John Doar: In Awe of His Courage
This New Richmond lawyer is humbled and inspired by the historical significance of another local lawyer. John Doar, the first lawyer in the newly formed U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, courageously fought for school integration, voting rights, and prosecution of criminal violence throughout the South in the 1960s.
John Doar (right) escorts James Meredith to the University of Mississippi admissions office
in 1962. Meredith was the first African-American admitted to the university. The event is
regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine
Collection [reproduction number, e.g., LC-U9-15739, frame 18].
By Gary L. Bakke
Over the years I have buried my emotions pretty deep. Too deep without doubt; but last month they boiled to the top as I witnessed our local celebration of the legacy of New Richmond native and State Bar member John Doar. I actually choked up as I heard the personal stories about this exceptional lawyer. Prominent civil rights leaders from around the country convened to honor his legacy and recount many firsthand stories about John’s total dedication, leadership abilities, and personal courage. I am in awe.
John Doar was a local, small-town, northern Wisconsin lawyer who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When presenting the award, President Obama noted that without the civil rights efforts of John Doar, he might not have been elected President. Wow!
The event was New Richmond’s three-day celebration in late August to dedicate the John Doar History Trail, a walk along our riverbank with plaques that depict historic events in John’s life.
I had met John on several occasions but cannot claim that I really knew him. I had the privilege of talking politics with his mother, and I practiced law for 20 years with his brother Tom Doar. Tom was a great storyteller, so I knew much of the story, but the historical impact of his extraordinary brother had not registered with me.
Seven heroes from the front lines of the civil rights movement of the 1960s showed up to honor John. Another five speakers discussed his historic role as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry of President Nixon.
A Man with Legendary Courage
After starting practice in New Richmond, John left the Doar & Knowles law firm of his father, brother, and cousin Warren Knowles to join the U.S. Justice Department under President Kennedy as the first attorney in the newly formed Civil Rights Division. His skill, dedication, and personal courage are legendary.
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He not only accompanied James Meredith, the first black student to enter the University of Mississippi, but also stayed with him in his dorm room and ate with him in the cafeteria. People were killed for lesser acts. John walked every mile of the Selma to Montgomery march with Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of other civil rights leaders. He had to brave the hostility directed at any white person who would dare march with blacks. The danger was real. Civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were killed after the march.
A famous photo shows John, with his life on the line, alone in the middle of the street with bricks and bottles crashing around his feet, quelling hundreds of angry black marchers protesting the murder of Medgar Evers as they approached a phalanx of police officers whose guns were drawn.
The New York Times obituary says, “He was the face of the Justice Department in the South…. He prosecuted some of the most notorious cases of murder and violence in the South in the ‘60s, and was instrumental in changing the region’s pattern of race-based politics based on voter discrimination.”
This short essay can only scratch the surface of John’s courageous fight for voting rights, school integration, and prosecution of criminal violence throughout the South in the 1960s. Note that he was joined in the Civil Rights Division by another New Richmond native and State Bar member, Arvid “Bud” Sather, now retired from his Madison law practice. Mary Lee Allen, also of New Richmond, was one of the legal assistants working with John’s civil rights cases.
When John left the Justice Department for private practice in New York, he didn’t stay out of history-making for long. In 1973, he was retained by Peter Rodino as head legal counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry of President Nixon. Again, the profession can be proud that Madison attorney Richard Cates represented the minority party on that committee. Forswearing all partisanship bickering, the two Wisconsin lawyers guided the committee to a fully bipartisan cooperation, a truly patriotic feat, considering the topic. Doar and Cates were also joined on that committee by a full law-firm size complement of attorneys that included my former law partner New Richmond attorney Tom Bell (whose office mate was Hillary Rodham).
As an aside, John was a member of a truly amazing family. His cousin and law partner, Warren Knowles, was Wisconsin governor in the mid 1960s at the same time John was with the Justice Department. Their mothers were sisters. And, John was a cousin and great buddy of another New Richmond native, Johnny “Blood” McNally, who was a member of the first class inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame and is in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Knowing John Doar and then being in the presence of others who also, at great risk and personal sacrifice, dedicated their lives to improving our country, was both humbling and inspiring.
Gary L. Bakke, U.W. 1965, is a principal with Bakke Norman S.C., New Richmond, and a former State Bar of Wisconsin president.
Pro Bono Portal: Better Way to Connect Lawyers with Pro Bono Opportunities Statewide
Despite the herculean efforts of civil legal aid providers in this state, many low-income Wisconsin residents are forced to make important decisions on life-changing legal matters without the benefit of legal advice. As noted in Jeff Brown’s outstanding March 2017 feature in this publication, “Moving the Needle: Serving Wisconsin’s Low-Income Residents,” the demand for no-cost legal help remains “far higher than the capacity to meet those needs without additional funding” for providers and volunteers.
