Moving Ahead

WDC Journal Edition: Spring 2009
By: Robert J. Lauer, President, Civil Trial Counsel of Wisconsin

When I wrote my first column in the summer of 2008, I spoke of the many challenges that this organization faced and outlined some of the goals that I hoped to accomplish during my term as President. I focused on the need to maintain our strong leadership; to continue to do what we have always done well; and to strive to enhance the visibility of our group in the legal and lay communities. While I addressed challenges that we faced here in Wisconsin, I certainly never contemplated the reality of what has transpired around the world over the last ten months. Who could have foreseen the meltdown of the financial markets, near record unemployment levels, and the slashing of private and commercial worldwide wealth? The magnitude of the global turmoil that we have witnessed in less than a year puts into perspective the challenges that Wisconsin Defense Counsel faces. In all of this, I am reminded that our work remains a very small piece of the overall puzzle, but it remains important nevertheless.

A recent example of one of the challenges which we face “at home” centers on Governor Jim Doyle’s recent budget containing provisions that, if passed, would adversely affect civil justice in Wisconsin for many years to come. Proposed changes to joint and several liability, contributory negligence, and informing juries on the effect of its verdict are included in the governor’s budget. WDC has been actively involved in opposing these changes through our own efforts and through the work of our lobbyist, Hamilton Consulting Group, in Madison. In addition to meeting with legislators on the budget provisions, lobbyists have met with editorial boards throughout Wisconsin to discuss these issues. They have argued that, at the very least, these provisions should not be included in the State budget, but instead should be introduced as separate bills in an effort to facilitate a transparent and informed legislative analysis. In a similar fashion, WDC board members submitted letters and testified at legislative hearings in opposition to these controversial budget items, as well as other proposed legislative bills.

Another challenge ahead is to continue with the implementation of our strategic plan in an effort to maximize the benefits offered to our members and provide new opportunities for the organization’s growth. Over the last several months, I and other members of the board held initial meetings with the leaders of business organizations throughout the State (i.e., Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin, Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Association of Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Builders Association and Midwest Food Processors Association, Inc.) in order to promote WDC and explore opportunities for WDC members to provide legal services to these fine organizations. I am pleased to report that the meetings went well and although additional work is ahead of us, our introductory conversations with these organizations were positive and well-received.

This is my final official message before Cathy Rottier assumes the office of President of WDC this upcoming August. I cannot think of an individual better suited to lead and promote WDC as we continue to move ahead. In closing, I want to thank our interim editor, Kevin Ferguson, for publishing the Spring edition of the Journal. I also want to welcome Jesse B. Blocher of Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik, S.C., as he assumes his new job as editor with the publication of our Fall edition. Finally, I want to thank my fellow board members and all of you for your trust and support over these past months. It has truly been an honor serving as the President and, along with you; I look forward to moving ahead with WDC in the future.