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    Your State Bar: It’s a Start

    The State Bar is honing its commitment to the profession’s newest members, recent law school graduates struggling in the down economy to find meaningful employment that will also help them pay off their student debt.

    George C. Brown

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    As the young man gave example after example, you could feel the concern and even pity increase throughout the audience. The debt, the lack of employment, the fear of starting out on one’s own with no safety net, the depression.

    “I think about my debt several times every day. Unfortunately, there is no solution to it, so I just drag this around with me, like Jacob Marley was forced to drag his chains around for all eternity.”

    George C. Brownorg gbrown wisbar George C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    “I have two finance degrees and I still wasn’t prepared for this.”

    “I’ve come to terms that I will never be able to pay off my student loans so I have started to relax more now.”

    “I am an indentured servant. But I’m a professional.”

    All can be summed up by the comment of an individual who left a corporate job to attend law school: “Not how I imagined my life was going to be.”

    These are some of the comments in the “Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force Report and Recommendations,” which was presented to the State Bar Board of Governors at its December 2013 meeting by task force cochairs, Art Harrington of Milwaukee and Sherry Coley of Green Bay.

    The broad-reaching report spells out the various problems facing new lawyers and provides a litany of possible solutions. These run the gamut from federal loan forgiveness programs for lawyers who can land a job in the nonprofit world, to mentoring programs for those just beginning in practice, to business classes or incubators for those who will be hanging out their own shingle. The report adds the perspectives and proposals of other states that have explored these issues.

    “The broad-reaching “Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force Report and Recommendations” spells out the various problems facing new lawyers and provides a litany of possible solutions.”

    Last year, the Board of Governors voted to help new lawyers with some of their expenses by increasing the number of years for the new-lawyer reduction in State Bar dues and Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments from the first three years of practice to the first five years. Because more than 70 percent of State Bar members are sole practitioners, this will help especially those new lawyers hanging out their shingle. PINNACLE is also exploring the feasibility of creating a business school for lawyers, aimed especially at new lawyers and at lawyers with some practice experience who want to start their own firms.

    The challenge now is how to determine which of the other proposed solutions are most viable, how to create additional possibilities, and how to establish priorities. Some proposals are already being worked on. State Bar President Patrick Fiedler has appointed a committee, led by David Jones, Madison, to begin the process of providing concrete assistance for new lawyers. By the time you read this, the committee, whose members work throughout the state and in a variety of practice settings, will have begun its work.

    It’s just a start.

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