really critical” in preparing the mediator, said Judge Charles Clevert Jr., a mediator and former member of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “It’s important that the lawyers prepare the clients for the fact that they must be open-minded. They should not think in terms of litigation.”
“There is something to be said about people in communities, who hold similar values and ideals,” said Dr. Alexander Gee in “When the Black Community Thrives, Wisconsin Benefits: Calling on Lawyers to be Agents of Real Change.”
“If we do that cross culturally, it will change each person to understand the other better. These systemic changes begin with relationships, not policies, in my humble estimation,” said Gee, CEO for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture in Madison. He’s also the lead pastor of Fountain of Life Church.
CLE Credit Hour Information
The AMC will be submitted to the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners for up to 10.5 credit hours based on your individual participation.
The Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) allows lawyers to earn up to 6 hours LPM (Law Practice Management) and 6 hours LAU (Lawyer Awareness & Understanding) credit towards the 30 hours of approved CLE required during a reporting period. Please see SCR 31.02 (3) and (4) for more information.
Additionally, you can earn even more credits watching select complimentary webcast replays in August and September. Complimentary webcast replays of eight sessions will be available to attendees of the in-person conference in June.
Thanks to all sponsors, vendors, attendees, and speakers. We’ll see you next year in Green Bay!