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    The projects funded through the State Bar's Local Bar Grant Competition give lawyers more opportunities to serve their neighbors and to educate the public about the value lawyers bring to their communities.

    George Brown

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 8, August 2005

    Lawyers Serving Hometowns

    The projects funded through the State Bar's Local Bar Grant Competition give lawyers more opportunities to serve their neighbors and to educate the public about the value lawyers bring to their communities.

    by org gbrown wisbar George C. Brown,
    State Bar executive director

    George BrownMost of you are aware of the State Bar's effort to educate the public about the value lawyers bring to their clients and communities and its tag line "Wisconsin Lawyers: Expert Advisers. Serving You." You have heard the radio announcements, seen the billboards, watched the television spots. Though not all members agree with this effort (when have 22,000 lawyers agreed on anything?), this effort is in response to State Bar membership surveys over the last decade and more that have identified "improving the image of the profession" as one of the top five needs that members wish to see the State Bar fulfill.

    While the advertising portion may be the effort's most visible aspect, many activities underlie and support the effort and its message that Wisconsin lawyers are experts in their fields, solve problems, and provide service to the community.

    When we speak of community service, we often think of lawyers who serve on social service or religious organization boards or who provide pro bono service to the underprivileged in their communities. But there are many more and different opportunities to provide community service.

    Within the legal community, Wisconsin's numerous local and specialty bar associations provide significant opportunities for lawyers to serve the residents of their hometowns. Many local bar associations play vital roles in creating and coaching the mock trial teams in their high schools that compete in the State Bar's statewide High School Mock Trial program - one of the Bar's most visible and successful law-related education programs. Some local bar associations create pro bono or reduced fee panels to help less well-off residents with their legal problems, while other local bars have developed programs about medical assistance laws, incarcerated parents, Wisconsin's financial responsibility law, and providing language assistance for Spanish- and Hmong-speaking residents of Wisconsin.

    The State Bar's Local Bar Relations Committee provides thousands of dollars in grants to local and specialty bar associations to help them develop some of these programs. Bar associations can receive up to $2,000 in grant monies for new, useful, and topical public service projects that have statewide application and that can be replicated by other bar groups.

    Recent grants have been awarded to the Clark County Bar Association for its creation of a free legal clinic for county residents; the Oneida-Vilas-Forest County Bar to develop a pilot project for a pro bono legal clinic in the tri-county area; the Milwaukee County Bar Association to assist with its nonprofit legal resources project; and the Racine County Bar to develop a statewide jury bailiff training project.

    Four county bars have been working on projects concerning domestic relations. Both the Douglas County and the Dane County bar associations have projects related to divorce, the Outagamie County Bar Association is using its grant to help establish a Safe Exchange Center for children, and the Washington County Bar is developing a resource directory and referral guide for a conference on domestic violence.

    Every two years, the State Bar recognizes the public service projects funded by these grants at the Bar Leaders Conference. This year, the Winnebago County Bar won the top award for a videotape on domestic abuse orders and injunctions. Other winners included the Eau Claire County Bar for its free legal clinic Web site, the Eastern District of Wisconsin Bar for its history project, and the La Crosse County Bar for the update of its divorce resource handbook. The Douglas County Bar received two awards: one for its work on pro se representation, consisting of tips and advice for people representing themselves in the legal system; and the other for the research portion of the Tenth Judicial Circuit pro se litigants project. An earlier portion of the same Tenth Judicial Circuit project earned the St. Croix County Bar an award in the previous cycle. These projects together helped form the basis of the circuitwide pro se program being developed in northwestern Wisconsin.

    Lawyers devote uncounted hours each year to helping their communities through these projects. But not all the local bar grant money available is given away each year. For more information about this opportunity and how to apply for a local bar grant, contact Kris Wenzel at the State Bar at org kwenzel wisbar wisbar kwenzel org or at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6185.