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2014 Election

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Ralph Cagle
Ralph Cagle

Cagle elected next State Bar president

Longtime University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Ralph Cagle will be the State Bar’s next president-elect, as election results released Friday showed he trounced competitor Kevin Palmersheim.

New State Bar section leaders elected

Ballots go out for State Bar elections

Raise the bar: Candidates compete to lead state’s legal group

Attorneys Ralph Cagle and Kevin Palmersheim are candidates for president-elect in the upcoming Wisconsin State Bar Board of Governors election.

Both candidates spoke with Wisconsin Law Journal staff writer Eric Heisig to discuss their goals and reasons for running. The candidates primarily were asked the same questions, and their responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Ballots will be out by April 11. Active members of the bar association can vote until April 25. The winner will become president-elect July 1, followed by one-year terms as president in July 2015 and past-president in July 2016.

Former BOG member wants bar to run like a business

Kevin Palmersheim - Haley Palmersheim SC
Kevin Palmersheim –
Haley Palmersheim SC

As one of the namesakes behind Madison firm Haley Palmersheim SC, Kevin Palmersheim says he knows the business side of law.

It’s a perspective he wants to bring to the State Bar of Wisconsin. The candidate for bar president said he has a business plan that could put the bar on firmer financial footing.

Palmersheim served on the bar’s Board of Governors from 2006 to 2010.

“I don’t agree that one person can’t make a difference,” he said. “I’ve seen some effective governors when I was on that body.”

Palmersheim has been a partner at his firm since 1996. Running the firm has, so far, been his biggest professional achievement, he said.

The business lawyer said he is proud to work with “a group of people that enjoy doing what they do and are really good at it.”

Palmersheim is a former columnist for the Wisconsin Law Journal. His advice column “Respondeat Superior” ceased publication in 2009.

Wisconsin Law Journal: Why are you running?

Kevin Palmersheim: For me, I really enjoy being a lawyer. I wanted to do it ever since I was 12, and I really like the problem solving and helping clients. … I believe we do have a responsibility to the public and legal system.

WLJ: What do you see as the bar president’s role?

Palmersheim: I see it as two roles. You have a figurative head of the bar, and it’s important for members around the state to interact with the bar and know that they mean something t the bar association … As a bar association president, you’re kind of carrying the flag.

The other part of being a president is leading an organization, building consensus on getting change. When I was on the Board of Governors, I saw a number of different styles of leadership as a president, and you could see which ones were more effective in getting their agendas and making accomplishments.

WLJ: Do you think a lot can be done in a one-year term?

Palmersheim: You certainly can’t be overly idealistic in making a large number of changes. I believe if you have experience with the bar … you can hit the ground running and can make a difference.

WLJ: What do you think about the bar’s push this year to enact a state Supreme Court rule allowing the BOG to get rid of one of its own?

Palmersheim: I’m most concerned about understanding the process of how they decided to get outside legal help and what the board should do in the future … I want to understand the process of what the board can do [and] what the executive director can do for the State Bar is more of an issue for me.

I don’t know what precipitated the need to remove a specific governor. This all came to light after I was off the Board of Governors. There are times, I think, when you kind of wonder, ‘Is it a solution that is looking for a problem?’

It’s ironic that it’s a body of lawyers and we would not have specific rules addressing the situation. If we need to have a rule change to remove a governor, and perhaps we do, what happens in other states? … I think we should also need to have rules on if we need to hire legal counsel to advise us.

WLJ: Under current President Pat Fiedler, the bar lobbied hardest for a bill to move first-time, 17-year-old offenders to juvenile court. What legislative change would you champion if elected president?

Palmersheim: My advocacy at this point is directed more at the bar association and having it operate more as a business … None of that would involve outside legislation, but rather changes to how the bar operates as a business.

WLJ: How would that happen?

Palmersheim: Basically … instead of doing a budget, we have to have a plan for five years down the road. … Nondues revenue makes up 60 percent of revenue. We can push that pretty easily to 80 percent of revenue with some business changes.

One thing I could say, the State Bar of Wisconsin has the ‘Books UnBound’ series … the series is not only put on by the State Bar but by proprietary software. … We could put it together for another state bar association. They would sell it to their members … [and] the revenue would flow to us.

WLJ: Do you see the bar as a public or a private organization?

Palmersheim: It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s a member service organization that is for lawyers in the state, but it also has the obligation to work with the Supreme Court, to work with the legal system for essentially the licensing of lawyers. It’s not a completely public association, but we certainly have responsibilities that we’re asked to perform.

WLJ: What other steps should be taken to put the bar on better financial footing?

Palmersheim: We need to develop a business plan. They do a good job of putting together a budget, but I view that as more reactionary. The way to do it is treat it as a business … you have to figure out how we’re going to generate the revenues to meet our expenses to make profit for our business.

WLJ: Do you support the proposed dues increase? Why or why not?

