Wisconsin Lawyer: FY05 State Bar Annual Report: Great Expectations:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

Top Link Bar

    WisBar.org may be unavailable on January 17 between 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. for system maintenance.​​​​​​

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search


    FY05 State Bar Annual Report: Great Expectations

    The Bar's mission to improve the administration of justice and the delivery of legal services and to promote the professional interests of its lawyer members generates great challenges - and great rewards.

    Share This:

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 12, December 2005

    Great Expectations

    State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Report
    Fiscal 2005: July 1, 2004 - June 30, 2005

    The State Bar of Wisconsin's lofty mission generates great expectations from its publics - members, Wisconsin citizens, the judicial system. The Bar's mission to improve the administration of justice and the delivery of legal services and to promote the professional interests of its lawyer members also generates great challenges - and great rewards.


    Making decisions that move the Bar closer to achieving its mission is critical to the success of this complex organization of 21,950 diverse members, 49 elected and appointed volunteer leaders who govern and set organizational policy and direction, and 63 committees, sections, and divisions. This year, Bar leaders refined the association's strategic plan, setting goals and measures to help the Bar become a more productive, viable organization. The next significant step will engage Bar committees, sections, and divisions in activity that supports one of four strategic priorities:

    • increase relevance of the Bar to its members • improve member engagement in the Bar
    • improve public access to the legal system
    • increase public understanding of the legal system

    As in past years, the Bar's FY 2005 activities are so numerous that only a representative few can be included in this annual report to its members.

    Increase the Bar's Relevance to and Engagement of its Members

    An organization's relevance to its members goes hand-in-hand with members' involvement in their organization. Relevance can take many forms - it may be the new CLE book in your practice area or a seminar delivered via the Internet so you don't have to incur travel expenses or efforts to inform


    July 2004

    Michelle Behnke, the State Bar's fourth woman president, challenges members to meaningful debate on important issues; visits 30-plus local/specialty bars to directly engage members.

    "Wisconsin Lawyers Make a Difference" TV spots continue statewide rotation, airing in south central Wisconsin June through September. 30-second spots educate the public about the value lawyers bring to their communities. TV spots rotate to western/central Wisconsin, March through May, showcasing lawyers' public service work.

    The State Bar recognizes state Reps. Mark Gundrum and Terri McCormick and U.S. Rep. David Obey for their work to remove barriers from and enhance access to the justice system.

    Board approves Appellate Practice Section's request to file amicus brief regarding procedures the court of appeals must employ before finding an appeal frivolous.

    August 2004

    250-plus members attend free Career Development Conference,

    connecting attendees with resources they need to get ahead.

    CLE Seminars moves from VHS videotape technology to DVD video, improving satellite site video quality and creating an opportunity to develop more delivery mechanisms. 10,000-plus registrants attend 643 seminars in FY05.

    September 2004

    Board begins using a knowledge-based decision making process to ensure good decisions on complicated issues such as WisTAF and Ethics 2000.

    CLE Books releases the new Drafter's Guide to Wisconsin Condominium Documents, earning a national award of outstanding achievement.

    October 2004

    50-plus WisLAP frontline responders receive in-depth training to better help hotline callers cope with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and other threats to their lives.

    November 2004

    Board opposes the WisTAF petition assessing an annual $50 fee per attorney, supports a two-year $50 opt-out contribution to WisTAF and to study access to civil legal services for low-income people.

    The Elder Law Section receives Board approval to submit amicus brief supporting the commencement of protective placement and guardianship in Wisconsin when a proposed ward is out of state.

    December 2004

    Legal Assistance Committee launches "Just Take Two" pro bono initiative to increase and support lawyers' commitment to provide low-income residents access to legal services. State Bar offers volunteers malpractice coverage, a free State Bar CLE seminar to attorneys who take five SPD cases, and free online legal research.

    30-second spots showcasing attorney public service air statewide during U.W. men's Badger basketball games, reaching a potential 2 million adult viewers.

