“Diversity” in the Law: Savvy Business, Self-Motivation, or Both?

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Category: Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public, Race & Law
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“Diversity” is a term to qualify something diverse, which the American Heritage dictionary defines as “made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements.” Diversity in the work environment of law firms, agencies, in-house counsels, and non-profits usually relates to the genetic makeup of the employees’ gender, race, national origin, and sexual orientation, but for purposes of brevity and, frankly, your time, this post focuses solely on race.

In 2007, per the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, the racial demographic of the attorney population consisted of 77.6% Caucasian/White, 3.2% African American, 3.1% Hispanic and even lower numbers for the other categories of races and ethnicities. Not surprisingly, this disparity has not made much progress in the past decade which is displayed in the 2017 percentages that show attorneys consisting of 66.8% Caucasian/White, 4.1% African American, and 3.9% Hispanic. Accordingly, these statistics create more questions than answers, such as: Why is there such a low presence of minorities in the law? Is this disparity due to a systemic problem in the American education system or attributed to employers’ implicit bias? Do schools/employers care about these statistics? If not, should they? Read more »

The Benefits of Bar Associations

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A gavel with scalesPicture this: you have finally been accepted as a member of the Bar in your respective state. Job offer in hand, you anxiously await the first day of the rest of your life – your first full time law position. The Sunday night before your first day of work, you peruse the attorney profiles on your new firm’s website. Viewing the profiles with a clear head, that is, a mind free of finals, bar prep, and interview details, a section catches your eye for the first time: PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. The organizations that your colleagues belong to vary in category. Some groups appear to relate to practice areas, while others are seemingly dedicated to specific causes. Now you begin to wonder – do I need to join any specialty bar associations?  What purpose will it serve? If I decided to join, how do I narrow down the best organizations for me?

It is commonplace for states across the country to have a bevy of specialty bar and legal associations that cater directly to a specific segment of the legal community. Attorneys’ specialties and practice areas vary, so it can be difficult to find your footing as a new lawyer outside of your specific firm or corporation. This is just one of the ways these organizations can help. While it isn’t necessary to join any specific organizations, the benefits are plentiful. Joining an association, whether local or national, generally provides you with the opportunity to network with your peers, grow your practice, continue your legal education, and commit yourself to work that is personally important to you.

When I graduated from law school, the first organization I committed myself to was the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers (WAAL). Formerly known as the Wisconsin Association of Minority Attorneys (WAMA), WAAL was established in 1988 with the mission of dedicating itself to ensuring diversity in Wisconsin’s legal community. Since its inception, WAAL has been actively involved in community affairs throughout Wisconsin. My first introduction to WAAL was during my 1L year at its annual welcome reception, where Marquette and University of Wisconsin law students are invited to mingle with WAAL members. Through that reception, I met numerous Wisconsin attorneys, and formed relationships that have helped carry me through my career today. As a member of the Board of Directors since 2014, my admiration for the organization and its partners has only grown. Read more »

Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Feminism, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Profession, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his contacts with Russian officials in Washington D.C. and his conversations with the President about the Russia investigation or about former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey.

The hearing has been called “at times fiery” and Sessions’ testimony “highly contentious.” Indeed, several Democratic senators engaged in some testy back-and-forth with Sessions, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden saying that Sessions’ answers did not “pass the smell test” and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich declaring that Sessions “[is] obstructing.”

But the grilling of Sessions that has probably received the most attention is that of California Senator Kamala Harris, a junior senator and former California attorney general. Senator Harris was questioning Sessions about his many non-answer answers at the hearing. Sessions claimed he was not answering due to long-standing Justice Department policy. Senator Harris pushed Sessions on this policy.

