Wisconsin Lawyer: President's Message: Out of Site, but Not Out of Mind:

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    President's Message: Out of Site, but Not Out of Mind

    Nonresident State Bar members are Bar members, too - deserving of proportional representation and CLE comity.

    Steve Levine

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 80, No. 2, February 2007

    Minnesota, Illinois, California, Virginia, Florida, the 45 other states, and in various jurisdictions and countries around the world. That's where members of the State Bar of Wisconsin reside. Nonresident lawyers make up 23 percent of active State Bar members and 30 percent of all members when inactive members are included. The total number of active nonresident lawyers is greater than the number of lawyers in each of the Bar's in-state districts, except Milwaukee County. The State Bar of Wisconsin is truly a national organization. In addition to the large amount of revenue the Bar receives from nonresident members, the fresh perspective and new ideas that nonresident members provide are a valuable contribution to Bar activities.

    During the election campaign of 2005, I raised several issues concerning nonresident lawyers that I thought were very important, and I intend to follow through on them, no matter how long they take. First, nonresident lawyers are vastly underrepresented on the Board of Governors. While nonresident members make up 23 percent of Bar membership, the three seats they are allocated represent about 8 percent of the board membership that is elected from the in-state State Bar districts. In December the board voted to petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court to increase nonresident representation from three to five. Because this increase still leaves nonresident members with half the representation they deserve, I hope this increase is just a first, incremental step to full, per capita representation by 2015 - the next time the State Bar is redistricted. Nonresident State Bar members pay full dues and deserve full rights of participation in every respect.

    I also promised to help do something to make CLE compliance and reporting simpler for nonresident members, who may have special problems finding Board of Bar Examiners-approved courses and then have to meet different reporting requirements in different jurisdictions. For the past several years the State Bar Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) Review Committee worked to develop a CLE comity rule, under which a nonresident member can comply with Wisconsin CLE merely by certifying that he or she has complied with mandatory CLE in the lawyer's home state. At least 14 states, including Illinois, now have such a rule. Under the Illinois CLE comity rule, a Wisconsin lawyer who also is a member of the Illinois bar can comply with Illinois CLE requirements merely by certifying that he or she has met Wisconsin's CLE requirements. These rules save time, money, and headaches for everyone involved - lawyer and CLE board - and it's time for Wisconsin to adopt such a rule. Proposed language differences between the Bar committee and the BBE are holding up adoption, but I hope to have things worked out so that the supreme court can consider a petition this year.

    Finally, I fulfilled a campaign promise by appointing a nonresident member (Illinois resident Ben Strauss) to the State Bar Finance Committee, and I hope appointing a nonresident member to this committee will become a permanent practice. In addition to the valuable contributions and insights Ben provides, nonresident Bar members provide about one quarter of total Bar dues revenues, and they deserve to have a say in how Bar money is being spent.

    Over the past 18 months, first as president-elect and now as State Bar president, I've traveled to several conventions and met with lawyers from all over the country. While every state's bar likes to feel that it is the leader in new programs and innovations, the truth is, of course, that every bar has some great ideas that can and should be used elsewhere. Wisconsin is a leader in some areas, a follower in others. I've also been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of our nonresident bar members to put in lots of hard work to improve things in Wisconsin, even though they may reside hundreds of miles away. (Once again showing that you can remove the lawyer from Wisconsin, but you can't fully remove Wisconsin from the lawyer.) So thanks to all our nonresident members who contribute so much to the State Bar of Wisconsin and to our legal system. And keep those new ideas coming.

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