    January 2005

    Section leaders attend the first lobbying training session to improve effectiveness of legislative efforts.

    After months of study and debate, the Board votes on supreme court's Ethics 2000 Commission proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct before presenting its report to the court.

    February 2005

    CLE Books expands its library of practical resources with two new titles on real estate and employment law, and updates and supplements 48 other titles on insurance, appellate practice, criminal defense, family law, and more.

    March 2005

    Board approves the Elder Law Section recommendations to reorganize and reform the guardianship law to protect vulnerable individuals; opposes provisions in the governor's budget bill to deny or revoke law licenses for tax delinquency.

    650-plus lawyers and judges volunteer for 22nd Mock Trial Tournament - comprising 159 teams - helping 1,700-plus high school students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills as part of the profession's most visible public service project.

    April 2005

    Redesigned WisBar Web site launches, meeting member needs with improved navigation and enhanced content, including resources for practice management.

    Access to Justice Study Committee forms to study the unmet legal needs of low-income people in response to supreme court order approving mandatory WisTAF assessment.

    Criminal Law Section provides funding and legislative drafting help to Criminal Justice Task Force, focusing on reforms to prevent incarceration of innocent people.

    State Bar hosts more than 55 leaders of 35 local and specialty bar associations at the Wisconsin Bar Leaders' Conference, offering training to build and lead bar associations.

    May 2005

    The fourth-ever joint Annual Judicial Conference and 2005 State Bar Annual Convention gives lawyers and judges opportunities to discuss major issues that confront them in administering justice and practicing law. Convention garners near-record attendance of more than 1,100 members and 145 judges registering for various events.

    The Building for Success Seminar, giving attendees tools to build a successful practice, precedes the convention.

    The Volunteer Lawyers Recognition Celebration, held during convention, honors lawyers for service to their colleagues and communities.

    A nine-member Chinese delegation observes the 2005 "We the People ... Project Citizen" in anticipation of starting a similar program in China. The project promotes competent and responsible participation in state and local government and teaches students how to monitor and influence public policy.

    June 2005

    State Bar completes a strategic plan, that focuses on improving access to justice, increasing member engagement and public understanding of the legal system, and building relevance to members.

    During the year, 703 attorneys were admitted to the State Bar, bringing total membership to 21,950.

    lawmakers about a bill's effect on your clients or malpractice insurance so you can do pro bono work. Involvement has its own rewards, which also builds relevance - the satisfaction of developing policy, products, and services that benefit your colleagues, the public, and yourself, thereby broadening your network of professional contacts and shaping the future of your profession.

    Many of the State Bar's achievements in FY 2005 reflect both relevance to and involvement of its members.

    Products and Services

    Some significant achievements - like upgrades in technology infrastructure - occur behind the scenes, but they are critical to improving services to members and to positioning the Bar for future opportunities. Other work is more visible, resulting in a finite product or service:

    • redesigned WisBar improves site navigation and searching, delivers new content including law practice management resources; 100-plus members provide critical input to site development
    • new CLE seminar technologies improve video quality to satellite locations, position CLE for future audio-only delivery system. In FY 2005, 72 different seminar titles delivered live and by video, telephone, and the Internet resulted in 643 presentations for 10,000-plus attendees.
    • CLE Books increases its library of practical resources, including two new titles, updates and supplements of 48 other titles; works on development of the online forms library to launch in December 2005
    • expanded ethics hotline helps members reduce incidents of ethics violations; Professional Ethics Committee members receive added training to address hotline inquiries
    • combined Annual Judicial Conference and 2005 State Bar Annual Convention bring together more than 1,100 lawyers and 145 judges registered for various events to discuss major issues that confront them in administering justice and practicing law
    • programs give attendees tools to build a successful practice and career, including the international award-winning Building for Success Seminar and the free Career Development Conference
    • in-depth sessions train WisLAP frontline responders to better help hotline callers cope with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and other threats to their lives
    • development of a new Law Office Management Assistance Program to provide practical guidance on practice management issues in advance of launching in early 2006
    • training and networking events for various groups, including lobbying training for section leaders, the Wisconsin Bar Leaders' Conference for local and specialty bar leaders, Lawyer Dispute Resolution presentations to local bars, programs for local bars and court personnel explaining the Bar's Fee Arbitration Program, receptions welcoming new lawyers into the Bar, and outreach activities to law students, among others

