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Davis jazzed about year as DCBA president

Michael R. Davis

Michael R. Davis compares appearing at trial with performing music on stage. Having done both, Davis would know.

Davis, a shareholder with DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. in Madison, is the new Dane County Bar Association (DCBA) president. Those who’ve known Davis for awhile might also recognize him as a past member of two jazz bands — The City Notes and The Royal Palms.

“I’m a trial lawyer, so now I kind of like to sing and dance and shake my butt in front of a jury,” Davis joked, during a recent interview. “It’s the same thing as being a musician on stage, although you have to be a bit more circumspect, I guess. It’s still entertainment to a certain degree.”

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1974, his interest in music blossomed. So he put together a band with his brother and began performing the music of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and The Ink Spots. That was mixed with the more contemporary sound of groups such as The Manhattan Transfer.

For about four years, Davis practiced law and performed music. He acknowledges that lifestyle had its challenges.

“When we weren’t travelling, then I could be a lawyer by day and a musician by night,” Davis recalled. “It was a fairly schizophrenic existence. I’d go to court and I’d forget, should I be singing or strumming my guitar, or should I be addressing the judge as, ‘Your Honor.’ ”

By 1980, Davis had turned to law full time. He maintained a general practice for 12 years with Sarah O’Brien, now a Dane County Circuit Court judge. In 1987, he joined the DeWitt firm where he now practices plaintiff’s personal injury and medical malpractice.

Davis acknowledges that he did not dive right into an active role in the DCBA. About 10 years ago, Davis got more involved with the organization as a member of the Courthouse Committee, which he chaired at one point. About four years ago, his involvement with the group expanded to include work with the DCBA Case Mediation Program. Those efforts culminated in an effort to run for president, which he did successfully.

During the coming year, his goals include promoting the creation of a new DCBA group to reach out to newer lawyers and working to encourage lawyers to help improve public perception of the profession.

His own lack of interest in getting actively involved with the DCBA as a young lawyer has sparked his interest in developing a group within the bar that will speak to that group.

“I think if we had a New Lawyers Section, we might be able to attract more of the new lawyers who are getting out of law school and sticking around Dane County,” Davis observed.

Davis also wants to use his position as DCBA president to tell lawyers that they should be more vocal about the good things they are doing within the profession and community. He noted that the public tends to focus on the aberrant cases in the news while failing to recognize the important role many lawyers serve as gatekeepers, filtering out many untoward lawsuits.

“I think lawyers need to get the message out that lawyers are not a scourge on society, that they are actually very, very helpful,” Davis said. “I think lawyers have for too long sort of just taken it on the chin. … And I think it’s a sad thing because a lot of lawyers do a lot of good that goes unnoticed.”

Speaking of the good things that lawyers are doing, Davis noted that he is very proud of the work the DCBA Case Mediation Program is doing to resolve cases outside of court.


Dane County Bar Association

“It’s a great, great service to clients, lawyers
and the courts, because the more cases that are mediated successfully, the more it takes these cases off the court calendar and frees them up for cases that cannot settle,” Davis said.

He also expressed some satisfaction about the DCBA’s recent decision to take a stand against the death penalty bill. Given the bill’s impact on the legal system, Davis said he thought it was appropriate for the board to pass a resolution opposing the proposed legislation.

As for what the coming year will hold, Davis said, he’s simply waiting to see.

“I’m just going into this with an open mind,” he said. “In truth, I’m just carrying on a tradition of good things that other people have done before.”

Tony Anderson can be reached by email.

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