Sign In
    Wisconsin Lawyer
    February 07, 2023

    Wisconsin Legal Trends 2023

    Twenty-five Wisconsin lawyers and others in the legal profession weigh in on trends in 17 practice areas as well as law firm marketing, office management, legal research, and employment.

    Joe Forward

    icicle on tree

    Many companies and other organizations put out “legal trends” reports annually, assessing the evolution of legal practice and what lawyers should be targeting moving forward. For instance, the 2022 Legal Trends Report published by Clio noted that firms must be “antifragile.”

    “Antifragile law firms build resiliency into their operations by finding balance between the needs of their clients, the industry, and their people,” the report states.

    “Finding this balance requires being open to innovation, finding creative solutions to challenges, and making data-driven decisions to find a better way forward.”

    These reports include some important tidbits about the U.S. legal market in general or the state of the legal profession. For instance, 37% of lawyers surveyed (the most) said they left or would leave their job for better pay. But work-life balance was just as important.

    Almost half of those surveyed said they prefer working from home, but the report notes that work-from-home burnout is also real.

    The correlation between regular work hours and job satisfaction, including mental and emotional wellness, is high. But a lawyer’s availability after hours or on weekends, which ties to response times, is a major factor when a client is choosing a lawyer.

    COVID-19 and economic trends continue to drive many discussions in the legal world, including the ongoing implications for the work environment and the legal market.

    Joe ForwardJoe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is communications director for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    Another report from Thomsen Reuters, the 2022 State of U.S. Small Law Firms, says lawyers at solo and small law firms are optimistic about growth potential in 2023, despite an economic downturn.

    “Slightly more than 60% of small firm lawyers expect high-to-moderate growth over the next year in revenues per lawyer, billable hours, and profits per lawyer – all representing sizeable jumps from last year,” the report states. “In addition, the majority of lawyers expect higher attorney compensation, profits per equity partner, and productivity. Expectations for improved billing rates and realization are also significantly higher than last year.”

    These national outlooks can be helpful, but for more insight on practice-related trends in Wisconsin, we asked lawyers throughout the state – many of whom are serving on one of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 26 section boards – to provide a snapshot of what’s going on in their own practice areas and what the future might hold.

    We also caught up with other attorneys and legal professionals to discuss trends in legal marketing, law office management, diversity, and employment. Elsewhere in this issue, you’ll read about technology trends, lawyer well-being trends, and court security trends.

    Practice Area Trends


    Christa Westerberg“Administrative and local government law trends include renewable energy siting and regulation,” said Christa Westerberg of Pines Bach LLP in Madison. Westerberg is the chair of the State Bar’s Administrative & Local Government Law Section.

    “At the administrative level, the Public Service Commission [PSC] of Wisconsin has been issuing several siting and transactional approvals of utility-scale solar farms, some with battery storage. At least seven projects are still under PSC review for 2023 as utilities look to meet goals to reduce or eliminate their CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions. Local governments will continue to have jurisdiction to review projects smaller than 100 megawatts, including through zoning and developer’s agreements.

    “The PSC made news at the end of 2022 by issuing a declaratory ruling that a family’s request to have a third-party owner install a solar array on their home did not subject the third-party solar provider to regulation as a public utility. Appeals and additional declaratory rulings may be on tap for 2023, especially as incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress in 2022 make renewables more attractive for homeowners and others.”

    Alternative Dispute Resolution

    David Edwin Jones“By far, the largest trend that emerged in mediation was the use and widespread acceptance of remote platforms in lieu of in-person sessions,” said former U.S. Magistrate Judge David Edwin Jones, now of Resolute Systems LLC in Milwaukee. Jones is a member of the State Bar’s Dispute Resolution Section Board.

    “Prior to Covid, nearly all mediations were conducted in conference rooms with everyone appearing in person. Perhaps an insurance adjuster might participate by telephone, but everyone else was expected to attend in person. Nobody did virtual.

