President’s Message: WDC Offers Concrete Benefits and Opportunities for All Lawyers
As I begin my term as Wisconsin Defense Counsel President I want to share why I spend so much time and effort supporting the organization. I support WDC because it benefits me personally and professionally, and I firmly believe that membership in WDC has been worth every moment I have spent at conferences and meetings.
On a personal level, WDC helped me develop many of the friendships and professional relationships I have today. Some of you may know that I am not a native Wisconsinite; I was born in New Jersey, went to college and law school on the east coast, and moved to Madison in my mid-20s after completing a clerkship. At that time I was, as they say, “between jobs.” Eventually, I found an associate attorney position.
As soon as I started, my mentor, Scott Pernitz, told me that the WDC Spring Conference was at the end of the next week and that I would be accompanying him so I could meet other attorneys and start making professional connections. I could not have known it at the time, but that was the first of many WDC conferences I would eventually attend. Speaking from the perspective of someone who did not attend school here and, consequently, had no personal or professional network on which to rely, WDC conferences became a place where I got to know and form relationships with other attorneys.
WDC does not just help those of us who are not from Wisconsin. For example, it helps those of us who mostly in Madison get to know the lawyers who practice up in Rice Lake and Green Bay. It also connects those in the same city who practice in different areas of the law. The relationships and connections you develop by going to conferences can be invaluable when you are in an unknown county, practicing with and against unknown attorneys, and appearing before unknown judges. Attending conferences puts you in a position to create and cement relationships, which is an opportunity you might not otherwise have.
Professionally, WDC has helped me refine and polish my oral advocacy skills by presenting at conferences, learn about the Wisconsin state legislature by giving me the opportunity to lobby in support of bills, improve my writing skills by writing articles for the Journal (and served as the occasional editor), and improve my leadership skills through my membership on the Board and Executive Board. And now that I am in-house at an insurance company, WDC helps me meet younger attorneys, keep in touch with attorneys that I do not see because I am not in private practice anymore, and spend time with our outside counsel on a personal level. Put simply, I am a better lawyer and a better leader because of my membership in WDC.
I am aware that not everyone wants to be a Board member, much less an Executive Board member. But there are other ways to get involved with the organization and receive some of the benefits I have mentioned above. For example, attending WDC Conferences is a way to keep up on your CLE credits, learn about changes in the law, and keep in touch with your colleagues and friends. Although you can certainly take online CLEs, they lack the personal connection you will find at an in-person conference. Because WDC conferences are tailored to civil defense topics, you are almost certain to find something pertinent to your practice at any given conference. And if you find that you want to participate just a little bit more at conferences, presenting is a great way to get your name out there and to hone your public speaking skills in a friendly atmosphere.
Contributing to the Wisconsin Civil Trial Journal is another rewarding way to get involved. When I was editing the Journal, people often said that they would love to write an article, but that they had no ideas for topics. I would always tell them that they should go look at recent research memos on an interesting or unique area of the law. Research memos have the benefit of addressing a new or undeveloped area of the law or applying well-established law to an unfamiliar set of facts. Either way, you have already done the hard work of research and writing and our entire community benefits from that research and your legal analysis.
Finally, if you are not already, consider getting involved in one of WDC’s committees. From the Women In the Law Committee to the Insurance Law Committee to the Employment Law Committee, there is something for everyone. These committees all have active listservs where members can ask questions of other committee members. In addition to the annual meeting, many of them host get-togethers to allow members to socialize and strengthen our professional relationships (for example, the Insurance Law Committee has a happy hour scheduled for late October in downtown Milwaukee; it will be over by the time you read this, but you can attend the next one!).
I was fortunate to have begun my legal career as a WDC member. It helped me create both a personal and professional network when I lacked those resources. It also spurred me to write articles and give presentations, all of which helped me professionally. WDC can do the same for you; perhaps more importantly, WDC can do the same thing for your newer and younger associates. I often hear that associates do not come because they do not see the value in attending conferences (this is usually accompanied by griping about Millennials). Well, I am technically a Millennial, and perhaps I would not have seen the value in it either if Scott had not simply told me, “You’re going.” So I urge you to make WDC membership and conference attendance part of the professional development for your young (and younger) associates.
Ariella Schreiber of Rural Mutual Insurance Company in Madison, Wisconsin, has over twelve years of experience in the legal and insurance industries. After law school, Ms. Schreiber clerked for two judges and then spent several years working as an insurance defense attorney. While in private practice, Ms. Schreiber specialized in insurance coverage, bad faith, agent errors and omissions, and construction defect cases. Ms. Schreiber is Vice President and General Counsel for Rural Mutual, where she has direct responsibility for the entire claims department and also assumes responsibility of corporate contracts and review of all corporate legal matters.