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Sunday, December 25, 2011

More to Celebrate This Holiday Season: Lawyers Giving Back

          The ubiquitous John Lennon song plays everywhere today: “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done…?  Another year over, a new one’s just begun… The near and the dear ones, the old and the young.”

       This holiday season, State Bar of Michigan members have gone to tremendous lengths to give back to their communities.  Many of us do this through private contributions such as gifts to the State Bar Access to Justice Fund
or charities.  Numerous law firms, such as my own, collect presents and money for charitable donations.  Bar associations and State Bar sections have made it an annual practice to serve their communities while joining together.  Here are just some examples: 

  • The State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section prepared and served its annual Christmas meals on December 18 at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and December 24 at Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac.
  • Oakland County Women’s Bar Association’s Holiday Party on December 8, which I attended, held  a silent auction benefiting Lighthouse PATH .
  • Genesee County Bar Association raised $12,000 (maybe more) for its annual Community Holiday Dinner and hosted a gift wrap party, among many other activities.  
  • The Macomb County Bar Association’s Holiday Party on December 9 sold raffle tickets to benefit its Foundation with proceeds funding law-related education and student scholarships.
  • The Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan held a “Holiday Cocktail Sip” on December 8, during which it gave a portion of its proceeds to Operation Good Cheer and accepted donations of new gloves, hats, and scarves for the homeless. 
  • As I reported on this blog during my Upper Peninsula Trip on October 8, the Copper Country Bar Association’s annual holiday dinners include collections for Toys for Tots .
  • NEW: The Downriver Bar Association, another "small-but-mighty" bar association, organized its members to offer extensive support for the Downriver Salvation Army's "Angel Tree" program.  The program allowed children to receive presents on Christmas day.  DBA Treasurer Cassandra Booms led the bar's participation in the effort.

       Thank you to everyone who has made a difference in the lives of others this holiday season, especially in these difficult economic times.  Consider posting your holiday contributions and activities on the State Bar’s “A Lawyer Helps” website.  I’ll gladly share your efforts here, too.  Please e-mail me or post a comment below on this blog. 

12:35 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Forget Facebook/Leave Linkedin: The Joys of Face-to-Face Networking

In-person networking meetings might seem like dying dinosaurs these days, thanks to the popularity of social media.  Having attended a few bar association holiday parties this month, however, I can proudly share that face-to-face networking is still as popular as ever.  As it should be.

Attending a bar association event involves a commitment of time and money.  We break away from our offices to arrive around the designated time.  We spend money on tickets and, sometimes, parking and drinks.  Compare that to social media such as Facebook and Linkedin, which are free of charge, available at our convenience, and accessible while we wear pajamas rather than business suits.

The huge turnout at holiday parties I attended this year is an encouraging sign that people in our profession still value traditional, in-person networking.  Oakland County Bar Association’s Holiday Gala, for example, had a sold-out crowd and a waiting list.  The Wolverine Bar Association/D. Augustus Straker Bar Association’s Holiday Party was well-attended by lawyers, judges, and even law students (one of whom just finished her final exam hours earlier). 

This is not an attack on social media.  With 1,000+ Linkedin connections and 900+ Facebook friends, I’m a huge believer in it.  Still, face-to-face networking offers innumerable personal and professional benefits that no social media site can match.  The law students, for example, developed valuable contacts for future reference when they seek jobs.  Wolverine/Straker bar leaders invited representatives of Big Brothers/Big Sisters to encourage attendees to become volunteer mentors.  You could hear laughter everywhere and see the hands shaking.  Friends re-connected.  Friendships were made.  The year definitely ended on a high note.  And, of course, new contacts can make their way into ever-expanding social media connection lists. 

Happy holidays, and special thanks to the bar associations that invited me to their holiday parties.  I look forward to connecting with everyone in person and/or online in 2012.  (And, yes, this is Julie.  I hope you've had as much fun as I have reading the many excellent contributions of my guest bloggers.  Watch for more.)
10:23 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 16, 2011

Common Intersections

Today's guest blogger is the State Bar of Michigan's Media and Public Relations Manager, Naseem Stecker.

Lawyers and journalists have some things in common. Both are seekers of the truth and view a free press as a basic building block of our democratic society. These interests intersect so well that leaders at the State Bar thought it very worthwhile almost four decades ago to establish the Advancement of Justice Awards for journalists. The aim was and still remains the same — to promote greater understanding of the role of a free press in a free society. In 1987, these awards were renamed to honor Wade H. McCree, Jr. a legal legend whose career included service as a federal judge, law professor and Solicitor General of the United States.

The Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice recognize the fairness, sensitivity, and skill required to report legal news. They acknowledge journalists who inform and educate our citizens, commend the exposure of practices and procedures that need to be improved and, encourage legal and legislative efforts to modernize our laws, courts, and enforcement agencies. In recent years, some of our McCree award winners have also gone on to become Pulitzer prize winners, as in the case of Detroit Free Press reporters Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick.

Each December, the State Bar sends out a nominations announcement to print, online and broadcast journalists to encourage them to participate in this competition. If you notice good work by journalists in your area, encourage them to send in the best examples of their work. Let’s keep this partnership of lawyers and journalists alive, because we truly share some deeply held beliefs. Visit the State Bar's website for more details and entry requirements about the 38th Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice.

3:34 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wherewithal to Seek Friendship Among Adversaries
Today's guest blogger is State Bar of Michigan Executive Director and prolific blog editor Janet Welch.

Thank you to Julie for inviting me to add a post on her blog. It’s a welcome opportunity for cross-fertilization between SBMpres2012 and SBM Blog, two labors of love for the benefit of Michigan lawyers.  The best blogs, in my opinion, are niche-based and personal, quirky, substantive and timely, and SBMpres2012 fits that bill.  Although Julie’s blog will take you on a smart and funny journey into many places, her key niche is the rich and diverse world of bar associations in Michigan. So I thought I would treat readers drawn to this subject (and this blog) to some handy resources on the subject of Michigan's local and specialty bars, all hidden little gems on the State Bar’s website.  Here, for example, is the calendar of bar events throughout the state. Here’s the base page for local and specialty bar associations. On it, you’ll find the 2011 directory of the local and specialty bar associations (affinity bars), links to all the local and specialty bars in Michigan, plus editions of the regular newsletters featuring local and specialty bar activities. 

It is a source of perpetual wonder to me that lawyers, who not only are locked into competition with one another for clients but also are adversaries in the very nature of the work they do, nonetheless have the wisdom and wherewithal to seek out one another in voluntary association. But they do. And it works. Stay tuned to Julie's blog for highlights from that world in 2012. The practice of law in Michigan will be the better for it.

3:33 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 9, 2011

Birthday Ruminations from SBM's President-Elect

12_9_11_fershtmanblog.jpgToday's guest blogger is SBM President-Elect Bruce Courtade. He practices construction law and commercial litigation with Rhoades McKee, PC in Grand Rapids. 

When Julie asked me to prepare a guest blog post for the week of Dec. 5, I doubt she realized this is the week that I will celebrate my 50th birthday. Had she known, she may have reconsidered, fearful that her willingness to share the digital soapbox might inflict the rantings of a full-blown mid-life crisis on readers used to far more enlightening and educational materials. Fortunately for President Fershtman, I am not (yet) in meltdown mode, nor am I staring down this milestone birthday while lamenting a still far-too-full bucket list. However, the combination of this holiday season and my ability to sense the imminent crest of the hill have made me a little more contemplative these days, resulting in a  number of ruminations, reflections and revelations. 

For instance, on Dec. 1, I attended the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s Holiday Mixer, high atop the Amway Grand Plaza. The GRBA has long been a leader in providing support and programs that not only enrich the profession, but also benefit the community at large.  Whether through the annual “Horn of Plenty” clothing drive, the Legal Assistance Center in the Kent County Circuit Court building, the recent Constitution Day program, in which local attorneys volunteered to speak to every 5th grade class in the Grand Rapids Public School District about the importance of our Constitution and its role in assuring personal freedoms and liberties, or through far too many other programs to mention, Grand Rapids lawyers have time and again stepped to the forefront to assure that “Justice for All” is not just a catch-phrase. 

When I sat down to write this blog, with the GRBA and its membership fresh in my mind, it occurred to me that it has now been nearly 19 years since I became active in State Bar leadership, first as a member of the Representative Assembly, then as a member of the Board of Commissioners, and now as an officer set to assume the presidency of our Bar next September.  That activity has allowed me to meet and work with lawyers from literally every corner of our state: Sole practitioners; managing partners of the largest firms; in-house corporate counsel; judges from district, probate, circuit and appellate courts and administrative law judges in just about every setting possible (including more than a few workers’ compensation hearings in hotels up North).

