My daughter is an elementary-school teacher, a profession she came into accidentally but has embraced for more than six years. Having worked abroad until this year, she is particularly adept at teaching English-language learners of all ages and children who struggle with language skills. But in teaching in the United States for the first time, her biggest struggle this year has been re-teaching social skills – simple courtesy, kindness, and empathy toward each other – that her students have too often forgotten during their disrupted 2020 and 2021 pandemic school years. This year I, too, have witnessed this regression, but unfortunately among our attorney colleagues, the adults and licensed professionals who really know better but choose to ignore this part of their professional duty.
Recently I was presented with a complaint sent to one of our hardworking volunteers, which was a very condescending, off-the-cuff rant laden with name calling, cursing, and vitriol. And do you know what was the terrible decision that brought on this missive? The decision by a volunteer committee, with advice from staff and approval of leadership, to hold the Solo & Small Firm Conference virtually for a second year. This committee erred on the side of caution during an evolving pandemic, but still ensured all the attending lawyers received important practice education and participated in some relaxed networking. Why should this decision provoke a nasty-gram to volunteers who have worked so hard with no reward except for doing a great job pulling off an event lauded by all? Seriously? Talk about unnecessary, unprofessional behavior by someone who knows better but chooses to engage in an irresponsible manner.
As president of the State Bar, one duty I have is responding to the lawyers who are unhappy, sometimes extremely unhappy, with something the State Bar’s leaders or staff members have done or failed to do. I have no problem with this, as long as the discussion is civil and professional, so in this response I had to make very clear that the lawyer’s diatribe was a completely unacceptable way to professionally disagree with anyone, let alone volunteer colleagues who have done so much work on everyone’s behalf. And although I invited this attorney to contact me personally to discuss the legitimate disagreements buried beneath this awful screed, they chose not to respond.
Still, I do realize that almost two years of continued uncertainty may have damaged these skills of even the most professional of all, just as with my daughter’s students. If you have any complaints that you want to air, I want all of you to know that I am available to engage in a vigorous discussion of any issues you might have with your State Bar. Just send me a short or lengthy message at email@example.com, and I will follow up as soon as I can. In the meantime, my simple ask is that you redouble your efforts to find your understanding and empathy with your State Bar colleagues and staff, as we do our best to navigate these uncharted waters.
My simple ask is that you redouble your efforts to find your understanding and empathy with your State Bar colleagues and staff, as we do our best to navigate these uncharted waters.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 4 (February 2022).