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James Martin: Want to give up your law license? Good luck

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James Martin
July 22, 2014

It has been said that to leave a gang you must be beaten out. In order to leave the mafia you get a new set of designer shoes and a short one way boat trip. There is allegedly a hotel in California where once you check-in you can never check out. Being an attorney in Wisconsin is the same type of shtick.

In order to practice law in the state of Wisconsin you must be sworn in by the Supreme Court. The justices swearing at you is practice for all of their internal debates. In addition to being sworn in (and at) you must also be a member of the Wisconsin State Bar.

There are three types of attorney membership in the State Bar: active, inactive, and emeritus. Active members are the cold blooded creatures that are practicing law. They are required to get continuing legal education credits (expensive) as well as pay bar dues. Inactive members are people that, for whatever reason do not practice law. They pay lower bar dues, and do not have to take the continuing legal education credits. They also cannot practice law.

Emeritus attorneys have reached the age of 70, are exempt from paying the State Bar dues and do not have to attend any further continuing legal education credits. They are allowed to still practice law.

I do not get around well any longer, spend a lot of time on the couch or in the recliner, and therefore am hard-pressed to say I am an active member of the State Bar. It also makes no sense for me to pay the high bar dues or attend and pay for the expensive continuing legal education credits when I do not and cannot really practice law any longer. Being an inactive member is of no practical use so there is no purpose to pay the charges for that "privilege". And I am a quarter of a century shy of being able to claim emeritus status.

As the introductory paragraph indicated, quitting is not as easy as it seems. I was required to petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court for permission to stop practicing law. I was tempted to begin my petition with "Mother may I," but thought better of it, as the Supreme Court is woefully lacking a sense of humor.

Exercising my First Amendment Festivus right to petition the government for an airing of grievances, I did respectfully request the Supreme Court to modify the emeritus classification to include those who suffer from a disability. If denied, I will challenge Chief Justice Abrahamson to a "feats of strength" competition. However, because of my ALS, it will take a Festivus miracle for me to prevail, even over an octogenarian.

I am awaiting the decision from the Supreme Court to allow me to leave the bar; it's closing time somewhere. In the meantime, I will entertain myself by watching old mafia movies and listening to the Eagles greatest hits.


James Martin is a former attorney and graduate of Gonzaga University and Marquette Law School. He lives in Spring Prairie near Burlington. He has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He is married with 6 kids. James is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the Gazette staff or management.


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