I Am a Lawyer and a Veteran
In his February “President’s Message,” State Bar president Bob Gagan wrote about lawyers being uniquely equipped to honor military veterans for their service and suggesting lawyers provide pro bono legal assistance through the Veterans Law Center, the State Bar’s Wisconsin Legal Assistance for Military Personnel program, or another program. In the column, Gagan described his father’s Navy service during World War II and how he saw combat throughout the Pacific.
The column touched a chord with a reader.
Letter: I’m a lawyer and veteran from the Korean era, but at the last minute they changed my orders from Korea to other areas. Be that as it may, I’m 82 years old, and I occasionally help veterans when needed. Most of them are totally disabled from war injuries.
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I’ve helped veterans to get their disability payments from the military where they had not bothered to work on that aspect. I’ve also helped them to apply for Social Security Disability, which is independent from the military disability payments. Some of them haven’t even applied for their Social Security because they didn’t think about it or didn’t know they were entitled to both. So, I am very happy when I can help them get an additional check each month. I’ve found the Social Security personnel to be very helpful, and they process the claims in a timely fashion.
I’m also still active as the president of the Reserve Officers Association. I’m on the EXCOM Committee for Wisconsin, where I act as the vice president of the Army, and I’m judge advocate for Wisconsin. I also take care of gathering legislative information regarding how we can better help our soldiers, and so on.
However, is there anything else that you would suggest that I do for veterans on a pro bono basis other than what I am already doing? It sounds like your dad was or is about my age, I was born in 1932. Thank you for your nice article.
Major James Grant, Ret.
Practice Tips from a Younger Lawyer
In his article “The Practice of Law from A to Z: A View From an Old Guy” (Wisconsin Lawyer, Jan. 2015), Mike Guerin imparted lessons learned in nearly 40 years of practice. A letter writer with 10 years of practice experience also has lessons to share with younger colleagues.
Letter: I am officially no longer a “young lawyer.” I am 35. Over my 10 years of practicing law, I have been at two firms and am now on my own. I am married, with twin sons and a daughter. As I turn this corner, I want to share what I have learned, not to preach or condescend, but to help. My musings, in no particular order:
Listen. I am sure you are brilliant, but shut up and listen. You will seem even more brilliant and you may even learn something!
Network. I get countless referrals and help my clients by networking. Do not join every group, but join some.
Be involved in the local bar. It’s a lot easier for a lawyer to agree to a continuance if he or she sees you at the bar holiday party.
Put out quality work. For goodness sake, proofread. Do the math twice.
Please tell me you know how to use technology so this doesn’t have to be a whole point.
Don’t be unreasonable. AKA, don’t be a jerk. Once you are unreasonable it will stick. And then good luck getting things done or getting referrals.
Instill in your staff and self to be polite to court staff. If you think you can be snarky to a judicial assistant and then ask him or her to let you know as soon as the judge signs the order, good luck.
Find a mentor. Not necessarily a lawyer, but that’s probably most helpful. I have had the fortune of learning from lawyers who were and still are great mentors.
Bill each month. The rules require it, as do your mortgage and your boss (if you have one).
Be on time to court, with motions, with calling people back. Clients complain probably half as much if you are prompt, even with bad news.
Have outside relationships. You need people who don’t blame you for everything and love you regardless of how the judge rules. For many of us, clients don’t ask us to help with good things. We need to maintain the good things in our lives
This is a tough job. No one teaches you how to practice law in law school. You learn that on the job. I have heard and have experienced that it takes three to five years to really feel like you know what you are doing (sometimes longer). Do what you can to make it easier. Have fun at work and more important, spend time away from work.
Angela Olson Law, Hudson
Here’s What You May Have Missed
Not connecting with us online? This month we highlight readers’ comments posted to online articles. Let’s hear what you have to say. Post comments to WisBar News, InsideTrack, and Wisconsin Lawyer articles or respond to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter posts. Or simply email the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timeshares: Scammed in Paradise?
Travel season brings rest and relaxation, but also the potential for tourist scams. In “Scammed in Paradise: Helping Victims of Timeshare Fraud in Wisconsin” (March 18, 2015, InsideTrack), consumer attorneys Ivan Hannibal and Mary Catherine Fons explained the typical timeshare scam, and the legal claims available to help remedy bad situations. Apparently, these scams are more common than we thought.
IT Online: I had a conversation with a person who was apparently scammed by a company that promised to sell his timeshare. He paid a fee up front and the company promised to be responsible for future condo/timeshare fees if they did not sell the timeshare. It is still not sold and the person is getting billed for the fees. Any experience with that kind of thing?
