July 13, 2000D. Michael Guerin wants to help solo and small firm lawyers, and attorneys undergoing stressful times. Those groups will be his focus in the next year, as Guerin serves as the Milwaukee Bar Association’s new president. He was sworn in Thursday at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee during the MBA’s 142nd Annual Meeting.Guerin, of Milwaukee’s Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, also told the 500-plus members of the legal community in attendance last week that he wants to make them all as proud of being a lawyer as he is.The source of his pride is the tremendous contribution that lawyers make to the community. “The people that you impact on a regular basis — they don’t really care if you’ve ever been mentioned in Milwaukee magazine as a top lawyer. They don’t care if you have a big house or a big car. They care that you take time to listen to them,” he said.Lawyers can’t solve every problem, Guerin acknowledged. But they can affect people’s lives everyday by at least giving them the respect they deserve by listening to them. And sometimes, when they really listen to people, that goes a long way toward restoring their lost dignity.
In a telephone interview prior to being sworn in to lead the state’s second largest bar association, Guerin said, “I’m a kid from the south side. I graduated at the very bottom of my high school class. I didn’t have a college credit when I was 24 years old.” He continued, “So to be able to stand up before the group I’ll be in front of today, and be a part of that community — as lacking in humility as that sounds — taking on the fairly heavy responsibility of leading such a wonderful group of lawyers — it’s really great. The law’s been really good to me.”Guerin said that during his year as president, he would work to re-emphasize the bar’s commitment to its Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Group, as well as the Milwaukee Lawyers Assistance Program (MLAP).With regard to the former, Guerin has been involved in its precursor, the MBA’s Law Practice Management Committee, for many years, and he is a past chair of the group. He and others brought together some rather nontraditional programs, about topics such as stress management and organization.“We tried to get those people who are very, very busy in their lives, and who have a lot of stress to explain to them that a lot of people are going through the same thing. And working together, through the bar association, their problems can, if at least not be solved, at least be addressed properly,” Guerin said.With regard to the MLAP, he explained that in the past, the committee has consisted in large part of attorneys who have successfully recovered from some type of problem, and who want to “give back” by helping those undergoing a similar experience. In recent years, however, the committee has received the help of attorneys who aren’t recovering, but who simply have great problem-solving abilities and who care deeply. Guerin will try to boost the committee’s membership with both kinds of attorneys.According to Guerin, within just the past few days, a member of MLAP helped to talk a lawyer out of committing suicide — so the importance of the group’s work can’t be underemphasized. Guerin said that, if possible, he would like to see MLAP reaching out to attorneys before they get to that point.
From police officer to defense attorney
Guerin was born in La Crosse but spent most of his childhood living in Milwaukee. He’s the product through and through of Jesuit schools, attending Marquette High School, University and Law School. He said that he took to heart his teachers’ message about service to the community, with an emphasis upon academic discipline.In the years following his secondary schooling, Guerin served as a police officer for the City of Milwaukee and as a special agent for the Wisconsin Department of Justice.That was during the 1960s, which was an interesting time for Milwaukee, given the social unrest of the period. He and others had been assigned to keep the peace during much of the protesting, and he was sympathetic to the open housing cause. It was a powerful lesson in the importance of safeguarding a group’s Constitutional rights, he recalled. It was also a lesson in the important role that defense attorneys play in the criminal justice system. Guerin cited the work of Milwaukee lawyers James Shellow and Bill Coffey as having a strong influence upon him.That experience, and then having the opportunity later to serve as a law clerk with Milwaukee defense lawyers Gerald Boyle and Franklyn Gimbel, solidified in Guerin’s mind that he wanted to stick to the defense. Thus he turned down an offer from Milwaukee District Attorney E. Michael McCann, and worked with Gimbel instead. Twenty-six years later, he’s a partner in the 11-lawyer firm. Guerin can walk to his downtown office from his very near south side residence. He and his wife, Carol, will have an empty nest when the youngest of their three children starts at St. Louis University this fall.But visiting him and others isn’t overly difficult, since Guerin’s wife, an employee of Milwaukee-based Midwest Express Airlines, receives “great travel perks” which the couple enjoys. Last year, they were able to make three extended weekend getaways to Italy to visit their son studying abroad.When they’re not traveling, in his free time, Guerin plays golf and rides his motorcycle — but he’s not very good at either activity, he said with a laugh.