Organizations across Wisconsin routinely work together in support of the state’s legal profession. Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company is one of them. The company’s partnerships with the State Bar of Wisconsin and its members, county Bar associations and their members, and the faculty and students at the state’s two law schools are central to the way Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual has operated since day one.
“Engaging with Wisconsin lawyers in many settings is part of our mission,” says Senior Vice President and Director of Communications Tom Watson, noting that in 2017 he and other staff members presented or participated in more than 30 CLE programs around the state.
“It’s an important give and take that let’s us share our expertise in risk management while staying in touch with issues all Wisconsin lawyers face in an ever-changing practice environment,” Watson added.
Learning the Law
Marsha Mansfield, Shannon Wynn and Brian Schuk know the value derived from partnering with Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual staff members. Mansfield is on the faculty at the UW Law School in Madison. Wynn and Schuk co-teach a course on starting and managing a law practice at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee. All three invite Watson, CEO Katja Kunzke and others from Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual to address their students every year.
“They are an amazing resource,” says Mansfield, whose class on professional responsibility and ethics helps prepare second- and third-year law students for life after graduation. She describes Watson and Kunzke as “good lawyers and good teachers” who inspire lively interactions with her students.
“Tom and Katja present a perspective no one else brings to the classroom,” Mansfield adds. “They talk frankly—and with examples—about the concept of managing risk in the day-to-day of running a practice, reinforcing the lesson that if you screw up on a case, deal with it right away, don’t ignore it until it’s out of control.”
For Wynn and Schuk, both Lake Geneva, Wisconsin-based attorneys in private practice, having lawyers from Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual give their students a closer look at a topic they ignore at their peril is essential to the curriculum.
“Brian and I teach a practical, business-oriented class so we want them to understand the pitfalls of imprecise calendaring or practice management systems,” says Wynn. “And that information is best coming from a credible source who can make the connection between ethics and malpractice.”
The response from students is encouraging, says Schuk. They ask a lot of questions about what triggers a claim and which practice areas generate the most claims.
“Tom can talk from experience about the differences between estate planning and family law when it comes to risk,” Schuk explains, adding that the presentations also make it clear the fact of risk affects every practicing lawyer.
He describes the presentations by Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual professionals as dynamic and refreshed each year with talk of trends and new examples.
Knowledge about what is going on in the legal profession right now is another advantage the UW Law School’s Mansfield sees in having Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual address her classes. “They’re out there, talking to practicing lawyers around the state, making it their business to know how the face of the profession is changing.”
Willing to Help
Kathy Brost got to know staff members at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual about seven years ago when she joined the State Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Practice Section. An attorney and financial advisor with Legacy Private Trust Company in Neenah, Wisconsin, Brost is immediate past chair of the section’s board where Senior Claims Attorney Brian Anderson of Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual serves as board treasurer.
Anderson and Watson frequently present programs for the section on topics like the essentials of starting a practice and how to reduce claims.
“Brian and Tom bring lots of practical knowledge to these topics,” Brost says. “They see problems solo and small firms face and offer a different viewpoint.”
Brost observes that one reason she and other Wisconsin lawyers in volunteer leadership roles with the Bar are comfortable having Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual as a partner is the fact the company is not there to promote its products. “Rather, they talk honestly about the value and necessity of malpractice coverage, putting it into context for lawyers working solo or in small firms.” She adds, “We all benefit from the way they turn their knowledge about what can go wrong into risk- prevention advice they willingly share through our programs.”
Where Lawyers Practice
The partnership Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual has with local county Bar associations takes it to where Wisconsin lawyers practice and make a of how today’s solo and small firms operate, it has become a fair trade that benefits both sides.
Connections with local Bar leaders are the starting point. One of those is Bruce Brovold, a partner in the Arcadia-based firm of Kostner, Koslo & Brovold LLC and member of the Tri-County Bar Association in western Wisconsin. Brovold is a policyholder of long standing and an original Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual bondholder. He also sits on the CLE committee of his local Bar association, which books sessions led by Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual every year.
Brovold says one program that helps meet his association’s need for continuing education is a Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual speakers do of situations where an action or omission results in a claim.
The fact that the speakers from Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual bring authenticity to such talks makes them a real draw.
“There’s nothing like a true story to focus people’s attention,” notes Brovold.
“They can talk in real terms about the percentage of claims the company sees that relate to the kind of law our members practice.
“When Tom Watson talks about doing a better job with things like communication and documentation, attorneys at our meetings pay attention because they’re hearing it from someone who sees it, hears it and deals with it every day,” Brovold says. “He knows his audience.”
For much the same reason, the Fond du Lac County Bar Association hosts a Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual CLE seminar every year.
“Who better to speak about malpractice risk and how to avoid claims than those who insure against it?” asks Association President Nick Brannen. “They talk about how to be a better lawyer and put the issue into context.”
Brannen, a patent attorney in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, also notes that because most practice areas represented by members benefit from hearing about risk management strategies, the CLE programs garner some of the highest attendance.
“These are the topics that bring us to the table.”
Both local Bar association leaders say the fact-based scenarios about risks avoided and risks that led to claims are thought provoking for listeners and persuasive.
“Hard to imagine a local Bar association that would turn down a chance to have Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual present one of these programs,” Brovold concludes.