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State Bar candidate measures success by what he gives back

Editor’s note: Attorneys Bob Gagan and Chuck Hanson are candidates for president-elect in the upcoming Wisconsin State Bar Board of Governors election. Ballots will be out by April 12. Active members of the bar can vote until April 26. The winner will become president-elect July 1, followed by one-year terms as president starting in July 2014 and past president starting in July 2015.


Chuck Hanson (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Chuck Hanson, after nearly 40 years as an attorney, says he measures himself not by his legal accomplishments but by his work outside the office.

“We’re all part of a community,” said Hanson, a partner with Hale, Skemp, Hanson, Skemp & Sleik, La Crosse. “We’re all in this together. And we all need to play a part in improving our local town or city. …We have a commitment to future generations.”

It’s a mantra reinforced by his work with the Brain Game project, an effort to educate new parents about child brain development.

“I never thought as someone who has focused a career on litigation that I would help bring resources together for that purpose,” Hanson said. “But it’s been a wonderful experience.”

It is part of a commitment to community Hanson made years ago when he detoured from a potential career in medicine to follow his father into the law.

Hanson, who in April will compete with Bob Gagan to be president-elect of the State Bar of Wisconsin, served in the U.S. Air Force before joining his firm in 1977.

He went on to become founder and past president of the Wisconsin Association of Worker’s Compensation Attorneys, former president of the La Crosse County Bar Association and recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service award.

Hanson also helped start the La Crosse Rotary Foundation, which coordinated Hands Across the Heartlands, which provided humanitarian aid for an estimated 12,000 people in La Crosse’s sister city in Dubna, Russia.

“We started from nothing,” he said, “and accomplished in a month something extraordinary.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What is the best part of being an attorney?
Chuck Hanson: The best part of being a lawyer is solving legal problems and helping clients improve their lives.

WLJ: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be?
Hanson: The temptation, of course, is to think of somebody in a powerful position. But I would trade places with a person living in poverty who’s got a legal problem. It’s one thing to understand that philosophically. It’s quite another to understand it through experience.

WLJ: What was your most useful law school course?
Hanson: I was lucky enough to participate in the moot court team. We researched and wrote an appellate brief and then argued it before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It really was a powerful experience for me. I discovered the importance of a team approach. Someone might be better at writing. Someone might be better at research. Someone might be the person to make the oral argument. And we happened to win that year. That was a great experience.

WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school?
Hanson: I guess my least favorite course would be tax. I was drawn more to other areas of litigation.

WLJ: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?
Hanson: I would develop a class on effective listening skills. Lawyers develop those through the course of their practices, but you can miss a lot in a client interview, in negotiations with the other side or with a witness, if you don’t have the patience to really hear what that person is saying. That might be a valuable CLE course.

WLJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Hanson: Part of me would answer: raising two kids who are happily married and contributing to society. If you’re thinking in terms of a project I was involved with that was a formative experience, I would say chairing Hands Across the Heartlands.

WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?
Hanson: There are things you can live without but, boy, they make life easier, like air conditioning. I can’t imagine what it was really like to practice law in the heat of August without it. But I would say the smartphone. It has become such a companion in everything that we do. It’s essential.

WLJ: What do you miss most about your childhood?
Hanson: I think I would say the carefree innocence of safe neighborhoods, where kids were used to freely going around and enjoying pick-up baseball and football games. My childhood wasn’t a constant stream of adult-planned youth activities. I fondly look back at those times.

WLJ: What is the first concert you attended?
Hanson: The very first concert I remember is a piano recital of mine, which the musical community will not notice but my mother will fondly remember. The first major concert would be John Denver, who was and is a favorite of mine.

WLJ: Finish this sentence: Happiness is …
Hanson: It is exploring the world with the love of my life of 42 years, my wife, Cheryl, skiing in the mountains, watching my kids parent well and playing with my grandkids.

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