    Issues and Policy Decisions

    Work on issues affecting the practice of law often generates in-depth study and passionate discussion by leaders and members that results in Board of Governors actions:

    • Amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct by the supreme court's Ethics 2000 Commission generated a year's worth of study and discussion by the Board, members, and law-related entities. The Board voted on more than 10 proposed changes. The Board opposed the amendments' mandatory requirements of pro bono reporting and written fee agreements, the two most controversial issues.
    • Issues surrounding the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) occupied much of the Board's attention. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied the Bar's revised petition to define and regulate UPL, asking the Bar to collect members' UPL experiences as evidence.
    • The supreme court ultimately approved a Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF) petition seeking a mandatory $50 assessment on all active-licensed Wisconsin lawyers, payable to WisTAF to fund civil legal services for low-income people (effective July 1, 2005). During the year, using a knowledge-based decision making process to ensure good decisions on complicated issues, the Board conducted several debates and solicited member feedback before opposing the petition and supporting instead a two-year $50 opt-out contribution to WisTAF and a study of civil legal needs of poor residents. In anticipation of the court's order, the Bar planned for the creation of the Access to Justice Study Committee to study and recommend long-term solutions where necessary.
    • The Board approved amicus filings by the Appellate Practice Section (court of appeals procedures before finding an appeal frivolous) and the Elder Law Section (protective placement and guardianships when ward is out of state).
    • The Board approved actions or other activities that influence law or policy undertaken by the Elder Law Section (reform guardianship law to protect vulnerable people); State Bar (oppose budget bill provisions regarding lawyer tax delinquency); Criminal Law Section (provide research and drafting assistance to the task force for criminal justice reform); Bankruptcy, Insolvency & Creditors' Rights Section (oppose three provisions in the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention & Consumer Protection Act of 2005); Construction & Public Contract Law Section (recommend changes to statutes on contractors' lien rights); and Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section (support adopting state version of the Uniform Principal & Income Act).

    Improve Public Understanding of and Access to the Legal System

    The Bar, with vital volunteer assistance from lawyers, judges, and the public, improves public access to the legal system through pro bono and public service projects; educates the public about the value lawyers bring to their clients and communities by using a unified message that mirrors three key qualities that the public values most about lawyers - expert advice, problem solving, and community service; and informs citizens about their role in society through law-related education programs.

    Fiscal 2005 was notable for kicking off the Wisconsin Pro Bono Initiative, a major State Bar initiative coordinating resources statewide to improve public access to the legal system and increase the availability of pro bono resources for low-income residents. In FY 2005, the program:

    • welcomed 75 lawyers to the Just Take Two program, increasing the availability of pro bono lawyers for low-income residents
    • obtained free professional liability insurance for pro bono volunteers
    • motivated 87 lawyers to accept 435 State Public Defender client appointments and provided free CLE vouchers worth $16,000 to lawyers who completed five SPD cases
    • funded five local bar pro bono projects, including training for pro bono volunteers
    • established a pro bono e-list for the exchange of ideas and opportunities for providing pro bono service

    In FY 2005, the Local Bar Grant program awarded a combined $6,000 to the Douglas, Racine, and Washington county bar associations for public service projects on domestic violence, divorce, and jury bailiff training.

    Of 25,000 phone calls to LRIS staff and 2,530 contacts through LegalExplorer, the Bar's consumer Web site, Lawyer Referral and Information Service legal assistants referred 11,456 prescreened clients to panel attorneys and gave information or referred remaining callers to community agencies or other legal resources. LRIS Lawyer Hotline volunteers statewide provided 500-plus consumers with answers to simple legal questions. LRIS offers a valued, visible public service and a way for attorneys to build their client base.

