Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality
A map of the city of Milwaukee and surrounding counties illustrating the racial segregation of residents per the 200 census.
Black residential segregation as reflected in 2000 Milwaukee Census

In his commentary on May 24, 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown is lucky he wasn’t killed by Milwaukee Police,” Martenzie Johnson casually observes that “Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, is one of the worst cities for black Americans, economically, the worst city for African-American children to grow up in and is home to the zip code with the highest incarceration rate in the country.”

I moved to Milwaukee in 1984 to become a Marquette Lawyer.  I took my first law school exam on my 30th birthday – Torts by Professor James Ghiardi.  In May of 1987, like every Marquette lawyer graduating before me and after me, I took the attorney’s oath.  I swore to “support the Constitution of the United States,” the one ordained and established in order to “form a more perfect Union.”  I never left Milwaukee and I am proud to say I am from Milwaukee.  Yet I am at a complete loss of words to describe how it is that we, my law school and my fellow Marquette lawyers, go about our busy daily lives virtually unconscious of living in “one of the most segregated cities in America.”  If you believe you can frame the types of questions that, if answered properly and acted on, will help us deconstruct our segregated Milwaukee, then I strongly encourage you to write and to weigh in now.

In October 2015, I was involved in a three week medical malpractice trial in Outagamie County.  Judge Mark McGinnis was presiding, who is one of the best trial judges currently on the bench.  I came home Friday to rest and prepare for the final week of trial.  A little after 1 am on October 31, 2015 the incessant ring of the telephone pulled me from a deep slumber.  The voice of a woman said, “Mr. Thomsen, we tried for 45 minutes, but we couldn’t save your son.”  My wife, Grace, sitting up asks:  “What did they say?”  “He’s gone.”  “Noooooo…” turned into a mourning howl.  It is unforgettable.  And so it is that in one instant the eye of a category 5 hurricane shreds your bed, your son’s mother, your wife, his sister, his fiancé, his daughter, his uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, friends — my life and theirs too.  Judge McGinnis and defense counsel all agreed to a mistrial if I asked for one.  I returned to finish the trial.  The case had progressed and in a way that could not have been replicated.  The lawyer’s oath is a demanding one.

Yet somehow in the eye of the hurricane you can find love: the love of my son’s fiancé, of my now daughter-in-law Sydney, and my granddaughter, Sienna.  They are proudly biracial.  Sydney is considering law school.  I suggested that she become a Marquette Lawyer.  She said “no” because Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are too segregated.  The truth hurts so much. Continue reading “Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality”

Negative Preconceptions of Lawyers

Posted on Categories Legal Profession, Pro Bono, PublicLeave a comment» on Negative Preconceptions of Lawyers

scales of justiceThis semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is one of those blog posts, this one written by 2L Desiree Geromini.

Being a lawyer comes with many associated preconceptions and many are not very positive. Though this is the case, from my experiences and discussions with fellow aspiring attorneys and those already in practice, the main motivator for entering the legal field is the desire to make a positive impact in people’s lives. In thinking about this discrepancy in public opinion and the motivating factors behind practicing and aspiring attorneys’ decision to become lawyers, it made me think about what I can do to spur a more positive spin on the profession.  Though this is an uphill battle, the best plan of action I can think of is to use my voice to initiate open conversations with friends, family, colleagues, clients, and anyone who is willing to listen. Continue reading “Negative Preconceptions of Lawyers”

California Supreme Court Justice Calls for Improving Access to Legal Services

Posted on Categories Legal Profession, Pro Bono, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on California Supreme Court Justice Calls for Improving Access to Legal Services

Goodwin Liu, a justice of the California Supreme Court, came to Marquette Law School Thursday to be a judge of the Jenkins Honor Moot Court Competition Final Round. The widely-known justice also brought with him a fascinating personal story and provocative ideas for lawyers and law students on several subjects, presented during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall. I encourage you to listen to the program by clicking here. This blog item will on two of the messages Liu delivered.

Liu, then a professor at the University of California-Berkeley law school, was nominated in 2010 by President Barack Obama to be a federal appeals court judge. The nomination drew strong opposition from Republicans in the US Senate, largely because of controversial things Liu had written. After the nomination was held up for more than a year, Liu withdrew. He was appointed by California Gov. Jerry Brown to that state’s Supreme Court in 2011.

