Wisconsin Lawyer: President's Message:

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    President's Message

    Your volunteerism is impressive and essential to the State Bar's success in serving its members and the public. Thank you for your participation.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 1 January 2006

    Lawyer Volunteerism

    Your volunteerism is impressive and essential to the State Bar's success in serving its members and the public. Thank you for your participation.

    by D. Michael Guerin

    D. Michael Guerin

    "Service is the rent that you pay for room on this earth." - Shirley Chisholm

    As your president, I am proud to work with George Brown and the entire State Bar of Wisconsin staff. They are hard-working, competent, and dedicated to advancing the image of the profession and finding ways to make your practice and professional lives more meaningful.

    That said, the State Bar could not exist if it relied only on its paid staff. The volunteerism of Wisconsin lawyers is essential to the organization. While many lawyers serve on multiple Bar committees and sections, there's always room for more individuals to participate. Whenever I, as president, have called on someone to serve on a board, committee, section, or special project, I have received overwhelming support. I thank you for that.

    As lawyers, you are bombarded with requests for service from paying and nonpaying clients (should you be short of the latter, please feel free to give me a call), friends and acquaintances, church groups and schools, and community organizations, boards, and committees. You have responded.

    The spirit of volunteerism that I have observed in Wisconsin's lawyers makes me question the need for mandated service. When I listen to the discussions around Ethics 2000 and the various proposed amendments to the rules of professional conduct for attorneys, including the American Bar Association's recommendation for mandatory pro bono service, I tend to shout out that mandating performance or reporting of pro bono service may be a solution looking for a problem.

    Nonetheless, I feel it is appropriate to point out that the State Bar and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have available more service opportunities for those of you who feel you have more to give. Consider, for example, participating in the State Bar's Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory or the Lawyer Referral and Information Service, or on a supreme court board.

    The Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory lists 700-plus lawyers who have agreed to be available to other lawyers - not the public - for brief telephone consultations to share their knowledge in particular areas of law. By their participation, these lawyers create a network among attorneys that leads to greater competence within the profession and better delivery of legal services to the public.

    The Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) is a nonprofit project that provides valuable service to members and the public. LRIS panel attorneys are eligible for prescreened referrals in geographic and practice areas that they specify through the registration process. Panel attorneys agree to charge no more than $20 for the first half-hour consultation. If the referral produces a fee of more than $200, LRIS receives 10 percent of the amount earned and collected.

    Of 25,000 phone calls to LRIS and 2,530 contacts through the Internet, in 2005 LRIS legal assistants referred 11,456 pre-screened clients to panel attorneys and gave information or referred remaining callers to community agencies or other legal resources. In addition to the referral panel, LRIS Hotline volunteers statewide provide answers to callers' basic legal questions that can be answered in just a few minutes.

    I have participated as a LRIS panel attorney for several years. Although the merits of the cases referred have varied, many referrals involved significant matters for which my firm received substantial fees. Although participation in LRIS is fairly unobtrusive and can help panel attorneys build their client base, too few Wisconsin lawyers participate in the program. As a result, each year more than 1,000 potential clients are unable to obtain a referral. I urge you to consider becoming a LRIS panel attorney this year.

    Have you wondered how lawyers and public members get appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court's various boards? The simple answer is that people submit their resumés and indicate their willingness to be considered for these appointments. The court's Appointment Selection Committee helps to find people to serve on various appointed boards and committees, including the Board of Bar Examiners; the Office of Lawyer Regulation's (OLR) Board of Administrative Oversight, District Investigative Committees, and Preliminary Review Committee; and the State Bar Board of Governors. Currently, the most vital need is participation in the OLR's 16 district committees, which assist in the investigation of complaints against attorneys. For many of us, investigating our colleagues would not be any easy task; still, I encourage you to consider volunteering for this vital service.

    Finally, it is my considered opinion that the payback you receive from volunteerism might be on this Earth - in the form of clients and referrals - rather than the usual promise for payback on good deeds. Either way, you'll be able to pay the rent.