    The Wisconsin Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (formerly the Clients' Security Fund), through an annual assessment to Wisconsin attorneys of up to $25, reimburses people who lose money due to dishonest acts by Wisconsin attorneys. This year, the fund's administering committee paid $187,776.86 on 35 claims against 24 attorneys and set the FY 2006 assessment at $10. The legal profession stands alone in providing voluntary reimbursements for client losses.

    The Volunteer Lawyers Recognition Celebration, held annually during the Annual Convention, recognizes lawyers' pro bono and community service work. This is the "feel good" celebration of the year, honoring volunteers who lead by example.

    This year, the Bar continued statewide rotation of its "Wisconsin Lawyers Make a Difference" TV spots, eventually airing 30-second spots in each major TV market in the state. In FY 2005, spots showcasing lawyers' public service work rotated to south central and western/central Wisconsin, reaching an average of 78 percent of adults at least four times in the viewing areas; the series was supplemented with spots that aired statewide during U.W. men's Badger basketball games. A partnership with the La Crosse County Bar also resulted in a spot focusing on that bar's local community service activity.

    The State Bar promotes programs and curricula to give school-age youth and other community members an understanding and appreciation of the law, the legal system, and their rights and responsibilities as citizens through the use of practical and experiential learning. A sampling of this year's programs includes:

    • The 22nd Mock Trial Tournament, involving more than 650 attorneys and judges, 120 teachers, 29 regional coordinators, and 159 teams, helped 1,700-plus high school students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills.
    • 24 teachers gained a deeper understanding of the court system to enhance their civics curricula during the Judicial Teaching Institute, taking part in a sentencing exercise and moot court activity with assistance from supreme court justices, judges, attorneys, and university professors.
    • "We the People" programs promoted civic competence and responsibility among students in state schools, including the "Project Citizen" competition, generating 15 public policy portfolios from 14 middle schools and a 4-H group, and which was observed by a Chinese delegation in anticipation of starting a similar program; and the weeklong "Summer Institute," during which 16 teachers gained a deeper understanding of the U.S. Constitution.
    • Court with Class, in partnership with the supreme court, involved 76 Wisconsin middle and high schools and 2,305 participating students to learn about our court system.
    • Life Planning Week (Nov. 8-12) activities reminded Wisconsin families about the importance of preparing for future health needs; attorneys participated in radio interviews and the Bar distributed free copies of A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs. Since 1999 more than 158,000 print copies have been distributed to the public; since 2003 more than 30,100 copies have been downloaded from LegalExplorer.
    Executive's Message

    Knowing Where You're Going

    "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

    "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

    "I don't much care where ...," said Alice.

    "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

    Lewis Carroll's famous exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat exemplifies why we need to plan before we act. The exchange also shows the consequences of acting without planning:

    "... so long as I get somewhere," added Alice as an explanation.

    "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if only you walk long enough."

    Success in today's association environment requires that organizational leaders create a vision of the association's future and a plan to achieve that vision. Your State Bar leaders and volunteers have been working on strategic planning this year.

    Strategic planning has many benefits for an organization as complex as the State Bar. Strategic planning charts the course for the organization and identifies measures of success so that everyone can see if the association is progressing toward achieving the identified goals. The process of planning also improves communication across the organization.

    In some organizations with a relatively simple purpose and structure, the planning process may mean that the president and a few officers gather for a brief time to develop a plan. In one as complex as the State Bar, it takes far longer to create the plan.

    This past year, committee and division leaders began the bottom-up process of planning for their entities in a manner that ties their work into the State Bar strategic plan approved by the Board. (Sections will begin the process in Fiscal 2007.) Though this top-down and bottom-up approach takes much longer than if the Board simply dictated to the committees, divisions, and sections how to achieve the goals the Board sets, the opportunities for ownership, creativity, and success are far greater in the long run.