Did Liu regret the things he had written? Liu said there were  some specific things he would handle differently in retrospect, but overall, he was not sorry he had taken strong stands. He urged the law students in the audience not to fear taking positions on things they care about.

Liu said, “You should not just kind of live your life in an exceedingly cautious or antiseptic way, never saying anything, never doing anything that could cause someone else to disagree with you. No. That’s not a good way to live. You have to think about (and) remember why you came to law school — what were the things that motivated you – and, within reasonable ethical and prudent bounds, pursue those things. Because you’re not going to be happy if you don’t do that. . . .  or do anything. . . .

“I had a friend who told me a nice quote once, which was, ‘no one ever goes to his grave seeking an epitaph that reads, “He kept his options open.” I mean, that is no way to live.”

Gousha asked Liu if the nation was in a situation where there two justice systems, one for those who can afford lawyers and the other for those who can’t.

Liu said that was one of the biggest issues facing America. He spoke of the principle that everyone should have equal access to the legal system.

“The principle is an important one .We are so far away from that principle overall in society. Most of us, myself included, do lots of important transactions every year or every couple years where we probably should have a lawyer look things over. Did you ever buy a house? Did you ever read all of those documents? My guess is probably not, but you just signed a lot of your life away in those documents. Wouldn’t it be useful to make sure all those things were done right? This is a big thing.

“Two piece of concluding thought there. One is, of course, that I’ll offer an exhortation to the lawyers and the law students here that doing work for people who can’t afford legal services is so important. No matter whatever you do in your career, that has to be one of the things that you do.  . . . Especially for the younger people here, it is one of the things that will actually give you the greatest skill-building types of opportunities. . . .

“The other piece however, is more fundamental, which I think those of you who are in the public policy realm might give some thought to. And that is (that) law is a strange profession in so far as it is not a differentiated profession as, for example, the health care industry is. Not that our health care industry is any great paragon of success. However, it is the case that when you go to seek health care, it isn’t thar you only go and see a doctor, a physician. We have differentiated roles up and down the health care system. We have nurses, we have nurse’s assistants, we have physician’s assistants, we have technicians, we have all kinds of people where we are triaging your needs to the lowest-cost provider and allocating in an efficient way functions up and down the system and differentiating those functions up and down the system.

“In the legal system, we don’t have that. We have lawyers and nobody else, right? And it doesn’t seem to me that it’s absolutely necessary to have just this one model where, for many things like an eviction or a simple family law matter or immigration matter, whatever it , a lot of things are just about  navigating complicated forms or figuring out what building to go to, or how to do a process.

“There are a lot of roles there that could be filled by people who will not be as fancy as all of you will be when you graduate from this august institution, right? If we could bring the cost of those services down by having different kinds of roles to help people navigate the legal system, why, I think that would be a great service.

“The analogy I would give is: The cost of accessing this kind of basic legal service should be no greater—we should have a model where it’s no greater — than the cost of getting a plumber. If your toilet doesn’t work, you’re going to get it fixed and you’re going to pay the price of a plumber to get it fixed.

“Well, shouldn’t we have at least the same bargain available for very important things in people’s lives, like whether you’re buying a house, whether you’re negotiating a custody agreement, whether you’re trying to get special education for your kids, whatever it is? These are at least as important as your toilet. And so we need to have a market in which access to those kinds of things can be priced accordingly, so average people – average people, I’m not talking about low income people, I’m talking about average people –can afford them. . . .

“I think this is an idea whose time has come. And I think also, for the younger generation, technology is going to be a big part of this, too. Law firms remain brick and mortar enterprises in an age when most  legal services can be done pretty much at a home computer in many instances.“

Liu said that some say that the legal profession resists such ideas as a way to defend the profession. “I think that kind of mentality has a shelf life, because there is a greater and greater demand in our society for fair access to legal services.” Liu said. “As the world becomes more complicated, more and more people are going to need this and we as part of the legal profession should be part of the solution, not a hindrance to it.”