    “When the Covid lockdowns began in March of 2020, some mediators responded by trying to do telephonic mediations. But these were unsatisfying and unproductive for a number of reasons: people constantly talked over each other, it was difficult to discern how people were reacting emotionally, and there seemed to be a lack of attention and focus by some participants, who were likely surfing the web or their email.

    “Now, even without the spur of a lockdown, the vast majority of participants have enthusiastically embraced virtual platforms. Not only do they make scheduling far easier, but they also help keep participants fresher, more engaged, and less frustrated. Moreover, they enable participation by key decision-makers, who might otherwise be too busy to participate. And experience has shown, through success-rate statistics, that virtual platforms work even in the most emotionally challenging cases.”

    Appellate Practice

    Malinda J. Eskra“Despite the challenges that have come with the pandemic over the last few years, filings in Wisconsin’s appellate courts have remained relatively steady,” said Malinda J. Eskra of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c. in Milwaukee. Eskra is chair of the State Bar’s Appellate Practice Section.

    “However, the average time from filing a notice of appeal to receiving a decision from the court of appeals has increased substantially, now averaging 369 days. Practitioners seeking quicker results for their clients can do so by filing well before their statutorily mandated deadlines.

    “While it may be tempting to wait until day 90 to file a notice of appeal or to take a full 45 days to file an opening brief, filing early is within a practitioner’s control and will lead to faster results for clients frustrated and stressed by lengthy wait times at the court of appeals.”


    J. David Krekeler“By far the major trend in the bankruptcy practice area is the continued decline in the number of cases filed,” said J. David Krekeler of Krekeler Law S.C. in Madison. Krekeler is past chair of the State Bar’s Bankruptcy, Insolvency & Creditors’ Rights Section.

    “For fiscal year 2022 (ending Sept. 30, 2022) filings were down 12% from 2021, and more than 50% from 2019. We are seeing fewer lawyers practicing in this area, as the cost of software does not justify handling just a case or two a year.

    “This could change for several reasons. Inflation continues to cause hardship for families in the lower to middle economic classes. Higher interest rates are already leading to layoffs. The government is not likely to keep issuing moratoriums.

    “In November, the Department of Education issued new guidelines for its attorneys in evaluating student loan discharges, and the expectation is that proving undue hardship will be significantly easier. If so, bankruptcy could become much more attractive for student loan borrowers.”

    Business Law

    Ashley Smith“As a corporate attorney, most of my practice comprises middle-market mergers and acquisitions. The consensus based on what I have seen in my and my colleagues’ practices and talking shop with these other professionals (bankers, accountants, investment bankers, and so on) is that for 2023 there is much uncertainty about what the deal market is going to look like, with a recession looming, volatile stock markets, and rising interest rates,” said Ashley Smith of Godfrey & Kahn S.C. in Milwaukee. Smith is a member of the State Bar’s Business Law Section board.

    “This same uncertainty led to deal volumes in 2022, particularly in quarters three and four, being down compared to the historic deal volumes seen in 2021. While slow deal volumes are likely to continue into quarter one of 2023, many predict and are optimistic that deal flow will stabilize and return to pre-2021 volumes later in the year.”

    Criminal Law

    Brian Dimmer“In the wake of the Waukesha parade tragedy in November of 2021, politicians have argued for and against changing Wisconsin’s bail and bond laws,” said Brian Dimmer of Richards & Dimmer S.C. in Racine. Dimmer is the Criminal Law Section’s liaison to the State Bar’s Board of Governors.

    “This spring, Wisconsin voters should expect to see a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand the factors courts may consider when imposing monetary bail. Current Wisconsin law limits courts to considering whether an accused will return to court when determining the amount of money, if any, that the accused must pay to be released from custody. This issue affects all stakeholders in the criminal justice process – from jails that may become more crowded, to defense attorneys who argue for clients’ release from custody, and to courts that must grapple with increased speedy trial demands in an already backlogged system because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

    Elder Law

    Ryan Long“Throughout northern Wisconsin, there continues to be a high demand for elder law services, particularly in the area of long-term care planning,” said Ryan Long of Sturgul & Long S.C. in Ashland. Long is the chair-elect of the State Bar’s Elder Law and Special Needs Section.