The New York Times described Senator Harris’ questioning style as “a rapid-fire . . . pace more commonly seen in courtrooms—a style that at times has her interrupting witnesses.” During her questioning, she was interrupted by both Arizona Senator John McCain and by North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Both men suggested that Sessions be allowed to answer. This was the second time in two weeks that Senator Harris has been interrupted by Senators Burr and McCain. Last week, she was interrupted by them while questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Following the Sessions testimony, Jason Miller, a panelist on CNN, referred to Senator Harris as “hysterical,” most certainly a gendered analysis. CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers called out Miller’s gendered statement and pointed out how Miller believed neither Senators Harris (a woman of color) nor Wyden (a man) were “trying to get to the bottom of answers,” yet Miller called only Senator Harris “hysterical.”)

Earlier this year, during a Senate debate about Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted and then formally rebuked by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King about then-U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions, who had been nominated at that time for a federal judgeship. The letter had criticized Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” (The Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for that federal judgeship.) Later, three male senators read the same letter on the Senate floor, and none were rebuked.

Maybe Harris’ and Warren’s treatment is all about rules of decorum in the Senate. Decorum may be part of it; more than that, though, it appears to be the ages-old pernicious pattern of men interrupting women. It happens to most women, much of the time, in both personal and professional settings.

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The Importance of Legal Apprenticeship: Why There is no Substitute for the Master-Student Relationship

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“Never trust a teacher who does not have a teacher.”


On the first day of my Summer Clerkship in 2016 at the firm of Anspach Meeks Ellenberger LLP in Toledo, Ohio, Mark Meeks, a partner at the firm, sat me down in his office to give me the rundown of what I could expect during my twelve weeks there.  At that meeting, he stressed the importance of the work I would be doing, as well as the fact that most of it would be spent on what was going to turn out to be one of the most important cases the firm would try in years.  He also said something I will never forget: “What you learn in law school is a mile wide and an inch deep.”  He told me I would likely learn more during that summer than I did in my entire first year of law school.  I was skeptical, but by the end of the summer, I would come to understand what he meant.

My father, Robert Anspach, is founder and managing partner of the firm.  In his office there is a picture hanging on the wall of a man no older than my father is today.  If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed it was his father.  It is, however, not a blood relative: it is a picture of Charlie W. Peckinpaugh, Jr., the man who mentored my father during his early, formative years as a practicing attorney, into the effective lawyer he is today. (Pictured above.)

The Master-Apprentice relationship has been around for millennia. (Consider, for example, one of the most well-known teacher-student relationships of Socrates and Plato).  In the study of Yoga (capital “Y,” for union of mind, body, and spirit), those who want to become teachers (or better yet, who are called to be teachers), learn to master their art by studying under this sort of tutelage. Read more »

After Thirty Years, It Is Time To Raise The Compensation for SPD Appointments

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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Statue entitled "The Spirit of Justice" outside of the Rayburn Huse Office Building in Washington, D.C., showing a seated woman with a small child.I’ve been asked to be the alumni blogger for the month of May. It’s about time!

For those who don’t know me, I am a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin. I am currently the President of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL). Because of this position, and the fact that I’ve practiced exclusively in the criminal defense field for 12 years, my posts will generally focus on defense-related issues.

In that vein, perhaps the most pressing criminal defense-related issue in Wisconsin remains the unconscionably low rate of compensation paid to lawyers who take appointments from the State Public Defender’s Office (SPD).

Here’s the nutshell version of what currently happens. Indigent defendants are constitutionally guaranteed representation by lawyers who work for the SPD. But the SPD obviously can’t handle all of the cases assigned to the agency. For one, there are cases with co-defendants, where ethical rules preventing conflicts of interest would preclude one “firm” from representing both defendants. In other situations, a flood of criminal prosecutions renders the SPD staff unable to handle all of the cases. Consequently, private attorneys will sometimes step up to the plate, and agree to take these cases.

