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Wisconsin Bar appoints top exec

The State Bar Board of Governors selected George C. Brown as the new executive director for the bar Friday in Kohler.Brown has been serving as the interim executive director of the mandatory association for Wisconsin’s 19,000-plus lawyers since last July, after the leave and ultimate resignation of former executive director Stephen L. Smay. Brown had previously served as the bar’s assistant executive director and marketing director since 1998.Brown originally joined the bar’s staff in 1986, serving as its public affairs director until 1997. He then worked as a government relations adviser to Quarles & Brady in Madison for a year before returning to the bar.The governors gave Brown the nod over Wes Ehrecke, the executive vice president and CEO of the Minnesota Bankers Association, and Danial J. Kim, the deputy director of the State Bar of Michigan.What gave Brown the edge, said the chair of the Board of Governors, James D. Friedman of Milwaukee, was his substantial experience with the organization and with lawyers. Friedman also cited his extensive lobbying experience, and his understanding of the legislative and regulatory processes, as well as the Supreme Court rulemaking process.In addition, Friedman praised Brown’s on-the-job performance as the acting executive director.“He’s done a really good job. He’s demonstrated an ability to address things that haven’t been addressed within the organization for a while, and get discussion of those issues going,” Friedman observed. “And with his personal skills, he’ll be a very good representative of the organization.”Echoing those sentiments was a pair of State Bar officers.“We settled for the best and the brightest,” said President Leonard L. Loeb, of Milwaukee.“We’ve got the best man available, and I’m really excited about working with him,” stated President-elect Gary L. Bakke of New Richmond.“The process worked, we had wonderful candidates, and George was clearly the best of them,” Bakke remarked. “I know he has ideas, and the bar is going to move forward very rapidly in the coming year.”

The process

Friedman explained that the bar leaders took the task of finding a new executive director very seriously — and ended up with some very well qualified candidates as a result. Specifically, the leadership established a search committee, hired an executive search firm, and widely advertised the position. They also targeted particular individuals known to be very capable, who are currently heading other associations.All tolled, over 60 persons submitted applications. Friedman said that the search committee then used a point system to rate every applicant, comparing each person’s qualifications to the job description, prior to eventually sorting the applications into A, B, and C categories.Of the A category, the search committee interviewed 8-10 persons, and then recommended three candidates to the bar’s Executive Committee, which is authorized to act for the Board of Governors between its meetings. The Executive Committee then interviewed the three. Both committees followed a lengthy set of standard questions, Friedman said.The candidates additionally met with the bar staff, as well as with a number of the members of the Board of Governors in a social setting. After all that, the Executive Committee recommended Brown for the position.The Board of Governors was “very comfortable with the process,” Friedman opined.“We had some very good discussions and debates with the candidates about how they would handle people, how they would approach issues, how they would organize certain things, and what they thought were the major issues facing the legal profession. They were all very up on the issues and very knowledgeable,” he said.“It’s been a big year for the bar, with the new bar center, Steve Smay’s leaving and the selection of a new executive director,” Friedman continued. “There have been a lot of big decisions. And I think it’s come out really well.”He noted that Brown will have a lot of work to do in the coming months, such as filling some of the bar’s director positions and other staff vacancies.Brown, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Illinois State University, and a master’s in history from the University of Wisconsin, said that he is up for that challenge, and others.He said he will be focusing upon what the legal profession will be like in the future — to include everything from multidisciplinary practice, to the impact of technology, and ultimately the changing definition of the practice of law.“What we have to be concerned about at the bar level is how can we best help the members deal with those issues and resolve them, and to provide benefits that will help them better their practices,” Brown said. “Those are the big issues that we’re going to be wrestling with. And how to structure the organization in manner that will best address those needs.”Brown, who lives in Madison, added, “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to serve the profession and particularly the members of the organization as we move into the future. The State Bar of Wisconsin is regarded nationally as the top, if not one of the top, bar associations in the country. That’s a wonderful legacy to inherit, and a wonderful challenge to continue. and improve.”

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