I recently retired from my more than 35 years as a state-government attorney, basing my decision on my beliefs that 1) I could not adequately represent my agency when missing many days of work using saved sabbatical leave to tend to my State Bar of Wisconsin presidential duties; and 2) it was the perfect time to transition to younger colleagues figuring out the best ways to advise on statutory interpretation, rulemaking, negotiations with licensees and other parties, and the myriad of other legal issues that come up for any agency dealing with legislators, the governor’s office, and Wisconsin businesses and residents. With the length of this pandemic, I likely underestimated my juggling skills because most of my work has been accomplished virtually until these last few months of my presidency. However, I still believe it was time to give attorneys with newer skills, particularly with technology, and fresh perspectives a chance to look at the issues facing the agency.
Cheryl Daniels, U.W. Law 1985, is president of the State Bar of Wisconsin. She is now retired in Madison after a career in government, with 35 years as program counsel, administrative law judge, and assistant legal counsel at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection.
Before I left I archived as much of my institutional memory as I could electronically, for anyone to use as needed. For my final swan song, I have two suggestions to pass on to my private-practice attorney colleagues when representing clients before a governmental agency, since this is often a novel part of private practice. I certainly hope my governmental colleagues agree that these are good ways to begin cultivating the relationship.
First, the statute is not the end of the story, it’s only the beginning. You must research whether there are administrative rules, directives, or guidance that puts “meat on the bones” of the statutory framework. These aren’t meant to be your client’s worst nightmare but have been developed either using the collective wisdom of all stakeholders or because the guidance has actually resolved real-life problems. Recently, I even heard an attorney complaining that, without clear rules on CBD, the industry harkened back to the “wild west” where any snake-oil-seller types can peddle poor-quality CBD products, tainting by association those trying to develop the best products to gain consumer confidence. I do agree that governmental agencies should make these interpretive documents readily available and as intelligible as possible to a decently literate reader. Trust in government can only be gained and maintained through transparency of word and deed.
Second, if you aren’t sure you have the entire set of interpretive documents, can’t find them, have questions about the contents, or want to plead your client’s case for another method to meet any governmental requirement, use your best interpersonal skills and contact the legal counsel’s office to start a conversation. I certainly hope, and truly believe, you will be pleasantly surprised at how receptive governmental attorneys can be to impart correct information and use their creative skills to help your clients successfully move forward.
These are two simple, but effective, suggestions culled from 35 years of experience, passed on to you with my best wishes for building solid working relationships. Forward, my colleagues!
You must research whether there are administrative rules, directives, or guidance that puts “meat on the bones” of the statutory framework.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 4 (April 2022).