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Raising the Barr: MBA president shifting focus

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//October 26, 2012//

Raising the Barr: MBA president shifting focus

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//October 26, 2012//

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Charlie Barr (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

It’s a time of transition for Charlie Barr, president of the Milwaukee Bar Association.

“I’m sort of at a crossroads in my practice,” said Barr, an attorney since 1977. “I’m going to be closing my office at the end of the year and continuing with a home office. I’ll be focusing my practice on written advocacy, helping lawyers on written advocacy projects, such as briefs or trial memoranda or mediation statements, whatever written needs they have.”

It’s an opportunity for Barr, a sole practitioner based in Milwaukee, to indulge his interest in writing while continuing his legal practice.

“I enjoy legal research. I enjoy noodling out complex legal issues. I enjoy applying law to the sets of facts. What I really enjoy the most is written advocacy, that persuasive writing. It’s what I felt I had the most to offer,” said Barr, who also edits the Milwaukee Bar Association quarterly magazine.

After years in civil litigation, Barr said legal writing also will allow him time to seek – and, he hopes, strike – that elusive work-life balance.

“Litigation practice, typically and also in my case, requires long hours; it’s not a nine to five practice,” he said. “Many, many nights and weekends things that can’t be rushed, but also tremendous time crunches. Managing that is a skill one must develop. You have to be somewhat organized and make sure to carve out time for recreation and avocation.”

For Barr, that means playing 50 to 70 games per season with the Milwaukee Men’s Senior and Chicago North Men’s Senior amateur baseball leagues. He’s a utility player, a jack of all trades, typically coming in as a catcher or outfielder.

“I try to be useful,” said Barr, who also expects to continue his work as municipal judge in Bayside, which he has done for nearly 13 years. “I’m not one to sit around.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What was your most useful law school course? Why?
Barr: That was trial practice. It was most useful because it got us out into the streets, if you will, into the courts and showed us a side of law practice that we weren’t getting that, obviously, you can’t get in the classroom. I went to law school in Boston and the difference between the classroom and the mean streets or the mean courts of Boston was striking.

WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school? Why?
Barr: Corporations. And the reason for that? I don’t have anything against corporations as a subject, but I remember the professor and whenever he’d introduce a problem he’d say, ‘Imagine yourself sitting in your corner office at Carvath Swain and Moore,’ some fancy law firm in New York. And I could never imagine it.

WLJ: What is the best part of being an attorney?
Barr: To me, it’s being able to, on a representing clients level, work through with somebody a problem they have, work it through to a resolution that allows the person to leave the problem and move on. I don’t mean a smashing resolution where you kill the opposition and get a million dollar award, although those can be nice. It’s almost always a compromise resolution. It’s what reasonably can be done under the circumstances. I find that very satisfying. I also find very satisfying the bar association work, where lawyers, rather than opposing each other, can actually cooperate to accomplish something that improves access to justice or improves the community.

WLJ: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you have done?
Barr: I think probably journalism, because I do like to write, or some sort of creative writing.

WLJ: What profession would you not like to explore?
Barr: Politics. I have enough trouble arranging or negotiating the politics of individual relationships. To do it on a communitywide or statewide or nationwide level is unimaginable.

WLJ: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?
Barr: It would be about legal writing. And, in fact, I’ve done that. It was in the distant past, but I think I’m going to dust it off and do it again next year.

WLJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement, so far? Why?
Barr: No one specific event, but I would think it would be as I’ve gone on in practice. When I started, 100 percent of my practice was representing clients and trying to generate fees. As time went on, I realized the most good I could do was not representing individual clients; it’s working on bar association efforts and pro bono work and community projects, in addition to law practice. That realization and acting on it is what I’d consider my biggest achievement. A lawyer’s highest calling is public service.

WLJ: What trait do you most like in others?
Barr: I like people who are straight-shooters, who are straightforward, who do not dance around issues, who are forthright and disclose what they can up to the limit of their ethical responsibilities.

WLJ: What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?
Barr: I’d say so-called aggressive lawyering. There’s nothing wrong with approaching a legal problem or anything aggressively. But, so often in our profession, it’s a code word for gaming the system and being obstructive and throwing up smoke.

WLJ: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Barr: I would develop my right brain more. I’m reading a book about left brain and right brain. Left brain has to do with logical thinking and the right brain has to do with more holistic, non-linguistic, more emotional values. I guess evaluating my own brain, I think my left brain is so much more developed than my right. It’s somewhat out of balance. If I could change one thing, I’d have more balance.

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