 

2018 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competitors Advance to Finals

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, PublicLeave a comment» on 2018 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competitors Advance to Finals

Congratulations to the 2018 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists.  The teams advancing to the final rounds on April 19 are as follows:

Killian Commers and William Ruffing v. Olivia Garman and Sarita Olson

We appreciate the judging assistance in the semifinal round of the Hon. Michael Aprahamian, Hon. William Duffin, Hon. Beth Hanan, Hon. Michael Halfenger, Hon. Nancy Joseph, and Atty. Brent Nistler.

A Simple Wardrobe for a Complex Profession

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public3 Comments on A Simple Wardrobe for a Complex Profession

man in a business suitThis semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is one of those blog posts, this one written by 3L Corey Westfall.

A lawyer wears—what does a lawyer wear? I ask you that question after my roommate professed that “we are going to be lawyers soon, so we should dress like lawyers.”

If the 2017 American Bar Association (“ABA”) annual conference provided an entire session focused solely on fashion, fashion must be a real legal issue! ABA paid for a Brooks Brothers session that provided modeling, lectures, and a pamphlet.

And while Brooks Brothers used that session to advertise their “relatively affordable pieces” (do not be duped; there are more affordable options), Brooks Brothers also provided some useful tips: (1) stick to dark grey and dark blue suits/skirts; and (2) limit shirts to solid blue and solid white, and lightly patterned versions of blue and white. (Number (2) for women may have some slight variations in color, but not much.) Conservative tips, but safe nonetheless.

We law students are joining a profession older than we are, with fashion norms out-aging our already-outdated law school wardrobe! Continue reading “A Simple Wardrobe for a Complex Profession”

25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Andrew Lawton

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, PublicLeave a comment» on 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Andrew Lawton

The 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) will be held on February 16 at the Law School.  Proceeds from the event go to support PILS Fellowships to enable Marquette law students to do public interest work in the summer.  Andrew Lawton, a current law student, shares his experience here as a PILS Fellow.

Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?

The United States Attorney’s Office-Eastern District of Wisconsin.

What kind of work did you do there?

The United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) prosecutes a wide variety of federal crimes. The case load within the office is diverse, depending on enforcement priorities and actual apprehension of suspected criminals. My work was primarily to draft research memorandum summing up the case law in a specific area of interest to any of the attorneys, which included a wide range of topics from asbestos to armed robbery to human trafficking. But I also drafted court documentation such as motions when needed, and I observed court appearances where I took notes for the attorneys, including in prolonged jury trials.

Continue reading “25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Andrew Lawton”

25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Jacob Haller

Posted on Categories Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Pro Bono, PublicLeave a comment» on 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Jacob Haller

The 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) will be held on February 16 at the Law School.  Proceeds from the event go to support PILS Fellowships to enable Marquette law students to do public interest work in the summer.  Jacob Haller, a current law student, and the Public Interest Student of the Year, shares his experience here as a PILS Fellow.

Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?

The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office—Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court.

What kind of work did you do there?

The Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court is a pioneering specialty court aimed at addressing addiction as a root of criminality.  The MCDTC works with non-violent offenders who are facing nine months or more of incarceration.  The defendants are given the option to participate in a 12-18 month intensive rehab program supervised by the court.  I worked with defendants and their families to ensure that goals set by the court were being met.  This meant working with a defendant directly, as well as service providers, district attorneys, and employers to enure the best possible outcome for the defendant and the broader community.

Continue reading “25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Jacob Haller”

25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Grace Gall

Posted on Categories Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Pro Bono, PublicLeave a comment» on 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Grace Gall

The 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) will be held on February 16 at the Law School.  Proceeds from the event go to support PILS Fellowships to enable Marquette law students to do public interest work in the summer.  Grace Gall, a current law student, shares her experience here as a PILS Fellow.

Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?

I worked as a PILS Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee in the Civil Division.

What kind of work did you do there?

Legal Aid provides free legal service to individuals throughout Milwaukee who cannot afford private legal counsel. I worked mainly on Civil Rights cases for indigent clients who required Legal Aid service. I did several client interviews for cases involving excessive bail or use of segregated housing within jails. I also worked in the Civil Division on cases dealing with Landlord Tenant law. I helped prepare case documents and did research on a variety of topics.