There is no shortage of Wisconsin lawyers who are ready, willing, and able to help. Our organization, the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, witnesses that public-minded generosity firsthand when seeking donations from lawyers and businesses for nonprofit legal providers in this state.
But too often lawyers’ natural energy for serving the public good goes unused, particularly when it comes to pro bono work. Each of us has our own unique sets of skills and interests, but we rarely know where, when, or how they could best be put to use. Instead of hand-selecting the right pro bono matters for us, we become passive, waiting until a client, colleague, or other contact personally asks us to help. These direct appeals are effective but inefficient, and finding oneself doing the right work at the right time is often a matter of happenstance.
There’s a better way to channel charitable spirit into charitable action. Over the past decade, state and local bar associations across the country have implemented pro bono “portals” – online programs that provide one-stop shopping for lawyers looking for volunteer work in their jurisdictions.
With pro bono portals, legal services providers post volunteer opportunities, and lawyers can search postings by subject area, time commitment, or other fields. With a couple mouse clicks, potential volunteers can read about pre-screened pro bono matters in their communities, share them with colleagues, ask the sponsoring organizations for more information, and pick the right matters for them. From there, volunteers and sponsoring providers can use portals as case-management tools – allowing the providers to securely share relevant documents and helpful samples or templates with volunteers and allowing volunteers to seek guidance when they need it.
The Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund knows that our State Bar members have a deep well of enthusiasm for public service. A statewide pro bono portal would be an efficient means of tapping it, ensuring that more low-income residents who need legal help are able to get it. Statewide pro bono portals are now being used from Alaska to Florida and many states in between, including our neighbors in Minnesota and Iowa. It is time for Wisconsin to join them.
For more information about the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, visit www.e-justice.org.
Matt Lynch, Board President
Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund
To Bill or Not to Bill: That Is the Question
Including “no charge” for some services on lawyer invoices is a pet peeve of attorney Carolyn Elefant, a frequent presenter on solo and small firm practice issues. What, she wonders, do clients really think of the no charge (as opposed to what lawyers think clients think about no charges)?
In “Why Lawyers Should Say No to ‘No Charge’ Invoice Items” (Wisconsin Lawyer, July/August 2017), Elefant explains a “no charge” is an entry on an invoice that describes the work that’s been done for the client, but that the lawyer has decided not to charge for. Why do lawyers “no charge”? Basically, she says, to make themselves appear generous by waiving the cost for something they ought never have billed for to begin with – and making sure that the client knows it. Elefant says if you’ve done work that isn’t worth billing for, then don’t put it on the invoice to begin with.
We asked for your thoughts about “no charges.” Here are some sample responses posted to the article online.
Reader: The author’s pet peeve is “no charge” entries on attorney statements. That’s fine. The problem arises when she posits that “clients” agree with her based on a sample set of one, a general counsel for a large commercial enterprise, who says “no charge” entries are an annoyance.
I suspect – but also don’t have any research to back it up – that many less sophisticated consumers think all lawyers charge (too much) for every little thing they do. If that is the case, then an appropriate no or reduced charge entry may help disabuse a client of that misconception.
Christianson & Freund LLC, Eau Claire
Reader: Because 90 percent of my work is done on a flat-fee basis, often with agreed-to monthly installment payments, I do line item nearly every activity with a $0.00 cost attached to it, then add my monthly installment or total flat fee owed. Sometimes I include the time for the tasks, sometimes I don’t – it depends on the type of work. I see my invoices as a way of memorializing the work performed for the client and communicating to them what I have been doing – whether it’s research, drafting, phone calls, emails, meetings, reviewing records, and so on. It keeps me accountable so that the work I’m performing matches up with the itemized listing in my representation agreement. I never thought of “no charge” items as a way of saying, “I’m giving you something for free.”
Johanna R. Kirk
Kirk Law Office LLC, Superior
Reader: I don’t do flat fees, but for clients that are repeat fliers, I do sometimes “no charge” some of my time, in a way showing them I am giving something to them for free due to their loyalty. For some of my clients, I do more of that than others: I have one client in particular that seems to always want random advice and never wants to pay for it; I do track all my small little telephone calls and show him the “no charge” for them so as to entice him to understand that he is getting a great deal. Sort of depends on the client.
Finn & Finn Ltd., Waukegan, Ill.
Reader: I think the danger is that listing “no charge” will sound like, “You really owe me for this, but I’ve generously decided not to demand payment. Aren’t I great?” (I’ve received a bill for legal services myself that came across that way, in fact.) I appreciated the reminder that clients sometimes perceive things in a way a lawyer wouldn’t expect. That’s worth thinking about, especially when it comes to bills.
Elder Advisors Law, Janesville