Currently before the State Legislature are bills regarding the State Public Defender private bar appointment rate. Currently the rate is $40 per hour (the lowest in the nation), but the bill is proposing to raise the rate to $70 per hour. Recently a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court attempted to get the Supreme Court to raise the private bar rate of the public defender to $100 per hour. While the Supreme Court acknowledged the current rate as woefully inadequate, it did not take action regarding the public defender appointed rate, although it did raise the court-appointed rate effective next year to $100 per hour for all court-appointed lawyers.
The issue regarding the lack of attorneys willing to take SPD appointments to represent the indigent has picked up significant media attention and has prompted one lawsuit. The discussion that the State is failing to fulfill constitutional obligations to its citizens is important. Why did it take a “constitutional crisis” to reach this point? The criminal defense attorney is not just politically unpopular but can often be viewed as a reason elections have been lost.
When asked to write a blog for the Marquette University Law School blog, I was provided several general topics that I could have considered, as I have never blogged. But it was also suggested that I have an interesting personal story: I always wanted to be a lawyer in my hometown, a city with fewer people than are enrolled as students at Marquette. I have always had a desire to return to Ashland, Wisconsin, and practice law, raise my family and live the lifestyle that I enjoy. I don’t find my situation to be unique or interesting, but maybe that’s because northern Wisconsin is such a wonderful location that it pulls many people home, and my story isn’t unique among residents here. However, someone who grew up in an urban area may be apprehensive that there will be “nothing to do” in a small town. To that I say: only boring people get bored. So rather than discuss a legal topic, I plan to discuss my legal practice, and why being a small-town lawyer is a fulfilling and interesting career. The State Bar of Wisconsin has also recently encouraged small town practice and tried to connect new lawyers or those looking for a change with lawyers in rural areas. Small towns need lawyers.
I grew up in Ashland, located on the shores of Lake Superior, enjoying the big lake and the big woods (Chequamegon National Forest). In the summer and fall the activities were hunting and fishing, in winter it was hockey rinks and ski slopes, and the in the spring, well that was just mud season. I have been teased for the pride I take in talking about my home, my high school, and the general area I grew up in. Unlike larger areas, my high school represents my community and is smaller than most. Ashland has just over 8,000 people and the county has just twice that many. There was no other high school, so it represented us as an area. It represents my home, so I take pride in its success and sorrow in its failures.
In law school I had academic success having offers from large firms and was a summer associate at one. I graduated magna cum laude and moved back to Ashland the day after being sworn in to the Bar. While my big firm experience was positive, I knew my long-term happiness was north. When asked why would you want to live up there, my response was typically the same: “Why do you vacation in northern Wisconsin?” To many people, Elkhart Lake was “up north,” while I consider Highway 8 to be the dividing line between north and south Wisconsin. I find cities great places to visit on weekends but I find the small town is the place to live. I think many lawyers would find small town practice rewarding both professionally and personally.