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    Vol. 79, No. 8, August 2006

    What Happened, Why, and What Next?

    A historic State Bar election sets the tone for a year of studying issues on mandatory bar membership, nonresident lawyer representation, the diploma privilege, and more.

    Steve Levine

    by Steve Levine

    Astounding, historic, unprecedented, unthinkable. These are some of the adjectives I've heard used to describe the State Bar president-elect election of 2005. But whatever term is chosen, it might be useful to do some armchair analysis of the meaning of last year's election at the beginning of my term as president and to set out what I'd like to accomplish this year. If my year as president-elect is any indication, this year will fly by. So little time, so much to do.

    What happened? According to a CNN/Wall Street Journal exit poll, it looks like a number of constituencies within the bar came together to make the plurality that elected me - lawyers who favor a voluntary bar, nonresident lawyers, government lawyers, lawyers who graduated from schools outside Wisconsin, lawyers who oppose the supreme court's recent WisTAF assessment, and lawyers who have "concerns" about the operation of the Board of Bar Examiners, among others. (Some of these groups overlap, of course.) The election showed the power that distinct segments within the Bar can have when they are brought together by candidates who raise issues important to these groups.

    I promised each of these constituencies to address the issues that are important to them, whether it takes one year as president or a decade of hard work, and over the next few months I'll write about these issues and action I'd like to see taken by the Board of Governors. The camel in the tent, of course, is the issue of whether State Bar membership should be voluntary. This was the major issue that I raised during the election, and I'd like to see the Board give all of you the opportunity to express your opinion on the issue by holding a referendum as part of next April's election on this question: Should the State Bar petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court to make Bar membership voluntary for a 10-year trial period, to see if a voluntary bar is feasible?

    Nonresident lawyers make up 23 percent of Bar membership - 30 percent if inactive members are included. Yet nonresident members are allowed just 8 percent representation on the Board of Governors, when compared to the other Bar districts. [Note: Nonresident members comprise District 17 for purposes of member representation.] I hope to bring this issue, as well as others affecting Nonresident Lawyer Division members - such as easier continuing legal education compliance through a CLE comity rule - to the Board of Governors for action. (A CLE comity rule would allow nonresident Bar members to satisfy Wisconsin CLE requirements by certifying that they have complied with mandatory CLE in the state in which they reside.) Full dues should mean full rights. With about one-quarter of the Bar's dues revenues coming from outside Wisconsin, nonresident lawyers are not a group to be taken for granted. I very much favor the interstate practice of law and will work hard to make it easier.

    The diploma privilege is Wisconsin's secret in the basement. The last diploma privilege stalwarts of Mississippi, Montana, and West Virginia threw in the towel years ago, leaving Wisconsin as the sole diploma privilege holdout. So, the time has come to reexamine the fairness of this state's two standards for bar admission - one for U.W. and Marquette law school graduates and one for everyone else. I believe there should be one standard for every recent law school graduate - either diploma privilege or bar exam - and I'll be appointing a special study committee to address this subject. The WisTAF assessment, the Board of Bar Examiners, and other issues I raised during the campaign are subjects I'll also write about in the next few months.

    The past year as president-elect has flown by faster than I could ever imagine. There's so much to do, and only a year to be State Bar president. And the position is as much ceremonial as it is substantive. I have only one vote on the Board of Governors, just like every other member of the Board. But if my election encourages Bar members who are interested in change to become active in Bar committees, sections, and on the Board of Governors, that's a great beginning. Thanks to everyone who voted for me and who will begin that process of change over the next few years. So, grab your brief cases, and on to the barricades.

    Please feel free to comment directly to me at net steven.levine charter charter steven.levine net.

    Wisconsin Lawyer