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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    January 07, 2022

    President's Message
    Optimism Bias: Harnessed, It Can Be a Good Thing

    Believing we won't experience negative consequences because of our actions – optimism bias – can be a double-edged sword. On the positive side, harnessing it can help us keep moving forward in tricky times.

    Cheryl Furstace Daniels

    By the time you read this, the new year has begun, and we likely still have no idea when the pandemic will end. Optimism bias, the brain trick that can make people believe that they aren’t going to experience negative consequences because of their actions, is rampant with COVID-19. It certainly affected the first half of my State Bar of Wisconsin presidency, as it did the entire year of our immediate past president, Kathy Brost.

    Cheryl DanielsCheryl Daniels, U.W. Law 1985, is president of the State Bar of Wisconsin. She is assistant legal counsel at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison.

    To err on the safe side for all State Bar staff and members, in 2021 we again postponed most of the large in-person gatherings planned for the fall, and our members met virtually for all of our group meetings and events, except those specified under rules of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Was it challenging? Yes. Was it worth the cost? Of course! This allowed for all members and staff to safely participate in almost all State Bar activities and kept all of the organization’s work moving while we, and the entire world, tried to sort out the breathtaking twists that COVID-19 keeps throwing at us.

    So, what do we do about 2022, as we open up more and figure out what living with this virus means? Although optimism bias is a double-edged sword, I argue it can and should be harnessed to pull us forward as we deal with changes that seem to be coming at us on a daily basis. It certainly helped me as I decided whether to take a sabbatical from work to take on the State Bar challenges (I did) and to sign the papers late last year to retire from my 35-year career in Wisconsin state government next month.

    I am truly optimistic that the newer attorneys hired will fulfill the counselor and quasi-judicial roles (which I held during those many years), with new energy and availing themselves of new types of technology. I am optimistic, too, that so long as I do all the necessary things to stay healthy and engaged – with my daily exercise routines, blocks of time set aside for State Bar work, and prudently planned fun time with my husband, kids, granddaughter, family, and friends – I will help move the State Bar forward through my presidency and beyond when president-elect Margaret Hickey assumes the office.

    Moving the State Bar forward includes finding ways to implement recommendations from the Greater Wisconsin Initiative to gain more attorneys throughout the state. It also includes ensuring that diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are integrated to assist attorneys statewide in their work and will be the lens through which we always view our work settings, practices, and interactions with all persons in the legal system. Knowing that we must keep ourselves as emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as possible will help us meet these and other challenges that the practice of law brings to us.

    I know this is a tall order, but I am truly optimistic about moving these vital issues forward for the betterment of the legal system and our profession. Forward in 2022, my colleagues!

    We must keep ourselves as emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as possible to meet the challenges that the practice of law brings to us.

    » Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 4 (January 2022).

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