These cases, known as SPD appointments, are paid at a rate of $40 an hour. Read more »

Saving by Investing in Civil Legal Aid

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Category: Civil Rights, Family Law, Legal Profession, Poverty & Law, Pro Bono, Public
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Kara is a single parent with two children. She works full-time, but still makes less than $1,500 each month. Kara’s boyfriend Jay, the father of one of Kara’s two children, lives with her, but does not always contribute to the household. In addition, he’s physically abusive to the family cat and to Kara. After the most recent incident where Jay pushed Kara into the wall and grabbed her arm so hard he left a bruise, Kara wants him to leave. And she wants a restraining order. But knowing who to call and where to go—and, most of all, how to pay for services she’ll need—is overwhelming her. If Kara lives in a state that invests in civil legal aid, she’ll have no problem finding resources and will be able to have a lawyer represent her—at little to no cost to her—at any court hearing she needs to get a domestic violence injunction.

While Kara’s story is merely illustrative—though many people experience circumstances like Kara’s every day—its larger point is important. Civil legal aid is a combination of services and resources that helps Americans of all backgrounds—including those who face the toughest legal challenges: children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and victims of domestic violence—to effectively navigate the justice system. Civil legal aid helps ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of one’s ability to pay. It provides access to legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Civil legal aid makes it easier to access information through court forms; legal assistance or representation; and legal self-help centers. Civil legal aid also helps streamline the court system and cuts down on court and other public costs. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we close with “justice for all.” We need civil legal aid to ensure that the very principle our founders envisioned remains alive: justice for all, not the few who can afford it.

Our state has had a rocky history of funding civil legal aid programs. While the state did begin such funding, of late, that funding has since dropped precipitously. In 2007, for the first time in Wisconsin history, the legislature included nearly $2 million in the state budget for civil legal aid. In 2009, the funding was increased to just over $2.5 million. But in 2011, the funding was eliminated completely from the state budget. From 2012-2015, Wisconsin was one of just three states that did not provide any funding for civil legal aid for low income people. (The other two are Florida and Idaho.) Read more »

2017 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Finalists

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Category: Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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Congratulations to the 2017 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists.  The teams advancing to the final rounds are as follows:

Nate Oesch and Elisabeth Thompson v. AJ Lawton and Ashley Smith

We appreciate the judging assistance in this round of the Hon. Nancy Joseph, Atty. Stephen Cox, Atty. Katherine Hartmann, Atty. Lauren Maddente, Atty. Hannah Schieber Jurss, and Atty. Mary Youssi.

2017 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Semifinalists

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Category: Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public

Congratulations to the students in the Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition who have moved on to the semifinal round of the competition.  The students will be competing on Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom and the Trial Courtroom to determine who will be advancing to the final round on April 11 at 4:00 p.m.

The teams will be paired as follows:

Nate Oesch and Elisabeth Thompson v. Meredith Donaldson and Ben Lucareli

AJ Lawton and Ashley Smith v. Mitch Bailey and Jacob Heuett

Congratulations to all the participants in the competition.  We also very much appreciate the judges who grade briefs and participate in the preliminary rounds.  This year we had a recent alum, Natalie Schiferl, who travelled all the way from Minnesota to judge the competition.  One of the great things about moot court is how active our alums and volunteers are, and we appreciate their time and assistance very much.  A special thank you to Samuel (Micah) Woo, Associate Justice in charge of the competition.

Best wishes to all of the competitors on Wednesday night.

Collaboration Between Attorneys and Law Students Benefits Both Parties

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Members of the Hispanic Law Students Association mingle with local Hispanic Attorneys at an event in Milwaukee.As President of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association (WHLA), I have had the opportunity to help foment various partnerships in the legal community. One of the most recent and fruitful of these is our collaboration with the Hispanic Law Student Association (HLSA) at Marquette Law School. While our collaboration began informally, we have recently created a student liaison position on our Board of Directors. Currently, 2L Alex Castro is serving in that capacity. This closer communication with Alex has lead to a number of interesting events.

