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Monday, November 28, 2011

Rochester Bar Association: A Spirit of Good Fellowship and Cooperation

RochesterBar_w.jpgA few weeks ago I was invited to join a lunch meeting of the Rochester Bar Association at the Rochester Mills Brewery (watch out SBM President-Elect Bruce Courtade ̶ this brewery is definitely your kind of place).  Many in attendance were solo or small-firm practitioners who learned about the PMRC and the bar’s commitment to serving them.

Although its current President, Robert D. Sheehan, is a private practitioner, its past Presidents include judges of the 52-3 District Court, including immediate past President, Hon. Julie Nicholson.  In sharp comparison, judges cannot serve as State Bar of Michigan officers due to Rule 7 of the Supreme Court Rules Concerning the State Bar of Michigan.  It states: 

No person holding judicial office may be elected or appointed an officer of the Board of Commissioners. A judge presently serving as an officer may complete that term but may not thereafter, while holding judicial office, be elected or appointed an officer. A person serving as an officer who, after the effective date of this amendment, is elected or appointed to a judicial office, must resign as an officer of the board on or before the date that person assumes judicial office.

With a membership that exceeds 75 attorneys, and all of the Rochester District Judges, the Rochester Bar Association’s website  states that it “remains committed to the original goals established by its founders and will continue to promote justice, maintain the integrity, honor and courtesy of the legal profession within the community and cultivate a spirit of good fellowship and cooperation among our members.”  It offers luncheon meetings (often at the brewery), a golf outing, and an annual holiday party.  It also sponsors several public service projects including essay and public speaking contests for the local schools and free legal clinics.

To my friends at the Rochester Bar Association:  Thank you for inviting me to join your bar association at the bar.  Your spirit of good fellowship and cooperation definitely presented itself at the meeting.

9:20 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This is NO “Wayne’s World”: A Look at “Practical Law”

Sorry, but when I think of local-access cable programming, my thoughts immediately turn to “Wayne’s World,” the hilarious movie about two happy-go-lucky high school grads who ogle over Heather Locklear and high-powered electric guitars.  They also host a local-access cable show.


Gornbein_w.jpgFor 15 years, Oakland County lawyer Henry Gornbein has hosted a popular and informative local-access cable show called “Practical Law.”  The show has already aired 600 episodes.  Through the programming, he brings the law to people in an interesting, down-to-earth way and invites a variety of guests from the legal community, including:

  • Attorney Gail Pamukov-Miller and her pro bono client Ken Wyniemko, whom she helped free from prison through DNA evidence in collaboration with Cooley’s Innocence Project.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen (this episode was actually filmed in his stunning, historic courtroom).
  • Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.
  • A lawyer who battled, and overcame, substance abuse and a gambling addiction.

“Practical Law” educates.  It humanizes the law.  It improves the image of lawyers.  And it has earned numerous awards, including the 2009 Philo T. Farnsworth Award for Excellence in Community Programming.  Thank you, Henry, for your efforts to bring law-related education to the public through your show.  To quote Wayne Campbell: "Excellent."

8:39 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dog on Death Row - A Sad Update and Hope for Reform

Despite a flurry of court filings aimed to save the life of "Ace," the dog was euthanized on Thursday, November 10.  A Detroit Free Press story can be found here


As it turned out, the State Bar Animal Law Section had some involvement in the effort to save "Ace."  Margo Miller, a member of the Animal Law Section Council, advised me that she and Michigan lawyer April N. Malak obtained a Temporary Restraining Order from Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain at about 2:30 p.m., the same day that Detroit Animal Control put down the dog.  (Contact me if you'd like to see a copy of their Verified Complaint, Motion for TRO, and TRO.)  Margo advised me that  they could not officially serve Detroit Animal Control or any government entity due to the furlough day.  The day prior, a woman purporting to be “Ace’s” true owner secured a TRO with the assistance of Detroit lawyer Corbett Edge O'Meara.


Margo Miller and April Malak represented The Lexus Project, Inc., a New York non-profit that advocates nationally for animals and provides assistance.  Though their efforts could not save the dog, Margo advised that "[a]t the least, for all the Aces, we hope to cause some change in DAC’s 'policy' [that led to the dog's destruction]."  She also thanked fellow Animal Law Section member Richard Angelo for sharing forms and advice.  (Richard Angelo saved "Cola," as reported in my last blog entry, below).

Thank you, Michigan lawyers, for trying to save "Ace."  At the very least, maybe you'll convince the City of Detroit to change its policy to allow pit-bull dogs to be transferred to rescues, appropriate shelters, or new homes.

