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Quarles & Brady files petition to undo Legislature's ban on ghostwriting.

Byline: Erika Strebel,

The Milwaukee-based firm Quarles & Brady is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to undo the state Legislature's recent ban on ghostwriting.

Lawyers ghostwrite when they draft pleadings and other documents without signing their name and identifying their State Bar number.

In its previous session, the state Legislature passed an omnibus bill containing various changes to the state's landlord-tenant laws, such as capping the length of stays in certain eviction proceedings and forbidding landlords and sellers to discriminate against people who need emotional support animals because of a disability.

The bill, which took effect in April and was enacted as Act 317, also made changes to the state's civil-procedure rules involving lawyers who help self-represented people draft pleadings or other documents. They now must use documents to disclose their names and state bar numbers. The change applies to all cases, not just evictions.

The old rule, set in 2014 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court by adopting a rule change proposed in 2013, only required that the documents contain language indicating they were drafted by a lawyer. That rule went into effect in 2015.

In a rule-change petition filed on Thursday, Quarles is asking the court to undo the Legislature's change because the new ban on ghostwriting discourages lawyers from taking on limited-scope pro bono work involving otherwise pro se litigants.

"This risks leaving such parties wholly unrepresented throughout the legal process, which in turn creates delay and inefficiency in the court system as court officials sort through legal documents drafted by pro se litigants," according to the memo. "Indeed, the 2013 petitioners warned of these very consequences, and this Court heeded that warning in permitting ghostwriting in 2014."

The high court is likely vote in June on whether to take up the petition and discuss it at a public hearing, which most likely would not occur until the court's next term.

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Publication:Wisconsin Law Journal
Date:May 16, 2019
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