On October 13, 2016 our associations brought Consul Julian Adem of the brand new Mexican Consulate in Milwaukee to the law school. Mr. Adem presented on the array of functions and services of the Consulate, from providing documents, community education, and legal advice to Mexican nationals, to offering visa services for non-Mexicans who want to travel to Mexico. There was a strong turnout of both students and local attorneys. The information will, without a doubt, help a number of clients and can be shared with the wider networks of those who attended. Read more »

Women in Wisconsin Law: Olga Bennett

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Category: Feminism, Legal History, Legal Profession, Public, Wisconsin Court System
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This is the second part of a three part series on Women in Wisconsin Law.

Although women were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1879, it would be over one hundred years until the state’s first elected female county judge.  In 1970, Olga Bennett, a native of Vernon County, was the first woman elected and sworn in as a county judge in Wisconsin.

Bennett was born on May 5, 1908, in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Education played an important role throughout Bennett’s life.  In 1925 she graduated from Viroqua High School, and in 1928, she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin.  After taking time following her undergraduate studies to work at a local bank, she returned to her studies four years later.  After spending a semester at the Madison Business School, Bennett enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wisconsin.  In 1935, she graduated from law school and was admitted to the state bar.

Upon graduating, Bennett served as a law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice John D. Wickham for five years.  Following this clerkship, she went into business with her father, who was also an attorney.  Together they ran the Bennett and Bennett law firm.  Before being elected to serve as a judge, Bennett held various positions in the legal community, including serving as the first female city attorney of Viroqua.

Although one might have expected that a larger county in the state, such as Madison or Milwaukee, would have been the first to elect a female county judge, it was small Vernon County with a population of only 28,000 that holds this title.  In April 1969, Bennett ran and was elected to the bench in Vernon County (courthouse pictured above at left), defeating incumbent County Judge Larry Sieger who was appointed by the governor in 1968.  In 1970, she took the oath of office and became the second woman to serve as a judge in Wisconsin.   Read more »

Women in Wisconsin Law: Lavinia Goodell

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Category: Feminism, Legal History, Legal Profession, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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This is the first part of a three-part series on Women in Wisconsin Law. 

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, women have played an instrumental role in the development of the state’s legal system. Among these women was Lavinia Goodell of Janesville, the first woman admitted to practice law in Wisconsin.

Before her move to Wisconsin, Goodell worked as an editor for several newspapers in New York. During this time, Goodell confided in a coworker that her life’s ambition was to become a lawyer. When Goodell’s parents retired to Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1871, she was convinced into joining them with her father’s promise that she would be able to study law. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, Goodell’s father helped his daughter find attorneys who would permit her to study law alongside them through an apprenticeship. After demonstrating her ability to successfully practice law as an apprentice, Goodell sought admission before the local circuit court and, with the support of several prominent local lawyers, was admitted to practice in the Circuit Court of Rock County, Wisconsin, in 1874.

After being admitted to practice law at this local level, Goodell opened her own law office that primarily represented woman and the elderly. Despite being able to practice at this local level without much difficulty, one of Goodell’s cases in 1875 was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When the supreme court did not allow her to argue the case, Goodell filed an application for state admission.   Read more »

America’s First Law School

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V__9AECI had the opportunity in August to spend a day at the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut.  Although several universities enrolled students in law departments during the final decades of the eighteenth century, almost all lawyers of the period prepared for practice by completing apprenticeships in lawyers’ offices.  Attorney and Judge Tapping Reeve thought that education at a formal law school would be a better way for lawyers to prepare, and therefore he founded the Litchfield Law School in 1774.

More than 1,100 students attended the Litchfield Law School before it closed in 1833.  Two of Reeve’s students (Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun) went on to become Vice President.  Fifteen of the students became governors.  Three of the students became Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Twenty-eight students became United States Senators, and another ninety-seven served in the United States House of Representatives.  Clearly, the Litchfield Law School was important in educating and credentialing a significant portion of the era’s most accomplished lawyers. Read more »