Palmersheim: I don’t support or oppose it, and I’m not trying to take the politician’s way out. It’s something neither me nor Ralph Cagle has been asked to address. We both believe it’s going to pass.

We need to really look hard at other business issues. There are issues the bar can’t discuss publicly, but there are ways that the State Bar of Wisconsin can generate additional revenues and ease dues pressure. The dues are a lot of money for members.

WLJ: How would you react if the board chose to support an issue that you oppose?

Palmersheim: It’s our duty as officers of an association to lead and advocate what the association wants to do. I don’t think it’s an unusual position for a lawyer to be in … I don’t see a problem with that at all.

That’s the great thing about this democratic process, or at least this representative process. You argue and debate issues, but once the issue’s decided, you move on. It’s accepted, and that’s how it works.

WLJ: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing attorneys in Wisconsin? What can the bar’s role in fighting those challenges be?

Palmersheim: The biggest change or challenge is the economics of practicing law are significantly different than they were 20 or 40 years ago. The law firm model of hiring associates … that’s not the model you see in the practice of law. Now you see existing law firms are hiring more lateral transfers.

You see in smaller communities, which used to have one anchor law firm … that you’ve got a lot more solo and small firms that exist, so you are in an economic climate where lawyers are working without as many resources.

A big part of my platform is new lawyers are often not finding jobs … Their debt load averages between $80,000 and $120,000, depending on where they went to law school, and a first-year lawyer coming out as a solo practioner is making $25,000 a year.

What the bar can do is help with things like CLE cost … the ultimate pass for CLE [was $400]. Now it’s $1,200 four years later …

Put yourself in the position of a new lawyer. We should be doing exactly the opposite of the bar association … so you become a better lawyer, you can do your job and we’re supporting you.

WLJ: Do you support the latest push for civil Gideon? Why or why not?

Palmersheim: We need to make some changes there. We need to find other ways to provide legal services to those who don’t have means.

I think we need to look at sources like class action lawsuits, where there’s procedure if you have a class action suit that’s settled and there’s a sum of money that’s paid, the money that’s left over can be used for designated purposes.

It’s something we should lobby for. We have a lobbying arm for the State Bar. It doesn’t cost the bar anything.

Still, a lot of judges around the state are reluctant to appoint for civil cases because it does put such a burden on the attorneys.

As a business lawyer, I think we need to address the financial impact and think about where we can get the funding from. It’s great to say everybody has a right to representation because I think that would be ideal, but we’re talking about the legal system now, where the level of pro se litigants is increasing.

The problem is, on a state level, any time there is extra money … [and] the bar association or state says we need more money for civil legal services, the response is that the economy is tight. But when there is money … then what we talk about is “let’s reduce everybody’s tax bill by $5,” instead of taking that money and putting it where it will do far more good.

Cagle’s many connections inspire run

Ralph Cagle - University of Wisconsin Law School
Ralph Cagle –
University of Wisconsin Law School

Ralph Cagle joked that a photo representing the State Bar’s presidential race should show him and opponent Kevin Palmersheim driving together to an event.

Cagle and Palmersheim have gotten to know each other well since they were chosen by the bar’s nominating committee in November, said Cagle, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Cagle, who also is of counsel at Madison’s Hurley, Burish & Stanton SC, talks proudly of staying in touch with the students he has taught and mentored for nearly 25 years.

“Within the realm of the law, I think the biggest achievement I’ve had is spending 24 years teaching young law students how to be young lawyers,” he said. “I have a good formula for doing it. I know it’s worked for a lot of those students because I’ve had contact with them.”

Cagle, a native of Providence, R.I., moved to Wisconsin in 1968, a month after Bobby Kennedy, on whose presidential campaign Cagle worked, was assassinated. Before working at the law school, Cagle worked as a trial lawyer and as an assistant to former Democratic Assembly Speaker Norman Anderson.

Wisconsin Law Journal: Why are you running?

Ralph Cagle: I’m running, in part, because I have done so much with lawyers over a long period of time that I think I have a perspective of the practice of where the rubber meets the road … I’ve got a couple thousand students that I keep pretty close contact with, and it’s proven to be a perspective from which I would be good to be bar president. I’m not an insider, and it’s good to look at it with really fresh eyes.

WLJ: What do you see as the bar president’s role?

Cagle: The bar has an unbelievably complicated and long set of bylaws. [The president] is the CEO of the bar and I understand that role. It’s the person responsible for running the State Bar.

I think it is someone who can speak with some authority on behalf of the profession, both in talking among the profession and talking with the various audiences it deals with — the Legislature and general public. They play a large role in developing the public understanding of what lawyers do, and I hope I can explain how they do it well and in an honorable way.

I think that there are a lot of interests and groups whose job it is to advance those interests. At some point, there has to be some place in the organization, some place in the structure that tries to harmonize those interests and get them to work together.

WLJ: What do you think about the bar’s push this year to enact a state Supreme Court rule allowing the BOG to get rid of one of its own?

