Wisconsin Lawyer: President's Message:

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    President's Message

    In the coming year, the State Bar will face diverse issues that members feel strongly about. The Bar's challenge in shaping a unified statement on the issues is to encourage 21,000-plus members to let their Board of Governors' representatives know their opinions.

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

    Setting Priorities

    In the coming year, the State Bar will face diverse issues that members feel strongly about. The Bar's challenge in shaping a unified statement on the issues is to encourage 21,000-plus members to let their Board of Governors' representatives know their opinions.

    by D. Michael Guerin

    D. Michael GuerinI submit my first column as your State Bar president with great humility. I am truly honored to have been elected by my peers to guide the Bar through the coming year. More important, I have always felt privileged to be a member of our profession. I am not hesitant to say that I am proud to be a lawyer.

    So how did a former soda truck driver and street cop become State Bar president? With a lot of help along the way. I hesitate to name names out of fear that I'll omit someone critical, but I'm willing to take that chance and identify a few people who were instrumental in my success.

    Obviously, without my family and my law firm partners, I would not have undertaken this important responsibility. However, I also owe a special thank you to the members of our profession whom I have met in my lifetime. Lawyers are really neat people and they do good work. Beyond that, they are wonderful role models and make lasting impressions upon clients, opponents, cops, and kids. The lawyers who influenced me, many of whom have died having received no special recognition or awards, have been role models, mentors, and friends not only to me, but also to thousands of people.

    I periodically joke with other lawyers that we are fortunate to be in this profession because it is indoor work and involves no heavy lifting or hairnets. On a serious note, however, what we do substantially affects people's lives every day.

    In the coming year, the State Bar will face issues as diverse as whether to take a position on the "Definition of Marriage" amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution and whether to appeal the $50 WisTAF surcharge. We also anticipate the Wisconsin Supreme Court will schedule further hearings on both Ethics 2000 and the trust account rule. The feedback I have received on all of these issues is generally split.

    These and other issues illustrate the challenge facing the Bar in the coming months in representing the 21,000-plus lawyers who comprise the State Bar. Each of us has his or her own opinions - lots of opinions - on pressing issues. Everyone who wants to express his or her opinion on these issues should and does have an opportunity to be heard. However, we cannot just sit back, do nothing, watch the process, and then complain about the result. The only way that the decisions of the Board of Governors can truly reflect the sentiment of the Bar as a whole is for all of us - private practitioners, corporate counsel, government lawyers, court commissioners, and judges alike - to contact our Board of Governors' representatives and give voice to those opinions.

    In the end, however, the Board of Governors - which itself has diverse and varied membership in terms of experience, background, and opinion - must fashion the divergent opinions of the Bar members with respect to each of these issues into a united, cohesive statement by the Bar. The seeds have already been planted to begin to grow this sense of unity. Despite diverse views on social and political issues, the Board has established parameters for a strategic plan to be implemented by all sections, committees, and divisions, in which each body creates goals, implements actions to accomplish those goals, and reports on its level of success. The Board hopes that this system will result in a more cogent, organized Bar.

    Another ongoing project is a study committee directed to take a fresh look at the legal needs of indigent people in Wisconsin. In appointing committee members, I intentionally selected persons whom I perceived as having no vested interest in the outcome of the study; however, they all have a keen interest in ensuring that resources are available to provide necessary legal services to all persons. It is my hope that the selection process will result in an unbiased review and innovative recommendations as to what the Bar can do to improve legal services in this state.

    Finally, it is vitally important that the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) has all the tools necessary to fully carry out its mission to provide lawyers confidential assistance for alcohol or drug problems, stress, and other personal issues. The stresses of our professional and personal lives can sometimes be overwhelming, and some people are simply unable to cope on their own. They, their families, and their friends ought to be able to turn to this organization for direction and assistance. Also, although Keith Sellen and the Office of Lawyer Regulation are the "prosecutors" for ethical violations, I can tell you that they are more than willing to work with people who reach out for help.

    We are all members of the same great profession. I am confident we can find and promote issues of common interest, and that we can work together to advance both our profession and our satisfaction with it. I really do not think there is any issue more important to all of us than ensuring that all Wisconsin lawyers realize that they have the support of their fellow lawyers, the State Bar, and the community.

    I'll say it again - I am proud to stand and say, "I am a lawyer." My hope is that by the end of my tenure, all of you will feel the same way.