Mike and Annie Gonring are more than just father and daughter – they are Marquette lawyers who volunteer their time at the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics (MVLC).
Mike Gonring graduated from Marquette Law School in 1982. He says he was always interested in pro bono work and began taking pro bono projects right out of law school. He was an advocate for changing the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct in a way that opened the door to more large-firm lawyers being able to engage in pro bono work. This led his firm, Quarles & Brady, to become active in the MVLC.
In addition to supporting the involvement of volunteer lawyers from large law firms, in 2009, Mike helped the MVLC open a location on Milwaukee’s southside. This clinic is now located at the United Community Center (UCC).
Mike has continued to volunteer at the UCC (in addition to taking regular shifts at the House of Peace location) saying he has a fondness for it. “It’s an interesting clinic because we’re all in one big room and people come with their families, especially from the neighborhood. There’s a lot going on and it’s just fun and rewarding to do.”
Annie Gonring has followed in her father’s footsteps. Graduating from Marquette Law School in 2023, Annie volunteered at the MVLC throughout her time as a student, and now as a new lawyer.
Annie says it was inevitable she’d end up volunteering at the clinic because that was the way she and her siblings were raised. Her first shift as an attorney at the MVLC was the week after she was admitted to practice and took her lawyer’s oath in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“My parents are both so giving. Money was never the end goal. It was always about people, family, and God.”
Annie says she grew up knowing that she wanted to help people.
“Watching my dad do pro bono work and seeing just the pure joy he got out of it, I thought, ‘I bet I will feel the same way.’ I knew from my first clinic shift, helping my first client, I didn’t see any other way to practice the law than to help people who needed it.”
For both Gonrings, they feel their law degree is an important tool to use, to volunteer to serve others.
“Having a law degree and the ability to get a legal education is one of the most privileged things in the world. So, when you have this amazing opportunity to be a lawyer, and to be a good lawyer, I see no other way but to pay that forward by helping the people that need help,” says Annie.
Similarly, Mike Gonring says pro bono work is the responsibility of all lawyers.
“There is a wide justice gap between people who can pay and who can’t pay for lawyers. As long as I am physically and mentally able to help, I don’t think I could ever ignore the issue of the justice gap and sit back and do nothing, because people with law licenses are the only ones who can do that work.”
Annie says the clinic is an opportunity to make someone feel seen. “Most of the time, the very human conversations that we have with clients are all that they need. They walk out feeling like someone who’s otherwise disconnected from their world has seen them and heard them, and that’s an incredible feeling.”
Mike adds that representing the poor is an opportunity to affirm people’s dignity. “Everybody has inherent dignity, but especially for the really poor people we see, their dignity has been trampled. So I try to let them know how important they and their problems are to me.”
In addition to helping others, the Gonrings say it’s a fun experience volunteering together. “It’s great. It was something I was looking forward to when I was applying to law school. I have a brother who’s a lawyer and he’s never gotten to do this [because he lives out of state], so it feels like a really cool moment that I get to have with my dad, doing something we love together,” says Annie.
Outside of their consistent volunteering with the MVLC, the Gonrings serve the needs of the poor through other outlets. Mike is in retirement now but works with the Sojourner Family Peace Center, providing legal advice to domestic abuse victims. Annie works for Legal Action of Wisconsin on its Senior Law project.
Mike says he’s thrilled Annie is doing public interest work and helping people. “I’m very proud.”