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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 01, 2002

    President's Profile - Pat Ballman

    State Bar President Pat Ballman has followed her own road to leadership. She'd like to support others in finding theirs.

    Dianne Molvig

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 75, No. 7, July 2002

    The Leading Edge

    State Bar President Pat Ballman has followed her own road to leadership. She'd like to support others in finding theirs.

    by Dianne Molvig

    On a fall day in 1974, Patricia Ballman stood in line to register for her first-year courses at Marquette University Law School. The notion of someday becoming president of the State Bar of Wisconsin would have been the farthest thing from her mind that day. In fact, on that particular morning Ballman's thoughts were mostly along the lines of "What am I doing here?"

    Pat Ballman

    Coupled with Ballman's efforts to build a more diverse Bar leadership will be a program for leadership development. "I think you have to hand-pick people," she points out. ... "You have to nudge people along. That involves encouragement, mentoring, and matching people's talents with openings and opportunities. And that's for the benefit of both the individual and the organization."

    She was a 28-year-old mother of two young children, ages three and four. She'd earned a degree in mathematics seven years earlier from St. Louis University, after which she'd worked as a computer programmer for General Electric in Cincinnati, her hometown, for three years to put her husband through medical school. Then she proceeded down what she'd always assumed would be her life's path - that is, she'd quit work after her husband's graduation, have children, and become a full-time homemaker. She landed in Milwaukee because her husband was doing his medical residency there.

    Now, here she was, waiting to sign up for law school classes. "I felt so nervous and out of place," Ballman recalls. "I kept thinking, `Am I crazy for wanting to do this?'"

    That feeling stemmed partly from having been out of school for seven years and being a bit older than the vast majority of her classmates, most of whom were stepping into law school right after college. Back then, unlike today, few students took time to pursue other interests or careers before entering law school.

    Further fueling Ballman's doubts was another prevalent belief of the time: that the legal profession was a man's domain. That attitude had just begun to shift. About a quarter of Ballman's first-year classmates were women, significantly more than only a few years earlier. Still, "we didn't expect equality," she notes. "We knew this was a man's world. We knew we had to try harder because we were trying to play in a man's world."

    Today, Ballman and other women lawyers of her generation can look back on old barriers that ranged from the maddening to the ridiculous. As law schools began to abandon their reluctance to admit women students, many law firms still resisted hiring them once they graduated. Law firm legal secretaries balked at working for women attorneys, seeing it as a demeaning assignment. And a woman could get fired from a law firm for wearing a pantsuit to the office, a threat Ballman herself once faced while working a summer job after her first year of law school.

    "The women we hire in law firms today just don't believe it was so different back then," Ballman says. "Or they think that's all ancient history." She laughs and adds, "It doesn't seem so long ago to me."

    Tapping New Leadership

    Much has changed in only three decades. And much more could. "If you look at the committee heads in the State Bar," Ballman notes, "it's very slim in terms of numbers of women. But you can't just appoint a woman to head a committee if she doesn't have experience on the committee."

    During her tenure as State Bar president, Ballman hopes to foster more diversity among the Bar's leadership ranks, in terms of both gender and ethnic background. "I believe strongly that people can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don't have boots," she notes.

    Thus, coupled with her efforts to build a more diverse Bar leadership will be a program for leadership development. She's created a new Leadership Development Subcommittee of the Bar's Nominating Committee. The subcommittee, chaired by former State Bar President Lane Ware, will help spot and nurture new leadership talent in all segments of the Bar's membership.

    Leadership development begins, Ballman explains, with scouting out leadership potential in sometimes overlooked places, and then providing an environment in which that potential can mature.

    "I think you have to hand-pick people," she points out, "and say to them, `You could get nominated to this. You could become chair of this committee someday if you were to get involved now.' You have to nudge people along. That involves encouragement, mentoring, and matching people's talents with openings and opportunities. And that's for the benefit of both the individual and the organization."

    Ballman herself has received some of that nudging she speaks about. Soon after graduating from law school in 1977 and going to work for the Milwaukee law firm of Quarles & Brady, where she's now a partner, she became active in the local bar association. She started by joining committees, and it gained momentum from there.

