The Madison attorney Cheryl Daniels is the newest member of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s leadership team in what has proved to be a historic election for the organization.
Daniels defeated Michael May, Madison city attorney, in the April race for president-elect. Her victory marked the first time in State Bar history that three women will serve as the top leaders of the organization.
Starting July 1, Daniels will support Kathy Brost, the next State Bar president, as part of a three-woman leadership team that will also include Jill Kastner, as past president. The role of president-elect will help Daniels prepare to serve as president and spokesperson for the State Bar in 2021.
Daniels also plans to put her career experience to work as a leader of the State Bar. She’s been an assistant legal counsel at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for about 11 of her 35 years at the agency.
Since mid-March, Daniels has been guiding DATCP’s stakeholders through legal challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s going to apply many of the same strategies — like holding listening meetings and finding ways to alleviate clients’ stresses — to the State Bar’s pandemic response.
“I’ve had to sit in on meetings and work with my staff to figure out ways within the statutes that we can assist in a time like this,” Daniels said. “What I hope to do is use that exact same kind of thinking to do the same thing with the lawyers of Wisconsin.”
Daniels recently talked to the Wisconsin Law Journal about her vision for the State Bar’s continued response to the pandemic and how she’ll serve lawyers practicing in Wisconsin.
WLJ: What are some of the biggest issues the State Bar will be faced with in the next one or two years?
Daniels: If we look at what is happening with the pandemic, we are looking at the issues of the health and wellbeing of the membership, and the financial wellbeing of the membership. That comes into the wellbeing of the organization as a whole. We don’t really know where things are going in the next one or two years, and the Bar is going to have to be nimble to deal with the fact that everyone is looking at financial stresses in the next year.
Interestingly enough, the Chief Justice had asked the bar to put together a wellness task force. I think as the next one or two years are unfolding, that task force is going to have a lot of work to do.
How are we going to deal with the changes that are to come? If there are hotspots in the state, how do we pivot to help lawyers in those particular areas? Do we have times that we’re going to be in our offices and then other times when we’re not in our offices because of this?
We’re going to have to be much quicker on moving in the same way that the country has to deal with flare-ups and outbreaks. We’re going to have to deal with that as well.
WLJ: What State Bar initiatives do you hope to continue during your tenure?
Daniels: We are still thinking about how to move the profession forward. We have two other large task forces that play into everything that’s going to happen. One is diversity and inclusion because we are becoming a more diverse bar. That work has to continue because that’s just simply part of who we are going to be as we move forward. I believe that that task force has to continue and is overlaid in everything we do.
There’s still the need for lawyers in all areas of the state. We have a significant part of the state — I believe it’s 60% — that is either somewhat or very underserved by attorneys. We need to figure that out in the context of the economic stresses that are going on, so it’s a real balancing act. But that has to be part of the conversation the whole time. That doesn’t change. Those issues do not change simply because there is a more challenging issue that is weighing in on all of this.
WLJ: With your election, it’s the first time in the State Bar’s history that three women have held leadership positions. How does it feel to be part of that important milestone?
Daniels: I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. I’m a longtime League of Women Voters member, and I was in leadership at the local level in Dane County. In the year of the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, we have this leadership. It’s just the most perfect time. This group of women bring lots of diversity of experience and geographic diversity of where we’re practicing, so we bring that to represent all of the lawyers of the state of Wisconsin and those lawyers who choose to be voluntary members who are not in the state.
WLJ: What is your message to lawyers practicing in Wisconsin?
Daniels: I want people to know they can always reach me. They can call me to talk about issues we need to have in front of us. And I think all of us — Jill, the past president; Kathy Brost as president; and me as president-elect — all want to hear what are the concerns of people so we make sure that we move the organization forward on the right footing.
Even though it’s challenging right now, and I won’t be able to travel to listen to everybody, we need to find ways to have listening sessions. It isn’t just these big issues, but also these everyday issues we want to hear about so we make sure we address them. We’re going to need to work together, no doubt about it, so that’s when we need to listen.