Cagle: I had some reservations about the rule that was passed. I thought that the standard for dismissing a bar member, that [if] anything they do injures the interest of the bar, I thought that wasn’t a very precise standard. I had reservations about it, but among the governance issues about how you run an association or manage a group of very active volunteers to work most effectively, somehow it never struck me as the single most important issue.

I don’t understand why this issue raises the level of excitement as it does. These are elected people, and there’s a certain amount of deference you have to give to those elected to the body.

WLJ: What are the other big issues?

Cagle: Without a doubt … the pressures that face young lawyers and new lawyers. They are in the vice of enormous debt on the one hand, limited or no job prospects on the other hand.

That’s a big issue and I and my opponent … feel this is an important issue. … The nature of the change of the legal profession … the question of how technology affects legal services, the economics of providing legal services, the increasingly demanding client base. … These are really big issues. And the issue of keeping the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, independent of politics is going to be a major subject of public discussion over the next year.

WLJ: But will the Supreme Court thing be a hard sell? Aside from the bar, I haven’t heard a whole lot of support from the Republicans in the Legislature, which is what would be needed to get this bill to pass right now.

Cagle: I don’t see this as a partisan issue. I see this as everybody having a stake in having a judiciary independent of politics. If it’s going to be successful, I think it has to be seen as a good government issue, and not a politics issue.

I understand there are some people who are probably not enamored of the specific [single-term] proposal. I will tell you I thought about it a lot and I don’t have a better solution. I think this is a workable solution … if we can get that, I think we can make a big step forward.

WLJ: Under current President Pat Fiedler, the bar lobbied hardest for a second-chance bill to move first-time, 17-year-old offenders to juvenile court. What legislative change would you champion if elected president?

Cagle: I think the Supreme Court issue is going to certainly be one. One of the things I think happens is issues arise during a course of events.

I don’t know if I have a specific bill or matter going before the court. Part of the problem is if I’m elected, I’m not going to serve for well over a year. Those issues may change. I don’t have a particular legislative or public policy proposal that at this point I would want to push the bar to support.

WLJ: Do you see the bar as a public or a private organization?

Cagle: It’s got some dimensions of both, obviously, but it is not an organ of government. There is a public responsibility, to be sure, and it is under the supervision of the Supreme Court … it’s private with a public responsibility.

WLJ: What other steps should be taken to put the bar on better financial footing?

Cagle: I think the bar, one of its struggles is for some time it didn’t have a long-term business plan. It’s in the process of developing a long-term business plan. Anybody who has ever run an organization knows you have to plan longer than the next quarter or the next year to make an organization work.

Part of the long-term business plan involves making the bar less dependent on dues. Forty percent of revenue [comes from dues], 40 [percent] comes from [continuing legal education], and 20 percent comes from the miscellaneous category, which involves advertising little pockets and income from reserves. I think the notion is can we take some of the skills and the resources we have and expand them in some way and make the bar have a long-term financial responsibility.

WLJ: Do you support the proposed dues increase? Why or why not?

Cagle: I think that I can’t find an alternative to get the job done for what the bar needs to do unless it becomes a hacking away of individuals on the staff. … We really want to do an expansion of the [Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program] … that’s worth the money, and they are strained to the limit in terms of resources.

WLJ: But WisLAP is a program that doesn’t make money. Is it something that the bar could hold off on expanding until they are in a better spot financially?

Cagle: WisLAP saves lives. It saves families. It improves the public perception of lawyers. It improves the public performance of lawyers. We lose money doing it, to be sure, and we should.

WLJ: How would you react if the board chose to support an issue that you oppose?

Cagle: That’s something I have a good understanding of. I teach a course to law students on lawyers as community leaders, and one of the issues you deal with is [working with local government].

I let people know where I stand and, hopefully, most of the battles I win. Some of them I’m going to lose. My position is when the Board of Governors takes a position on something, the person who is the president advocates that position on behalf of the organization. … The president of the bar certainly goes before the court and goes before the public and presents ably with the bar. I can do that with things I agree with and things I have a different viewpoint on.

WLJ: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing attorneys in Wisconsin? What can the bar’s role in overcoming those challenges be?

Cagle: I think it’s the changing practice. A lot of it is economics. If you look at the private bar … the solo practitioner and the big firm … both are affected by economic pressures and technology.

It’s also an issue for government lawyers. … [who] like many government employees have had no raises or minimal raises, and substantial reduction in retirement benefits and insurance benefits.

… Maybe [we can] do some things to help in that issue. The economic factors of this profession are going to grow, become more intense in all levels of lawyers, and we’ll have to deal with it.

WLJ: Do you support the latest push for civil Gideon? Why or why not?

Cagle: I haven’t studied that. It’s a big step, obviously. … Gideon is a constitutional mandate limited obviously to the criminal setting. To examine it in the civil setting has a pretty broad reach. There’s a question of, ‘Is it a good public policy?’

But I would need to know more about that before I can make an intelligent statement.


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