    "I have a vivid memory," Ballman recalls, "of Cliff Meldman encouraging me to run for the board of directors of the Milwaukee Bar. That made a difference. I might never have thought of running if someone hadn't mentioned it. I thought, `Oh, really? I could do that?'"

    She served on the Milwaukee Bar Association's board of directors from 1990 to 1997. She also won election as the association's president for the 1995-96 term.

    Looking further back on her life, Ballman recognizes the seeds of her own leadership development, which were always there, but lay dormant for a while before being sparked back to life. No doubt it's much the same for other potential Bar leaders out there, who may not recognize or may have forgotten the leadership talents they possess.

    For instance, Ballman remembers her days at an all-girl high school back in Cincinnati. Although not without disadvantages, the setting did offer certain benefits. "Being in an all-girls' school, you're allowed to compete and to be your best," she notes. "You don't have to just cheer on the boys. You can play on the team."

    For Ballman, that mentality endures decades later. One quality she recognizes in herself is that "I like to get in there and play the game, to be part of it," she says. "I don't like to sit on the sidelines."

    Long-time Bar Involvement

    As State Bar president, Ballman will have plenty of opportunities to fulfill her desire to be in the thick of the action. She ran for this office, prestigious though energy-draining as it can be, because "I love Bar activities," she says. "I like people. And I like lawyers, particularly when they're working cooperatively. That's exactly what Bar work is - lawyers working together on projects to help people and to help the judicial system. I've made some tremendous friends whom I would never have met if I hadn't been involved in bar associations."

    Having served as president of the Milwaukee Bar Association will be a plus for Ballman in leading the State Bar. Still, while her former office "was good preparation," she notes, "it wasn't a dress rehearsal. The State Bar structure is much more complex in the way things work."

    The processes of the State Bar must move more slowly and deliberately, Ballman points out, because membership is mandatory for lawyers practicing in the state. "When you have members who are forced to belong," she emphasizes, "you'd better make sure they get their say on everything significant through the representative process" provided primarily via the Board of Governors.

    During her term, besides striving to expand diversity among Bar leaders, Ballman intends to give most of her attention to two other efforts. "What I'm most excited about working on," she says, "is the effort to improve the image of lawyers." (See the April 2002 Wisconsin Lawyer cover story.) The Bar will use a unified message to educate the public about the value lawyers bring to their clients and their communities.

    While president-elect last year, Ballman chaired the Bar steering committee that devised the public image effort. Now that the committee has a product, the next step is to get local bars, law firms, and individual lawyers throughout Wisconsin to use it. "That's one thing I'm going to work on," Ballman says. "We want lawyers to see that this is good for them. It's not for the benefit of the State Bar. The effort's goal is to help lawyers in the state by educating the public and thereby improving the public's perception of lawyers."

    Another focus for Ballman will be to promote improved electronic and Internet services to Bar members. She'd like to see interactive online capabilities, which could enhance continuing legal education and other services to members statewide. "Right now you can read information online," she notes. "But you can't have interactive discussions." Because such a project would entail heavy capital investments, Ballman recognizes that it must be long-term in scope. "This is not going to get done in one term," she says. "But I want to get people started thinking about it."

    A Personal Cheering Section

    Ballman begins her term July 1, although she was sworn into office at a ceremony in the State Capitol during the Bar's May convention. Attending the occasion to celebrate with her were the five leading women in her life. Her mother, three sisters, and daughter all flew in from dispersed locations around the country. "We had this row of women right in front," Ballman says. "It was terrific."

    Other family members not able to attend the ceremony included a son, and an eight-year-old grandson who lives in South Carolina but spends his summers with Ballman and his other grandparents in Kenosha. During the summer, Ballman devotes every other weekend to his visits. "I have a special relationship with my grandson," she says. "Raising two kids, I never could seem to give either enough attention. But with one grandson, I can have an actual one-on-one relationship."

    In the rest of her time away from her presidential duties and family law practice, Ballman loves to engage in her longtime passion for playing sports. Prior knee injuries now limit her to a little skiing in winter and as much golf as she can fit in during the rest of the year. "And I love to garden," she adds. "Golfing and gardening are two of my avid interests - which, of course, leaves me a lot of time in the winter to work on State Bar projects."

    Dianne Molvig operates Access Information Service, a Madison research, writing, and editing service. She is a frequent contributor to area publications.

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