    “Planning for long-term care, however, has become extraordinarily difficult with the shortage of both long-term care facilities and caregivers in general. Even in situations where individuals have done significant advance planning for Medicaid qualification, families are continually forced with deciding over admission to a Medicaid facility several hours away or paying for a private facility located closer to home.

    “It is also not unusual to see individuals with long-term care insurance in rural areas unable to take advantage of a home-health-care rider because of the lack of certified home-health-care agencies. As such, more residents of northern Wisconsin may rethink where they will reside in their later years.”

    Estate Planning

    Shanna Yonke“Estate planners continue to prepare for the sunset of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2025,” said Shanna Yonke of Ruder Ware LLSC in Wausau. Yonke is a member of the State Bar’s Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section board.

    “In 2023, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption amount is $12.92 million per person, and this amount will continue to be adjusted for inflation annually through 2025. However, in 2026, this amount will be reduced to $5 million, adjusted for inflation. To avoid chaos in 2025 like that faced by estate planners in 2012, we are encouraging clients to engage in estate tax planning sooner rather than later.

    “While the Wisconsin Trust Code was a great improvement in state trust law, estate planners know that there is room for improvement. The trailer bill to the Wisconsin Trust Code is still a work in progress. We also anticipate improvements to the decanting provisions, which are currently not included in the trailer bill. Estate planners continue to advocate for directed-trust legislation in Wisconsin as well.”

    Family Law

    Margaret Hickey“Family law attorneys want to avoid court in custody and placement disputes, especially postjudgment,” said Margaret Hickey of Becker Hickey & Poster S.C. in Milwaukee. Hickey, an experienced family law attorney, is the president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    “Many attorneys agree pre-judgment to use a parent coordinator (PC) who is appointed under Wis. Stat. section 802.12 to resolve disputes with a limited right to appeal. This is similar to the use of a special master or arbitration with limitations since State ex rel. Universal Processing Services of Wisconsin LLC v. Circuit Court of Milwaukee County, 2017 WI 26. Parties also may agree to use a PC postjudgment as a means to a quicker, sometimes cheaper way to resolve disputes.

    “The PC will review the dispute from the parties’ written submissions (such as a holiday drop-off time or a travel request), interview the parties, if needed, and make a prompt decision. The use of a PC keeps the parties out of court, may save the cost of a guardian ad litem, and avoids protracted litigation.”

    Health Law

    Kristen Nelson“The ripple effect of healthcare workers’ stress from the COVID-19 pandemic will continue into 2023,” said Kristen Nelson of Gimbel Reilly Guerin & Brown LLP in Milwaukee. Nelson is chair of the State Bar’s Health Law Section.

    “We have seen an increase in healthcare workers who are burned out and are self-medicating to deal with their stress. As a result, we have seen an increase in enforcement actions against healthcare workers by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), as well as both the Wisconsin and the U.S. Departments of Justice.

    “A healthcare worker with an OWI [operating while intoxicated] conviction will continue to experience a delay in the renewal of their license. Healthcare workers suspected of diverting controlled substances in the workplace will continue to not only be reported to DSPS, but may also be referred to local law enforcement, resulting in possible criminal charges.”

    Intellectual Property

    Thomas PienkosErin Kaprelian2023 is likely to bring several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that will affect multiple areas of intellectual property law within the U.S., including trademarks, copyrights, and patents, according to Thomas Pienkos and Erin Kaprelian of Amundsen Davis LLC in Milwaukee.

    Pienkos is the Intellectual Property and Technology Law Section board’s liaison to the State Bar’s Board of Governors.

