Bringing legal services to rural Wisconsin

Jeff Glazer works to bolster rural entrepreneurship

You could say that beer was the catalyst that brought attorney Jeff Glazer’s career to its current point.

Then again, his family’s farming heritage may have nudged him, as well.

Jeff is a clinical professor at the UW-Madison Law School and supervising attorney with the law school’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic. For the past several years, his focus has been on the rural economy. He launched the clinic’s Rural Entrepreneurship Program in 2019, and now he travels around the state and holds online sessions aimed at answering questions from entrepreneurs and working with communities on rural economic development issues.

What motivated Jeff to start the program was the plight of Wisconsin’s family farms. Dairy farms throughout Wisconsin were disappearing more rapidly than ever before. Nearly 600 dairy farms closed in 2018 and more than 800 ended operations in 2019. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wisconsin Field Office, the number of dairy herds in the state dropped by more than one-third between 2014 and 2022.

“That’s a huge part of Wisconsin’s rural economy,” Jeff says. “I saw that and said: This is the place where our help is needed.”

Around the same time, the Wisconsin Bar Association released a report that showed access to legal services has been declining much faster in rural areas than in the state’s big cities. At the small, outstate firms, partners who retire are not being replaced. While family lawyers and criminal defense attorneys are still largely accessible, those who specialize in business issues are harder to find.

“Clients’ needs are not being addressed, or the prices are higher, or they have to go to big cities,” Jeff says. “Access to intellectual property rights or transitioning out of farming and into business—those skill sets are being lost.”

Jeff is also working to convince more newly minted lawyers to set up shop in rural areas so business people won’t have hours-long drives to get help with issues such as licenses and contracts.

Farm roots

Jeff Glazer stand in front of a barn

Jeff Glazer has close ties to rural Wisconsin, particularly family farms.

Jeff’s ancestors began farming in Ohio back in 1796—just 20 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The land they bought was part of the Western Reserve, a swath of territory once claimed as part of Connecticut. “It was one of the first land rushes in the U.S. You could buy as much land as you could stake a claim to,” he says. When a second expansion was allowed 30 years later, his family bought more acreage. “We have those original deeds signed by President Andrew Jackson.”

Today, Jeff and his wife, attorney Erin Ogden, live on Madison’s west side and own a farm in rural Iowa County that has been in Ogden’s family for generations. Ogden’s father lives on the farm, and her sister and brother-in-law raise beef cattle, on the property in the tiny village of Rewey (population: 292). Jeff and Erin hope to add Muscovy ducks and Icelandic sheep and to plant some fruit trees on the farm.

Jeff grew up as a city boy, born in Canton, Ohio. His youthful pursuits were aimed toward the skies. Airplanes fascinated him. While in middle school, he attended a summer camp that taught aerodynamics, offered by a local technical college. That’s where he got his first ride in an airplane, covering a 35-mile stretch from Mansfield to Wooster, Ohio. “At one point, I thought I was going to be a fighter pilot. I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy.”

During his senior year in high school, he landed an internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), at what is now known as the NASA (John) Glenn Visitor Center at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. The internship was a rare achievement and one that might not have happened if Jeff had not had the determination—and the moxie—to get in.

His high school allowed students to work internships instead of attending classes during the second half of their senior year. Jeff found out the local NASA branch, which was involved in engine testing and development, offered internships. So, he applied—but received no response. A week before the program was set to begin, Jeff called the NASA office. “I just said I was going to show up on Monday. So, I went there—and they let me in.” It was a heady time for Jeff, working in a wind tunnel with NASA engineers who were studying how ice forms on the wings of airplanes, in search of the best way to de-ice them.

Computers were another of Jeff’s passions, since childhood. He wrote his first computer game program when he was eight years old. Working with NASA and its highly sophisticated computer systems proved to be another thrill.

After earning a degree in operations management from the University of Toledo, Jeff became a computer programmer and worked for three Fortune 500 companies, creating the first corporate internet systems for some of them. He added a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Akron and then went on to law school at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent School of Law. His legal work at firms in the Chicago area and in Rockford centered around trademark, copyright, and intellectual property issues.