Continue reading “25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Grace Gall”

25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Shannon Strombom

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, PublicLeave a comment» on 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Shannon Strombom

The 25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) will be held on February 16 at the Law School.  Proceeds from the event go to support PILS Fellowships to enable Marquette law students to do public interest work in the summer.  Shannon Strombom, a current law student, shares her experience here as a PILS Fellow.

Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

What kind of work did you do there?

The legal services office of Catholic Charities provides immigration and refugee assistance to low-income clients. Over the summer, I got a chance to work on a variety of different immigration petitions and applications. This included responding to Requests for Evidence on a petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residency and Special Immigrant Religious Worker petitions, as well as writing briefs for asylum applications, and helping eligible legal permanent residents or refugees apply for naturalization.

Continue reading “25th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction: Interview with Shannon Strombom”

The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public1 Comment on The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer

I know this is technically a blog, but, if it were some other social media platform, that right there, my friends, would be “click bait.”  What?? This guest blogger is going to talk about how difficult it is to be a lousy attorney?  But, no, I don’t mean bad lawyer in the sense of legal incompetency or shaky professional ethics; I mean it in terms of being the bad-guy lawyer, the bearer of the bad news, the lawyer whose job it is to tell the client that he or she is not getting a settlement or can’t win the case or …any number of other unhappy communications.

It turns out that I am conflict averse.  That this was news to me was pretty lame because I chose – at age 49! – to go into litigation after graduating law school. In fact, I chose to join the products liability defense litigation practice group when I joined a Milwaukee firm the September after graduation.  For some reason, I imagined that being a litigator would suit my personality, which, as my husband will confirm, likes to win arguments.  But it turns out I didn’t have a very good sense what litigation entailed: rather than using persuasive argument to prevail on some esoteric, high-minded point, litigation is really more like a bare-knuckled battle royale.  For me anyway, there was just too much…conflict.  And, I was too old for it.  It was exhausting.

When I changed course in my legal career and became general counsel for a national insurance trade association, I thought I’d left my conflict days behind me.  But, another epiphany here (and, yes, I really am getting to be too old for these), there is “conflict” even in a legal profession that is primarily transactional.  Continue reading “The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer”

“Work-Mom” Balance

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Profession, Public, Uncategorized1 Comment on “Work-Mom” Balance

A young child sits on the floor looking at a copy of the Marquette Lawyer magazine.My husband Brad and I are proud parents of a 20-month-old daughter, Lucille.  Having to balance being a mom and a litigator at a large firm is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.  But it’s also an accomplishment of which I am very proud, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I don’t pretend to be an expert, and I still have a lot to learn.  But based on the past 20 months, here are some tips that I’ve acquired to support a “work-mom” balance:

It takes a village.  I won’t sugarcoat this:  I’d have to quit my job if it weren’t for my husband and my mom.  My husband works predictable, regular hours and, with rare exception, does not have to work at night or on the weekends.  He is an extremely present dad, is helpful at home, and is very supportive and understanding of my job.  My mom lives 30 miles away and is our go-to babysitter, with little to no notice, particularly when Lucy is sick and has to stay home from daycare.  She watched Lucy twice per week when she was an infant and is the most dependable person in our lives.

Invest in superior daycare, whatever that means for you and your family.  For us, it means that Lucy attends a daycare in downtown Madison, only two blocks away from both my and my husband’s offices.  Continue reading ““Work-Mom” Balance”

Aren’t Lawyers Always Supposed To Be Stressed?

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Google the words “lawyer” and “stress” or “anxiety” and you’ll see hundreds of comics about lawyers dealing with stress. Most of the comics are pretty funny and yet somewhat sad because they are also all pretty true to real life. Just last month the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being released a report entitled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.” The report is intended to bring more pointed awareness to the mental health issues many lawyers face and to also provide recommendations to instill greater well-being in the profession as a whole.

The report is 73 pages in total, which appears to create a daunting read for lawyers and law students, already over-burdened and stressed out. But it is worth the time to read through it. As the report points out, in a study released in 2016 by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, out of nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers who participated in the survey, 28% struggled with some level of depression, 19 percent struggled with some level of anxiety, and 23 percent struggled with some level of stress. In Wisconsin, there were approximately 15,550 active lawyers in 2017. Continue reading “Aren’t Lawyers Always Supposed To Be Stressed?”