Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How far does the Wisconsin state bar bureaucracy reach?

After sorting through my email inbox today, I learned that the mandatory-membership Wisconsin state bar has something called a “leadership development committee.”  And for the low, low price of $300.00, Wisconsin lawyers can take part in the “G. Lane Ware Leadership Academy.”  This is the second annual gathering; the inaugural event “was a huge success!” 

One of the things the academy promises is this: “Program sessions will empower lawyers . . . to become effective leaders in their careers.”  But that doesn’t even make any sense.  A “leader” in my career?  Such usage stretches the word well beyond recognition.   

This whole leadership spin reminded me of Matthew Stewart’s book, The Management Myth, which I was playing on audio the other day in the car.  Stewart marveled at how so many “gurus” could sell so many corporate leadership books and seminars, given that so few people will ever lead a corporation (or a division or a department or even a group).  He writes:

You might think that the market for advice on how to manage a [company] would be comparable to the market for, say, the interior design of corporate jets.  Given that most of the people offering the advice . . . seem content to smother their readers with truisms, you’d think the market would be smaller still.  But in fact, [it’s] a big business.  It’s as if a band of unemployed corporate-jet decorators had found a following with the minivan crowd.

As for the state bar’s leadership academy, we lawyers (the would-be attendees) are the “minivan crowd” that the state bar is trying to infiltrate.  And I suspect that anyone who chooses to attend will also be treated to a barrage of “truisms.”  After all, according to the advertisement, the academy will teach attendees how to be effective listeners, how to manage their time, and how to communicate both verbally and in writing.  When taught to professionals, or even to sober adults, such topics lend themselves to embarrassingly simple advice.  

But on the other hand, the academy also promises to “empower lawyers . . . to become effective leaders in [the] state bar association.”  Admittedly, this could be the chance for one lucky attendee to eventually move from the “minivan crowd” to the “corporate-jet crowd.”  How?  Well, if you can make your way to the head of the Wisconsin state bar, you’ll get paid so much money that your salary will be kept secret from the bar’s membership and even from the bar’s finance committee.  Now that’s good livin’. 

But despite the potential lotto-like payoff for one lucky future “leader” of the state bar, I would prefer that our mandatory bar eliminate its self-serving and self-perpetuating “leadership development committee.”  The bar should at least pretend to be serving its membership, not itself.  It should stick to law-related training, and leave leadership training for the “gurus.”


  1. Brilliantly incisive post, Michael. This WBA "leadership academy" reeks of just another state bar revenue-generation scheme. And as I suspected, its genesis appears to spring from the loins of the ABA. What a surprise -- said no one.

    The ABA has its own many decades-long "leadership academy" replete with the same "barrage of "truisms."" The ABA's big boy version is called "TIPS Leadership Academy," which they claim on their website, "serves the public by providing participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a vision to lead the legal profession and to improve leadership service in the community as a whole." Isn't it rich how self-interested bureaucrats enjoy wrapping themselves up in the warm mantles of public service?
    And although airfare, some meals and hotel reimbursements are included in the cost, be ready to just the same pony up "a one-time fee of $1,750 to participate in this tremendous program."

    1. It's too much! Yes, the Wis Bar program also discussed becoming a leader in "the community," but I wasn't able to work that into the post.

      The highest paid are always urging others to do community service. Judge candidates also wrap themselves in the "service" flag when they seek judgeships paying far more than they ever made in practice.

      It's all like prosecutors fighting like hell, pretrial, to keep out evidence of innocence, and then wrapping themselves in "the truth" flag when arguing to the jury.

      This profession is full of hypocrites.