Our Path Forward

WDC Journal Edition: Summer 2009
By: Catherine M. Rottier, Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field LLP President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

As Rob Lauer’s term as president ends and mine begins, I am reminded of what big shoes I have to fill. Continuing the stellar work of Jim Mathie before him, Rob ably moved us along an important new path. This organization is now embarked on a multi-year strategic plan to transform itself into a more vibrant, recognized, and relevant home for the defense bar perspective in this state. We have changed our name from Civil Trial Counsel of Wisconsin to Wisconsin Defense Counsel (“WDC”) to clarify who we are and to explain the point of view we bring to our representation of businesses, insurance companies and individuals in Wisconsin. Over the past few years, members of our board have sought out meetings with leaders of Wisconsin business associations in hopes of building bridges of communication and mutual respect. We want WDC to be the go-to organization that business leaders think of first when they are looking for experienced, knowledgeable, and creative legal advice and litigation services.

While much has been accomplished in the last few years, much remains to be done. For example, our website needs substantial improvement. In recognition of that fact, the WDC board has already authorized efforts this year to bring a new look and a wider utility to our website. Please check it out from month to month to see the changes unfold.

This organization has long offered the defense perspective on proposed legislative changes and that work will continue. In the legislative session that ended with the passage of the budget in July 2009, WDC members were active in opposing erosion of the current rules on joint and several liability. Our efforts were joined with those of other business organizations throughout the state and were ultimately successful in getting many of the tort reform rollbacks eliminated from the budget bill that finally passed. The fine people at Hamilton Consulting Group, particularly Jim Hough and Andy Cook, were instrumental in leading the effort to oppose legislative changes to joint and several liability, contributory negligence, and jury instruction requirements.

This is the time of year when all Wisconsin trial lawyers, no matter how experienced or inexperienced, are forced to adapt to changes in statutory law enacted by the Legislature and to changes in common law announced by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. This was a busy year in both areas. The newly-passed budget bill institutes a variety of insurance requirements and coverage changes. It also contains new legislation to govern the costs of obtaining medical records. For its part, the Supreme Court has recently issued several decisions on issues important to our membership, including the withdrawal of party admissions, the duty of evidence preservation, the discretionary governmental immunity doctrine, the status of product liability law in Wisconsin, and the eternal debate about the concept of duty under Wisconsin tort law.

This summer has reminded me about the things I enjoy in the practice of law. The new Supreme Court decisions, whether you agree with them or not, are fascinating to read, both for

the legal analysis they contain and for the shifting alliances they reflect on the Court. The legislative ups and downs remind me that the lawyers in this organization can have their voices heard in the public arena, even though we do not always get everything we want. With everyone else, we wait to see how the legislative changes to Wisconsin insurance laws will affect consumers, businesses, and all other premium payers over the coming years.

WDC welcomes member input and member participation. If you are a new lawyer and want to get your name out there to a broader audience, participate in our new young lawyers group and write an article for the WDC Journal. I know that our new editor, Jesse Blocher of Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik, S.C., would welcome your contribution. If you are a more experienced lawyer, consider making yourself available as a speaker at a WDC seminar or for a business organization eager to understand how the law impacts its members’ opportunities and obligations. In short, there is a lot of work to be done and never enough people to do it all. Please join the board in making Wisconsin Defense Counsel the premier association of talented trial lawyers we all want it to be.