    “In the U.S., trademark protection can be obtained through use of the respective mark and can be established via common-law rights, or federal protection can be obtained under the Lanham Act,” they noted. “Abitron Austria GmbH v. Hetronic International Inc. is addressing whether the Lanham Act also provides remedies for international infringement of a registered trademark. If so, this could be a powerful additional protection for U.S. federally registered trademark owners.

    “Copyright protection may be obtained on creative works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. A doctrine known as ‘fair use’ permits one to alter or ‘transform’ a copyrighted work and not be subject to penalty, notwithstanding the original author’s copyright protection. Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. v. Goldsmith is addressing the requirements needed for a work to be considered ‘transformative’ and thus non-infringing. This could have substantial implications, for example, for licensing considerations, artistic interpretations of existing works, and what fair use means more broadly.

    “Patents provide the right to exclude others from practicing the invention claimed in the patent. Patent applications are prepared to describe, in writing, and often using drawings, respective inventions, and are filed with and examined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office pursuant to very specific requirements. Amgen Inc. v. Sanofi addresses the scope of one such requirement – enablement – which is that the patent application write-up must sufficiently describe how to make and use the invention defined in the written claims.”


    Ngosong Fonkem“2022 was a dynamic year for international trade lawyers,” said Ngosong Fonkem of Harris Bricken Sliwoski LLP, an international-trade law firm. Fonkem is the chair of the State Bar’s International Law Practice Section.

    Against the backdrop of continuing pressure on supply chains and ports due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, several major developments in international trade law affected international trade lawyers. Those developments originated from legislative, judicial, executive, and administrative actions. Some notable developments include:

    • the Russian invasion of Ukraine and resulting impact on import restrictions and duty implications of Russian-origin products;

    • ongoing U.S.-China trade tension and technology and importation of goods from China;

    • aggressive use of antidumping and countervailing-duties trade remedies; and

    • U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement update and related customs regulatory developments.

    “Although 2022 has been a tumultuous year for global trade, there continued to be significant developments on the trade front. And despite the disruptive effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and increasing enforcement actions by the United States government, many international trade practitioners continually found ways to adapt to unexpected changes to their business environment. These trends will likely continue in 2023.”

    Labor & Employment

    Catarina Colón“With the Great Resignation and reshuffling slowing, employers are navigating a myriad of new employment issues, including assessing telework as a reasonable accommodation post-COVID and focusing on retention efforts including the creation and implementation of DEIA policies and practices,” said Catarina Colón of Husch Blackwell LLP in Milwaukee. Colón is the Labor & Employment Law Section board’s liaison to the State Bar’s Board of Governors.

    “Relatedly, many employers are also inquiring about pay-equity analyses and safe harbors offered under certain state laws and the anticipated impacts of the U.S. Supreme Court’s determination on a challenge to affirmative action.

    “Workplaces are also navigating new guidance from the Department of Labor on independent contractor versus employee classification, the impacts of Dobbs on employee benefits, and the risks of using AI to assess job applicants. There will be no shortage of employment-related issues throughout 2023, with employee demands on flexible work arrangements and a potential recession on the horizon.”


    Kristen Scheuerman“I am getting more and more demands from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for a full reimbursement for funds received by my clients through medical payments coverage (auto insurance). It is important these are responded to and dealt with timely; if ignored, I have seen these referred to the U.S. Department of Treasury and your clients’ taxes can be intercepted or benefits, like Social Security, can be withheld,” said Kristen Scheuerman of Weiss Law Office S.C. in Appleton. She is the immediate past chair of the State Bar’s Litigation Section.

    “Although my personal opinion is that the Medicare Secondary Payer Act does not contemplate any reimbursement to CMS for medical pay payments, one way to simplify this battle is to have medical pay payments made directly to the medical providers or facilities as opposed to reimbursing your client for their uninsured, out-of-pocket expenses. But given how much more frequently I am seeing this (both during the pendency of a case and even years after a settlement has been achieved and reported), I think it is important to understand 1) that this is happening, and 2) what needs to be done to address this in the most expeditious fashion possible to avoid significant problems for your clients.”

