Way back when I was in law school, most of the law students I knew had a certain sense of idealism about the profession we were about to join. We wanted to learn a trade and make a living, but many of us were also drawn to the law because we believed the practice of law could be a tool to achieve justice.
I’m happy to report from my conversations with today’s law students that concern for justice is a strong motivation for them, too. And in my involvement in pro bono programs, I have seen first-hand the enthusiasm that young lawyers especially bring to the practice of justice as part of their practice of law.
The State Bar of Wisconsin – that is, the profession as a whole – is also called to the work of justice. Our Supreme Court Rules explicitly enumerate as one of our purposes that we assist the court in the administration of justice. When I was sworn in as the State Bar’s president last June, I noted my belief that the emphasis in that phrase properly falls not on administration, but on justice.
Individual Wisconsin lawyers selflessly work for justice in thousands of ways every year. But it is also incumbent on our association to bring its collective resources to bear for that purpose. One way we do this on an ongoing basis is by assisting legal services organizations and local bars in their efforts to deliver legal services to those who need but can’t afford them.
Our Supreme Court Rules
explicitly enumerate as one
of our purposes that we
assist the court in the
administration of justice.
This year, at my request, the State Bar is beginning another justice initiative: bringing together members to examine and, we hope, find ways to affect change in a profound issue facing our state. Wisconsin has some of the worst rates of incarceration for racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. There is a myriad of reasons for this. But the bottom line is that Wisconsin is out of the mainstream in a very bad way – a way that directly calls into question whether the civic ideal of equal justice under the law is being honored or achieved in our state.
So, on Feb. 18, we will hold an initial meeting and symposium at the State Bar Center for State Bar members who have expressed an interest in looking for ways our profession can address this justice issue. We will report back where that initiative is heading. If you would like to help, let me know.