    When the strategic planning process is fully implemented, the State Bar will have a stronger direction. Unlike Alice, it will know where it is going. It will know whether it is making progress toward its vision of excellence in legal services in an accessible, valued justice system by fulfilling its mission of improving the administration of justice and the delivery of legal services and promoting the professional interests of Wisconsin lawyers.

    George C. Brown, State Bar executive director

    President's Message

    Letting Our Voices Be Heard

    I expect great things of the Bar and of its members, including two-way communication and candid discussion on important issues.

    Communication with members took center stage this year. Important issues demanded our time and attention and provided a great opportunity to share information and seek your input.

    During the year I made it my top priority to personally visit with many members attending local bar meetings and other lawyer gatherings and events. Often, these were the first visits by a Bar president in anyone's recent recollections. Fortunately, I had the support of past Bar presidents George Burnett and Pat Ballman, president-elect Mike Guerin, and State Bar staff as we took on this outreach effort, managing to reach more than 38 local and specialty bar gatherings and dozens of State Bar events.

    In our quest to engage members in issues facing our profession, we employed the newly redesigned WisBar Web site as a tool to collect your thoughts on the WisTAF and Ethics 2000 petitions. Hundreds of you took time to share your opinions, which played a key role in shaping the Board's debate.

    With more than 21,000 members, we expect a variety of views and opinions, but I hope that over the past year members gained a new appreciation for the importance of speaking out. I am confident that the Bar's leadership will continue to facilitate the gathering of those ideas and opinions. So let your voices be heard.

    Michelle A. Behnke, president, State Bar of Wisconsin

    July 1, 2004 - June 30, 2005

    Member Involvement is State Bar's Lifeblood

    As in most organizations, a core group of State Bar members performs the lion's share of the work. In FY 2005, for example, volunteers filled more than 465 committee, 325 section, and 55 division board positions. Specialized sections and divisions draw on their members' expertise to perform important work that benefits their members, the Bar, and the public. To remain vibrant the Bar needs your participation - whether in association governance, legislative grassroots efforts, or involvement in committees, sections, or divisions. Many opportunities to help shape your organization and profession exist to fit your interests and schedule:

    • write for CLE Books or Wisconsin Lawyer
    • lecture for CLE Seminars
    • participate in the pro bono initiative
    • provide input on issues facing the profession
    • engage in grassroots legislative activities
    • train for the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program
    • join a section or division
    • seek appointment to a committee
    • respond to member surveys
    • mentor a law student or new lawyer
    • enroll in the Lawyer Referral & Information Service
    • list in the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory

    Visit WisBar at www.wisbar.org/bar for other ways to participate in your State Bar.

    President-elect's Message

    Looking Forward

    The State Bar's strong foundation supports continuing its tradition of advocacy, information sharing, networking, and programs and services.

    In FY 2005, under the capable leadership of President Michelle Behnke and an excellent Board of Governors, the State Bar continued to refine and develop programs and services to assist members. The Bar also committed to implementing a strategic planning program to ensure that Bar entities and staff are operating on the same page.

    Truly, a strong foundation exists to further the growth of service to members and the public and to respond to the changes we face in the future. My mission is to see that this important work continues. The Bar and the Board of Governors is prepared to respond to issues facing today's lawyers and society.

    I hope to focus my attention on issues that serve members' needs, such as expanding the WisLAP program and educating the public about the value of lawyers. As lawyers, we are problem solvers and expert advisers heavily invested in our communities. To earn the public's positive perception, we must educate the public that we perform a valuable, although often unrecognized, service. We also must acknowlege that some criticisms of individual lawyers are justified, and that inappropriate conduct by any one of us is a mark on our entire profession.

    We must continue to engage in initiatives that protect the public and our clients. For that reason, I believe the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee's work is essential to defining our role in the business world.

    As president, I will work hard to continue the State Bar's tradition of advocacy, information sharing, networking, and providing programs and services for all members.

    D. Michael Guerin, president-elect, State Bar of Wisconsin

    July 1, 2004 - June 30, 2005