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THE DARK SIDE: One nice thing about the State Bar

People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you have anything nice to say about the State Bar of Wisconsin?”

Upon reflecting on the bar’s routine abuse of my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, and the establishment a few years back of the thought police to monitor campaign speech, I always answer, “No.”

But on deeper reflection, I’ve decided to say one nice thing about the bar: My Westlaw costs less than it used to.

What does that have to do with the bar? It’s simple economics, although I can’t exactly quantify how much less my Westlaw costs thanks to the bar.

To begin, I should explain that back in the day I always paid less for Westlaw than most attorneys because I had a really good relationship with the old Westlaw rep.

I let her hang around with me at cocktail parties and things. Since I know everybody in town, it enabled her to meet lots of prospective clients without appearing to be a pushy saleswoman.

I also operated like a walking billboard for her. Remember the slogan, “If you don’t have unlimited access to Westlaw, you’re not practicing law; you’re just taking up space in the courtroom”? That was not the work of some slick Madison Avenue mad men. I wrote that. I was good for her business.

Still, even with all that going for me, Westlaw was not cheap.

But then, the State Bar decided to give all its members free access to Fastcase. Obviously, you can’t do serious litigation with just Fastcase and no Westlaw. But if the only time you go into court is when your deadbeat brother-in-law gets into trouble, it’s good enough.

However, my brother-in-law is not a deadbeat and he doesn’t need me to get him out of trouble. I actually like my brother-in-law. In addition, I’m in court all the time and require unlimited Westlaw.

So, free Fastcase notwithstanding, when people ask what the bar does for me, the answer is still “nothing.” Given a choice to resign, I would personally drive to Madison and nail my resignation letter to their door, a la Martin Luther.

Nevertheless, I’m sure I pay less for Westlaw than I would if the bar didn’t provide unlimited free access to Fastcase, even if it is of no use to me. And for that, I am grateful.

One comment

  1. One can do serious litigation with Fastcase combined with free Internet products such as Google Scholar. For a well-off lawyer like Dave Z., the many things the bar does for its members may not be of much use. For the mass of solos and small firms in Wisconsin, the State Bar offers many things to help one’s practice. Caselaw Express is one, the various email lists are another. Both are invaluable and a benefit of membership. There is the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, the annual directory and programs such as WisLAP to help troubled lawyers. There are sections and committees to join and the bar’s CLE books are excellent.

    Last, but not least, if the State Bar did not exist Dave would have far fewer things to complain about!

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