My family has had a cottage in northern Wisconsin for about 60 years. My parents bought the hillside lakefront lot for $600 back in 1959, built a cottage on it, added on to it when I was a teenager, and spent every weekend there year-round for many, many years. I grew up on that lake. But as years went by, and life got busier, I spent less and less time at the cottage. Until this year. After my mother’s death, my elderly father was no longer able to spend time at the cottage by himself, so my siblings and I came up with a plan to split up the weeks at the cottage this year. We’ve spent most of the summer fixing and updating the place, including adding Wi-Fi, a big-screen TV, and Alexa. Now, for the first time ever, I was able to work “from the cottage.” I attend many meetings via Zoom and generally do everything that I would have done in my home office from my new, incredibly peaceful, northern Wisconsin cottage with great views overlooking the lake.
And for the first time, I contemplate actually working in “Greater Wisconsin.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “Greater Wisconsin” is that area of the state outside Madison, Milwaukee, and the Fox River Valley corridor. And in case you haven’t heard, Greater Wisconsin is experiencing a growing shortage of attorneys. Twenty-four counties in Greater Wisconsin have two dozen or fewer practicing attorneys. In some of the northern Wisconsin counties, the average age of practicing attorneys is over 60.
So not only is there a growing shortage of attorneys in Greater Wisconsin, the attorneys practicing there are becoming older. Having fewer attorneys is also an access-to-justice issue. As it becomes harder and harder to find a local attorney, more legal needs go unmet. The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Greater Wisconsin Initiative Task Force is looking at this issue – trying to find practical, workable solutions that will make a difference not only for Greater Wisconsin residents but also for the attorneys who practice there.
And then came the pandemic, and the whole legal system – including Greater Wisconsin courts – shifted to working virtually. Almost overnight, it no longer matters where you are as long as you have a working internet connection.
So we want to hear from you: Have you ever contemplated practicing law in Greater Wisconsin? If not, why not? Task force members assure me that there is plenty of legal work in many rural areas and that established attorneys can earn as much as they would in other parts of the state. Yes, work can be done in person, but in many cases it can be done equally as well remotely. So how do we marry the work to the talent? What obstacles and hurdles hold you back from serving rural communities?
If you currently practice law in Greater Wisconsin, what can the State Bar do to increase the number of attorneys practicing there? And what can the State Bar do to assist you in times of your excess workload? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas on how to solve this problem. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.