As much as I love the community in which I practice law, I am very happy to report to you that my experiences are not geographically unique, and you do not need to practice at Rhoades McKee or in Grand Rapids to receive inspiration, encouragement and camaraderie from really good lawyers and great people. Rather, my bar association activities have taught me that our profession is filled with people who, by-and-large, are good and kind-hearted, recognize their unique ability and opportunity to help others, and who work on a daily basis to provide so much support, encouragement and programming for our members and the public that literally every lawyer in our state benefits from their fine work and activities.

And that, my friends, is a source of great pride and comfort as I enter my 51st year on this Earth – and my 23rd as a member of this noble profession. As I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, my wish for each of you is that you have the opportunity to recall, reflect and recognize how fortunate we all are to be members of this profession every day of every year.

2:52 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 5, 2011

Couple of Law Profs Set the Bar Incredibly High

Today's guest blogger is Julia Darlow. She currently serves as a member of the University of Michigan's Board of Regents, and before that practiced law for 33 years with Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit, and two years with Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howeltt LLP in Novi. She is the first woman to be elected president of the State Bar of Michigan, and served her term from 1986-87. 

Some strong criticism has been leveled at the nation’s law schools recently. While we must, as a profession, step up to such challenges and examine our institutions with care, we must also remember to celebrate our law school faculties.  

richard_primus.jpgConsider the example of Professor Richard Primus, this year’s winner of the greatly coveted L. Hart Wright Teaching Award at the University of Michigan Law School, an annual award chosen by the students under the administration of the Student Senate. A brilliant and prolific constitutional law scholar, quoted from time to time by the United States Supreme Court, Professor Primus puts teaching first. He believes that “… for most law professors, most of the time, the most important thing we do is teach.” He adds, “Nothing makes me happier as a law prof than when a student tells me that my class made them think harder and more carefully than they were accustomed to doing before.” Even in large lecture classes, he prides himself on knowing each student individually, although he requires that they always sit in the same seats so that he can learn their names.

evebrensikeprimus.jpgProfessor Primus has won this award four times since coming to the Law School in 2001. And he is in outstanding, equally brilliant and distinguished company. In 2009, the winner of the L. Hart Wright Teaching Award was Professor Eve Brensike Primus, who teaches criminal law, criminal procedure and habeas corpus, and writes about structural reform in the criminal justice system. As you may have inferred, they are married. They have children and share their parenting duties on what seems to be a wonderfully equitable basis. But Professor R. Primus readily asserts the Professor E. Primus is the better teacher:  while they both work hard to know their students, she does not require maintained seating to learn all their names.

3:11 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Home for the Holidays?

foreclosure2.gifThis blog will periodically feature blog posts from guest contributors. Today's guest is my friend Linda Rexer, Executive Director of the Michigan State Bar Foundation.  Linda offers a timely message and request for our consideration.

Your home has a special focus at this time of year.  Home is where you go for family gatherings and holiday traditions.  But for some, that home may be gone or threatened due to foreclosure.  Michigan is still in the top ten states with the highest number of foreclosures, and the foreclosure crisis is nowhere near the end.  Some predict that foreclosures will increase even further in 2012.   In addition, poverty and unemployment in Michigan remain high.

That is sad news, especially for low-income families worried about whether they can keep their home for another holiday season.  The good news is that seven of Michigan’s nonprofit legal aid programs have combined forces statewide through the Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Project (MFPP).  With lead funding from the Michigan State Bar Foundation and the Ford Foundation, MFPP also attracted other funding to provide legal advice and court representation, as well as link clients to social services and financial counseling.  In 2010 alone, MFPP provided services to over 4,000 households in areas relevant to their housing needs.  In just the first nine months of this year, MFPP saved over 800 low-income families from losing their homes or becoming homeless due to foreclosure.  This is not only a welcome and needed resource, it is an efficient one.  By combining forces, these programs share training and meet in task forces to address emerging issues together.  Several MFPP cases have had broad impacts, such as stopping illegal procedures that affect thousands of homeowners.

It is appropriate to take note of a project that helps families keep their homes this holiday season. But it is only one example of many innovative and important efforts that nonprofit legal aid programs in our State undertake every day.  In a time when the need so far outpaces available resources, you can help legal aid continue this important work. Contact a legal aid program in your area and ask to join their pro bono panel so you can provide volunteer legal services to a client who might otherwise not get any legal assistance.  Or make a donation to the Access to Justice Fund, designating your gift for your local legal aid program or toward helping build the statewide ATJ Fund endowment.  Your generosity can make a difference, including helping low-income families stay in their homes for the holidays.

2:30 pm est          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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