(Photo of "Ace" from
10:28 am est          Comments

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

State Bar Animal Law Section - Can You Perform Another Death Row Rescue?

Pit-Bull.jpgThere's a new dog on death row in Detroit.  He hasn't been known to hurt anyone, and he seems friendly and well-mannered.  But because the Detroit City Council didn't pass a resolution designed to save him, the dog (affectionately called "Ace" because he was found wandering near an Ace Hardware store) is expected to be put to death simply because he was a stray — and of a pit-bull breed.  Detroit Channel 4 covered the story this morning.

This definitely looks like work for the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section.  In addition to the great services this section provides for its members, such as its newsletter, annual symposium, and public policy work, it also saves lives.  The section is credited for saving animals from "death row," and its success stories are practically guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.

I'll never forget the story reported by section member Richard Angelo in the Animal Law Section's Spring 2009 Newsletter on how he volunteered to save "Cola," a pit-bull mix, from death row in Saginaw County a few years ago.  Cola was abandoned and left in a vacant home living on anything he could find within the home such as furniture, feces, and woodwork.  Neighbors sometimes slipped him food and water under the door.  Animal Control could not step in until his condition deteriorated.  It did.  In April 2008, after about a year of solitary, involuntary confinement , Cola was rescued.  His owner was charged with animal cruelty.

But what happened to Cola, the rescued dog?  Having committed no crime, he was nevertheless placed on "death row" because of Saginaw County's unwritten rule forbidding the adoption of pit-bull or pit-bull mix dogs.  The Animal Law Section's Spring 2009 Newsletter, p. 12, shares Richard Angelo's story of how he tirelessly worked with the court, the county, and rescue facilities to save Cola's life.  He also shares the unforgettable, but short, time he spent with Cola before the dog was sent to a Colorado rescue.  That rescue since placed Cola in a loving home.

To my Animal Law Section friends:  Detroit and Saginaw County have different policies and ordinances, but can you help save "Ace" from death row?  Please let me know, and I'll share your efforts on my blog. 

Picture source: (This is not the actual dog at issue in Detroit.)

7:55 am est          Comments

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Personal Challenge to the Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary
MLA-w.jpgOn November 2, I attended a board meeting of the Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary.  MLA members are relatives and spouses of Michigan lawyers. (An "auxiliary," by definition, is "an organization allied with, but subsidiary to, a main body of restricted membership, especially one composed of members' relatives.")   It supports our profession and our communities.  Its best-known projects include:

  • Crystal Apple Award recognizing teachers who make outstanding contributions to law-related education.
  • Courthouse tours for students
  • Law Day essay contest
  • Distribution of You and the Law 

Before I left the meeting, I was asked what more the MLA could do.  My personal suggestion was to help advance "A Lawyer Helps."

MLA, thank you for your work and your enthusiasm.  Drawing on your state-wide network, consider seeking out and writing entries for the website on the good things lawyers do through pro bono and community service.  And in these difficult financial times, consider encouraging donations to the Access to Justice Fund.  Thanks for asking, MLA.  Next question?
9:56 am edt          Comments

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ingham County Bar Association: Much to Celebrate

Maybe you missed last night's Ingham County Bar Association 117th Annual Dinner because you were turned away.  The event was sold out.  It was a wonderful evening that celebrated the legal community as well as a bar association that has made a commendable rebound. 


The Ingham County Bar's President, Scott Mandel (one of my law partners), has worked steadily with its leadership to create and build momentum.  He's part of a talented group of officers and directors that include people well-known to State Bar leadership such as Liisa Speaker, William Josh Ard, and Mary Chartier, to name a few.  Added to its team is new Executive Director, Madelyne Lawry, who is well-known in Michigan lawyer association management.


There was much to celebrate.  For starters, the group's membership increased by 200 over last year.  It achieved growth in this difficult economy through careful planning and hard work.  For example, it personally phoned (not e-mailed) members who dropped to encourage them to re-join and listen to any concerns, and it initiated a new dues structure.  Convincing members to re-join is not a "hard-sell"; this group offers solid programs (including last night's Annual Dinner, Meet the Judges, an annual shrimp dinner, and many more), and an e-newsletter.  