    Property Law & Utilities

    Jessica J. Shrestha“There has been a surge in the last couple of years in boundary and easement disputes,” said Jessica J. Shrestha of Fredrikson & Byron PA in Madison. “I think this has been fueled by the hot property market and the increased time people are spending at home or at their ‘up north’ property.” Shrestha is chair of the State Bar’s Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section.

    “This has culminated in several changes to the law over the past couple of years, including the new private-road-maintenance statute, [Wis. Stat.] section 710.20, and modifications to [Wis. Stat.] section 893.33 to help protect private-road and driveway easements from expiring under the law. There are also numerous ongoing utility projects involving significant amounts of property work. This works includes obtaining easements or leases for renewable energy and transmission projects and issues related to the expansion of broadband.”

    Public Interest

    Kelsey Brown“The biggest trend I am seeing with Social Security disability benefits is the wait time to get an initial decision,” said Kelsey Brown of Legal Action of Wisconsin Inc. in Milwaukee. Brown is chair-elect of the State Bar’s Public Interest Law Section.

    “Since the start of the 2020 pandemic, it went from waiting about 90 days for a decision to waiting over 200 days and counting. I can think of two big reasons for this backlog: 1) staff shortages (hiring struggles and employees retiring or leaving); and 2) a surge in applications with people applying due to complications from having Covid-19 and baby boomers applying for retirement.

    “These huge backlogs force many, if not all, of my clients to wait months – sometimes years – for a decision. This is not ideal considering many of my clients are newly released from prison who have serious mental health issues and are in desperate need of assistance.”

    Real Estate & Construction

    Mark Hinkston“The COVID pandemic, which has caused significant disruption, has fostered change and accountability in real estate and construction,” said Mark Hinkston of Knuteson, Hinkston & Rosenberg S.C. in Racine. Hinkston is chair of the Construction & Public Contract Law Section.

    “Construction lawyers will likely review contracts to, among [other things], better allocate responsibility for supply chain interruption and delay, account for material price increases, promote compliance with workplace safety requirements, and hedge against future potential calamities (via more specific force majeure clauses).

    “Real estate lawyers will balance flexibility with pandemic-inspired safeguards. Commercial landlords, who faced increased tenant default and downsizing, will want leases reviewed to enhance future protection. Residential evictions and mortgage foreclosures likely will rise. An uncertain economy, stoked by inflation, increased interest rates, and a volatile housing market, will undoubtedly present any number of legal issues for real estate practitioners.”

    Legal Marketing Trends

    The Personal Touch

    Britt Frank“In a post-pandemic world, the internet is still king but personal touches are appreciated,” said Britt Frank, marketing director at Gimbel Reilly Guerin & Brown LLP in Milwaukee. “I think mid-sized firms need to build their brand to distinguish themselves from the middle of the pack.

    “I try and promote the real moments that the firm has as well as the polished headshots. Our firm is a real place with real people, and I want everyone to see that. It’s what makes us relatable and ties us to the community. We have advanced strategies and a lot of experience [and we have] a fun side.”


    Bob Ambrogi“I’ve just hit my 20th anniversary of blogging and I’ve never seen the level of readership that I have,” said Bob Ambrogi, a lawyer, journalist, and award-winning blogger at the law technology blog LawSites.

    “You’re going to want to spend some time on marketing and business development no matter what. Blogging has proven to be one of, if not the most, effective way to build a practice. If you’re already reading the cases from your state supreme court on family law or whatever your practice area might be, how much longer does it take to write up a quick post about the supreme court ruling and post it up there? It can become part of a routine.

    “Blogging makes you smarter because it gets you in a routine of keeping up with the news and writing about the news in a way that you have to understand it so other people can understand it. So, there’s a real benefit to it just beside the marketing side of it.”