Atty. Lawrence Wiesneske
O’Melia, Schiek & McEldowney S.C., Rhinelander
Response: The timeshare resale industry has arisen out of customers’ dissatisfaction with their timeshare purchases. It too can be predatory in nature. Many timeshare owners are victimized by multiple companies, sometimes paying thousands of dollars to try to unload their timeshare. We know there are many complaints about timeshare resale companies with state and federal agencies. Oftentimes, these timeshare resale companies are fly-by-night operations and hard to locate so they may not be worth pursuing in civil litigation. You can find cases online where criminal charges have been filed against this type of company.
Atty. Mary Catherine Fons
Fons Law Office, Stoughton
Effective Writing Matters
In “10 Tips for Effective Brief Writing” (Wisconsin Lawyer, Feb. 2015), University of Missouri law professor Douglas E. Abrams reminded readers why effective brief writing matters. He said, “The audience is often the best critic, and rarely more so than when the writer is an attorney and the reader is a judge considering the attorney’s brief in a case before the court.” Readers agreed.
WL Online: Thanks for including this article. The importance of good legal writing often seems to be underappreciated.
Atty. Douglas Bauman
Marathon County Circuit Court, Wausau
WL Online: I also appreciated this article, because 1) much of my practice is devoted to writing, and 2) I practice in Tulsa, Ok., so I am familiar with Judge Michael.
Atty. Tim Kittle
Keesling Law Group PLLC, Tulsa, Ok.
Another View on the Wisconsin Bar Exam
In “Is It Relevant Today? Does the Bar Exam Ensure Knowledge of Wisconsin Law?” (Wisconsin Lawyer, Feb. 2015), author Michael LoCoco asserts the bar exam burdens test-takers financially and professionally while failing to fulfill its goals of ensuring knowledge of Wisconsin law. He asks, should the test be administered at all?
We continue to hear from readers in response.
WL Online: As a retired lawyer, I am often a dollar short and a day late. So am I on this issue, having just now caught up with it.
I retired as the director of the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) just over nine years ago. When I ran that shop, we took pains to make sure we tested would-be lawyers on Wisconsin law (excepting tax and Constitutional, which subjects did not always appear). I used my predecessor’s 20-odd years of contacts in the job and my 15 years of practice contacts to dragoon Wisconsin-licensed practitioners into drafting bar exam questions that addressed Wisconsin law issues in a practical manner. We asked those drafters to set the threshold of “minimal competence” for the grading guide we also asked them to write.
Since my retirement, the succeeding boards have lost sight of these goals. They have purchased canned essay questions from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE – the outfit that creates the MBE and the MPRE), have largely abandoned the commission of questions from Wisconsin practitioners, have replaced essays with the Multistate Performance Test (a wonderful instrument that I never adopted, as it ate the time useable for more than one essay question), and are reported to have flirted with the NCBE-proposed Uniform Bar Exam.
The notion of uniformity in bar exams is a lovely idea, but one that ignores the inescapable fact that marital property law (among many other areas of law) changes drastically when one crosses a state line. A question that makes sense in Arizona (or even in Minnesota) is likely to be dead wrong in Wisconsin. This does not seem to have persuaded the BBE.
I note that Allyn Lepeska comments quite trenchantly on the issue. (See Mr. Lepeska’s letter in “Inbox” in the March 2015 Wisconsin Lawyer.) I engaged Mr. Lepeska more than once – as a drafter and as a grader – and he exemplifies the sort of dedication that I found regularly among the Wisconsin lawyers I approached to do these jobs (for hardly any money at all). It is a shame that the BBE – and the court that oversees it – have collectively turned their backs on the responsibility to test applicants to the Wisconsin bar fairly on Wisconsin law.
Atty. Gene Rankin
Gene R. Rankin Law Office, Madison
Wisconsin Debt Settlement Company Must Pay Back $4.2 Million in Fees
In this Feb. 2, 2015, article posted on WisBar, State Bar legal writer Joe Forward reported that the court of appeals determined that Morgan Drexen Inc., a debt settlement company, must pay back the $4.2 million in fees that it charged Wisconsin debtors to settle their debts. The Department of Financial Institutions filed a complaint against Morgan Drexen, alleging it was operating in the capacity of an “adjustment service company” without a license. Morgan Drexen Inc. v. Wisconsin Dep’t of Financial Insts., 2014AP1268. A reader weighed in.
WisBar: Thank goodness this industry is being reined in a bit. I have had about a dozen bankruptcy clients who paid thousands of dollars to debt settlement companies and ended up getting sued by a creditor, then were left high and dry by the debt settlement company. They are largely unaccountable for what they do, and were aggressively advertising until about six months ago (coincidence?).
Atty. Patricia Hammel
Herrick & Kasdorf LLP, Madison