Last night's celebration included presentations of several annual awards, some of which were the "Thomas E. Brennan, Sr., Lifetime Achievement Award" given to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Michael F. Cavanaugh; the "Theodore W. Swift Civility Award" given to Shauna L. Dunnings; the "Leo A. Farhat Outstanding Attorney Award" given to Karen Bush Schneider; and the "Liberty Bell Award" given to Sgt. Major David L. Dunckel (a volunteer for the Ingham County Veterans Treatment Court) and Heather Spielmaker (founder of Cooley Law School’s Service to Soldiers Legal Assistance Referral Program).  In presenting Heather's award, Frank Reynolds stated:


Freedom demands sacrifice and requires leadership. ... This honor ... stresses 'citizens' individual responsibility by recognizing their duties as well as their rights.'  Heather founded Cooley Law School’s Service to Soldiers Legal Assistance Referral Program in 2007.  This nationally recognized program provides no-cost legal representation to deploying, deployed, and returning troops. ... To date, over 300 returning Michigan service men and women have received free legal representation through this program. ... Heather has followed in the steps of Louisa May Alcott who said, 'Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.'  Heather is now in Law School.  Congratulations, Heather.


Congratulations to the Ingham County Bar Association for succeeding in difficult economic times, engaging its membership, and for last night's positive, popular, fun, and inspiring 117th Annual Dinner.  Best wishes for another 117 years!

7:27 pm edt          Comments

Are Women Lawyers Risk Averse?
My inaugural column in the October 2011 Michigan Bar Journal, p. 16, offered a personal opinion: "[L]ike it or not, the practice of law is also a business."

As lawyers, we're smart, creative, and compassionate people.  But can we be entrepreneurial, too?  Definitely, according to last month's ABA webinar called "The Road to Independence," sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.  I was one of 5 panelists from across North America who spoke and offered tips on topics such as marketing and management. 

Joan Feldman blogged about our webinar in,  an interesting blog with a goal of "giv[ing] you everything you need to create a law practice − and a life − you can love."  To read her review, called "Risky Business: Startup Advice From Women Lawyers," visit here

The panelists and I can't say enough encouraging words to women lawyers seeking to form a law firm.  We began by contributing sections to the ABA's new book called "The Road to Independence: 101 Women's Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firms."  Last August we spoke in Toronto during the ABA Annual Meeting.  Last month we gathered again for the ABA webinar.  All of us agreed that success takes hard work and careful planning but offers innumerable rewards, personally and professionally. 

The ABA has probably heard enough of my panel already, but resources are close to home.  The State Bar's Practice Management Resource Center can help, and its lending library should have the new book.  The Law Practice Management and Legal Administrators Section can help.  I'll never stop encouraging lawyers, male and female, to be entreprenurial − contact me any time.
11:56 am edt          Comments

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About Me

Thank you for visiting my blog.  My name is Julie Fershtman, and I was the 77th president of the 42,000-member  State Bar of Michigan from September 2011 through September 2012.  A member of the State Bar for over 26 years, I practice with the law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC, in its Farmington Hills office, where I'm a Shareholder.  My areas of practice include commercial litigation, insurance defense and coverage, sporting and recreational liability, agribusiness law and liability, and equine law.  As a lawyer, I especially enjoy trial work; I've tried cases before juries in 4 states (Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Connecticut) and have been admitted as pro hac vice counsel on cases in 12 jurisdictions nationwide.  Business will continue during my State Bar presidency, with assistance of lawyers in my firm and the cooperation of fellow counsel and judges.  

Aside from my law practice, I also enjoy speaking and lecturing on liability, insurance, and risk management at seminars, conventions, CLE programs, and conferences across the country, including the Insurance Skills Center.  In 2011 I spoke on a panel at the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto; I also spoke as a panelist on ABA webinars in 2011 and 2012.  I also love writing.  I've written 2 books and have contributed to or co-authored 4 ABA books, most recently in 2009 and 2011, as well as 5 law journal articles for the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section.  My writings include about 200 articles on legal subjects.

I grew up in the Detroit area and graduated from Emory College in 1983 and Emory Law School in 1986.  On a personal level, my father (the late Sidney Fershtman) was a Michigan lawyer, and my husband is a lawyer.  Although work, family, and bar activities leave little time for hobbies, my favorite hobby is horses.  With an empty horse barn on our property in the Detroit suburbs, chances are good that I'll be riding horses some time after my service as State Bar President concludes.

Law Books

It has been a pleasure writing this blog to chronicle many of my travels and experiences as the 2011-2012 President of the State Bar of Michigan.  My one-year term ended in September 2012.  Throughout my presidency, your comments and suggestions were always welcome.  Please contact me at any time if you would like to discuss your own involvement in a bar association.

Julie I. Fershtman, Esq.• Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC • 28411 Northwestern Hwy. • Ste. 500 • Southfield, MI 48034
Direct Line: (248) 785-4731 • E-mail:

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