    Metrics and Content Calendars

    Emily Kelchen“Putting together a content calendar for yourself or your firm is a great way to meet your marketing goals for the year,” said Emily Kelchen, president of the legal marketing firm Kelchen Consulting, based in Tennessee. Kelchen is a member of the State Bar’s Communications Committee and secretary of the Nonresident Lawyers Division.

    “Also, before you spend any more time or money marketing your firm in your community or online, you need to think about how you will measure the impact of your efforts.”

    In upcoming issues of Wisconsin Lawyer, Kelchen will share a guide you can use to sketch out your long-term marketing goals, break each task into manageable chunks, and create a content calendar that will keep you on track. She’ll also share simple metrics you can use to assess your business-generation efforts so you know where to spend your time and money most effectively.

    Office Management Trends

    Larger Firms

    Lori Dorn“A key topic law firm leaders are contemplating for 2023 is the hybrid workforce, which is here to stay,” said Lori Dorn, director of administration at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP in Madison.

    “The goal is to balance employees’ desire for flexibility with preserving firm culture. Office managers recognize having people work in the office at least two or three days per week helps maintain the firm’s culture.

    “Firm managers are updating remote work policies to set clear expectations. Establishing specific collaboration days can ensure adequate coverage in the office, encourage a sense of inclusion, strengthen mentoring and career skills development, and provide training on issues such as health and well-being. Addressing equity concerns in a hybrid work environment is also important. Managers need to make sure remote workers feel included and workers who perform tasks that cannot be done remotely feel they are being treated fairly.

    Smaller Firms

    J. David Krekeler“We have more people working remotely more often,” said J. David Krekeler of Krekeler Law S.C. in Madison. Krekeler, a bankruptcy lawyer, is chair of the State Bar’s Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section.

    “As a result, we have updated our technology and moved into the cloud. We must also monitor productivity more closely. While many report that people are more productive when working remotely, that is not our experience. We have embraced dictation tools to reduce our need [for] office secretarial and clerical staff time.

    “We use Microsoft 365 and Dragon Anywhere. We have also relocated and reduced our brick-and-mortar footprint. Doing so cut our rent cost nearly in half. And to help our remote workers, we now have two small satellite offices, in Menasha and Brookfield. This allows them to have an actual office presence without having to come all the way to Madison.”

    Legal Research Trends

    Legal Analytics & Artificial Intelligence

    Laura Olsen“Legal research tools have evolved in recent years with particular emphasis on legal analytics, artificial intelligence-enabled brief analysis, and practical guidance tools,” said Laura Olsen, senior legal research specialist at Quarles & Brady LLP in Madison. Olsen is a member of the State Bar’s Communications Committee.

    “Legal analytics is the practice of drawing actionable insights from large data sets, including court dockets and judicial opinions. Legal analytics research tools use a combination of machine learning, natural language processing, and human annotation, allowing the researcher to unearth information about opposing counsel, litigants, courts, and judges, informing case strategy, matter budgeting, expert witness vetting, and more.

    “Artificial intelligence-enabled brief analysis research tools review citation-rich legal documents to recommend relevant authority that may have been missed during the drafting process. Such tools can be used to check one’s own drafts or analyze an opponent’s work.

    “Time-saving practical guidance tools are solid starting points for secondary source legal research. Practical guidance tools are ‘how-to’ legal research resources, including checklists, model documents with drafting guidance, multijurisdictional surveys, and practice area guides.”

    Books UnBound

    Carol Chapman“A significant development or trend in legal research for Wisconsin lawyers is the newest platform for Books UnBound,” said Carol Chapman, publications manager for the State Bar of Wisconsin. Books UnBound® is the exclusive online digital resource from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® books. Since 2010, many of the “brown binders” and other treatises that lawyers have relied on for decades have been available in a digital format, which was recently upgraded through a partnership with Lexum, a legal software company.

