Wisconsin’s lawyer population is getting older. Fewer new lawyers are graduating from law school, and lawyers are living and working longer.
Years ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules that govern the State Bar created an emeritus category of membership. This category allows lawyers 70 years old or older to continue to practice law without paying State Bar dues, supreme court assessments, or the $50 assessment to support civil legal services for low-income individuals. They pay only the $20 client protection fund assessment. In addition, they no longer are required to fulfill the mandatory CLE reporting requirements. They do continue to receive the full complement of State Bar member benefits, starting with this magazine.
Currently, almost 1,700 lawyers have elected emeritus membership. That’s about 30 percent of those eligible to elect it. Compare that number to the 1,100 lawyers in their first three years of practice. By projecting forward as the increasing number of lawyers become eligible for emeritus status and the number of new lawyers remains the same or even decreases, you can easily see developing what I have called the State Bar’s Social Security problem: fewer lawyers available to pay both their costs and their emeritus colleagues' costs of membership.
Before the Great Recession, we projected a net increase of 400 lawyer members every year. For the 2017 fiscal year, we are projecting a net increase of 18 members.
The effects of this aging lawyer population are especially acute in Wisconsin’s rural communities. In Milwaukee County, 51 percent of the 5,491 lawyers are under age 50. The same percentage exists for Dane County’s 3,681 lawyers. Fifty-three percent of the 502 lawyers in Brown County are under 50 years old. But then the numbers begin to shift. In both La Crosse and Eau Claire counties, 45 percent are under age 50. Marathon County drops to 42 percent. Both Florence and Pepin counties have no lawyers under 50. Oconto County has two, and no new lawyers have moved into the county in the last decade. In the Oneida-Vilas-Forest County Bar Association, only 20 percent of the lawyers are under 50; Forest County has only one under 50.
The bus tour will help
new lawyers – 0-3 years
out of law school – and
law students realize
the opportunities of
practicing in rural areas
of the state.
You can see the problem. At the same time, lawyers want to retire. Some stay working because they know if they retire, there is no one to replace them. And, there are newly minted lawyers in Milwaukee and Madison looking for work and finding few opportunities.
Enter the Greater Wisconsin Initiative Bus Tour. Designed by the State Bar’s New Lawyer Challenges Committee and based on a similar program sponsored by the Nebraska State Bar Association, the tour will help new lawyers – 0-3 years out of law school – and law students realize the opportunities of practicing in rural areas of the state. Supported by judges in Florence, Forest, Marinette, Oneida, and Vilas counties, their county bar associations, and the Marquette and U.W. law schools, the tour will include meetings with local judges and lawyers as well as community and business leaders. Participants will be encouraged to bring their spouse or significant other.
The bus will depart the State Bar Center in Madison on the morning of Friday, Oct. 7, traveling first to Rhinelander and then to Marinette, returning to Madison on Saturday, Oct. 8. Space is limited to 40 people. Applications will be available at WisBar.org after Aug. 1 and will be accepted until Sept. 9. For more information, contact Kris Wenzel at the State Bar Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 250-6185.