Then Jeff and Erin moved to Madison in late 2007. Jobs in his fields of expertise were scarce. He turned to the familiar quote attributed to Mark Twain: Write what you know. Getting down to the basics, what Jeff surely knew about was beer. “I love beer. So, I started writing about my love of beer.” The Madison Beer Review was Jeff’s blog for nearly six years; he also co-founded Madison Craft Beer Week. From that, “technology lawyer Jeff became beer lawyer Jeff” and the next evolution was into spirits and food in general. “Food entrepreneurship is economic development,” he says.

Jeff started working with the UW’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic in 2011; several years later, as the state’s dairy economy was losing family farms, the clinic’s files showed that most of its clients were from the Madison and Milwaukee areas. “The data made it very obvious that we could be doing a lot better in serving other areas. Rural Wisconsin needed more support.” That spurred the creation of the Rural Entrepreneurship Program.

Representing rural Wisconsin

Jeff Glazer photo

Jeff supports legislative initiatives that directly impact rural entrepreneurs.

The Rural Entrepreneurship Program has two objectives: (1) providing legal services for startup businesses outside of Madison and Milwaukee and (2) supporting students who have an interest in practicing in rural communities.

Jeff travels around the state holding open office hours. He usually partners with local people or organizations involved in entrepreneurship, such as the IDEA Hub Accelerator in Platteville and Jake’s, part of Lakeland University, in Sheboygan. The program also supports legislative initiatives that directly impact rural entrepreneurs.

As for students, the idea is to encourage those entering the UW law school who think they may be interested in working outside of the big cities—but not by persuading them with a special stipend. “It turns out you can’t pay a student enough money to want to work in Bayfield or Hayward, for example. Give them an extra $5,000 and they will go there for a year and then leave,” Jeff says. “On the other hand, when a student steps into law school, I can ask: ‘Do you want to work in a rural community?’ If you say yes, I will give you all the support I can.” That could include introductions to community leaders and local lawyers.

One drawback about practicing in rural areas is that the pay is generally lower. However, the lower cost of living and higher quality of life can make up for that. “We have very honest conversations about that,” he says.

Jeff also would like to see the Wisconsin Bar Association offer tuition remission for law school graduates who decide to practice in rural communities.

Getting to know Jeff Glazer behind the scenes:

Community engagement: Jeff is a Dane County Supervisor, representing District 8 on Madison’s west side since 2022. He is a member of the Madison Public Market Foundation; sat on the steering committee for Forward Festival’s Badger Startup Summit; helped organize Startup Weekend Madison; is on the board of directors of the Platteville Farmer’s Market; is a past president of Friends of the Arboretum; past president of the Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Association; served on the Allied Drive Task Force; and was on the board of directors for the Allied Wellness Center.

He is also an attorney with the Madison law firm Ogden Glazer + Schaefer.

Pets: Lola, a 9-year-old dog (named for the Kinks song), and two kittens, Maybellene (named for the Chuck Berry song) and Dread Pirate Captain Edward “Eddie” Greypaw

Jeff Glazer at campsite.

Jeff enjoys camping and hiking among other interests.

Favorite foods: “I love food; I love cooking.” A favorite food memory is the small, personalized cakes that his grandmother—a steelworker during the day and a professional baker at night—made for each of her grandchildren. “Pineapple ambrosia cake was my absolute favorite in the world.”

Hobbies: Camping, hiking, reading, cooking, board games, spinning yarn, and playing guitar. “I’m a terrible guitar player but I like to bang on the guitar.” Jeff also played violin, from fourth grade through high school.

Favorite bands in high school: Pink Floyd and Public Enemy

Sports: Played soccer from age 6 through college and played lacrosse in college. Loves watching Arsenal, a professional soccer team based in London. Also is a big fan of college football, especially the Badgers. “My dad was a high school football referee. So, every Friday night, I was at a high school football game, often helping as a ball boy.”

How weird are you? “I’ve always been my own person. In my grade school yearbook, everybody always wrote: ‘To the weird kid.’ You look out at the world around you—people may say something won’t work, and I say I’m going to do it anyway. I think I see a way to try things that other people haven’t seen. People used to think that was weird. Today, people would call it thinking outside the box and removing preconceptions. That’s exactly what entrepreneurship is all about.”

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