    “It’s faster with a more modern look and feel, includes a more robust search function with Boolean and natural search options, and gives users one-click access to case law through Fastcase and primary law on official websites,” Chapman said.

    “It also provides an expanded ability to create and search your notes, including the ability to embed URL links, images, and other helpful information directly in the notes and to print your notes with both the highlighted book text and your user-added comments.”

    Employment & Diversity Trends


    Nikia Gray“After the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a slightly weakened job market for the class of 2020, which graduated in the early months of the pandemic, we saw it bounce back with a vengeance,” said Nikia Gray, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in Washington D.C.

    “The employment outcomes for the class of 2021 were some of the strongest ever recorded by NALP, beginning a ‘war on talent’ with firms engaging in a hiring frenzy and using increased salaries and extravagant bonuses to both attract and retain talent at all levels.

    “That … continued into early 2022, and last year’s graduates had similarly strong job options. However, 2022 was a progressively challenging year for firms and by fourth quarter we started to see the job market shift. The hiring frenzy and salary increases of 2021 and early 2022 combined with a drop in demand for legal services, meaning that many firms closed out the year overleveraged, having many more lawyers at greater salaries who billed comparatively fewer hours. The last few months of 2022 saw some firms trying to right size through layoffs and hiring freezes.

    “Fortunately, firms seem to have learned their lesson from the Great Recession about the long-term effect of pulling back on hiring new graduates altogether and thus far have taken a more measured approach with the class of 2023.

    “Our concern though should be for the class of 2024. The class of 2024 is the largest we’ve seen in recent years, being nearly 12% larger than the class of 2023. Given the current economic climate, it’s unlikely the job market will grow fast enough to match it and that 2024 graduates may therefore have more limited job prospects.”

    Law Firm Diversity

    Nikia GrayThe rising tide of strong job prospects the last two years did not lift all boats, according to Nikia Gray.

    “Although some progress was made for graduates of color, overall there continue to be substantial disparities between the employment outcomes for graduates of color compared with white graduates and in some cases those disparities increased. We saw from NALP’s Class of 2021 Employment Report and Salary Survey that although the employment gap lessened for Asian, Black, Latinx, and multiracial graduates, it increased for Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander graduates.

    “When it comes to law firms, the increased focus we saw firms place on diversity after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent social reckoning has had a measurable – positive – effect in the junior ranks. Among summer associates, the total percentage of associates of color increased by 1.7 percentage points compared with last year, according to NALP’s research for the 2023 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms. In tandem with this, the representation of associates of color reached a historic high of 28.32%.

    “The same cannot be said at the partnership level, which is frustrating for an industry that has talked about this issue for decades. In 2022, people of color accounted for only 11.4% of all partners (equity and non-equity). To put that number into perspective, when NALP began reporting data on attorneys of color in 1991, people of color [were] 2.14% of all partners.

    “That means that, in just over 30 years, we’ve seen the representation of people of color at the partner level increase by less than 10 percentage points. At this rate, we still won’t be anywhere near parity in another 30 years. By any measure, such abysmal progress is a complete failure and one that falls squarely on the shoulders of law firm leaders for failing to take a hard look at exclusionary practices that prevent diverse lawyers from joining them in the partnership ranks.

    “Not surprisingly, we see wide geographic disparities in the diversity of law firms too. Milwaukee firms in particular struggle to attract and retain diverse lawyers, with some of the lowest percentages of partners of color and associates of color out of any city NALP tracks.

    “In 2022, people of color comprised only 5.08% of all partners in the Milwaukee offices of firms who reported data, and associates of color comprised only 12.16% – both numbers being less than half of the representation we see when we look at the industry overall.”

    Article coordinated by Joe Forward, the State Bar’s director of communications and editor of Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.

    » Cite this article: 96 Wis. Law. 10-19 (February 2023).

Join the conversation! Log in to comment.

News & Pubs Search

Format: MM/DD/YYYY