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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chaldean American Bar Association -- Impressive

The room at the Shehandoah Country Club was packed last night with 300 people, including accomplished attorneys, judges, and major Southeast Michigan business leaders.  Its keynote speaker was U.S. Senator Carl Levin.


This was one special night.  Bar associations of all sizes, much less any association, dream of holding an event this successful.  And it was made possible by a 200-member special purpose bar association, the Chaldean American Bar Association led by its President, Alex Ayar.  The event was CABA's Third Annual Awards & Scholarship Ceremony.  What's CABA's secret?  From my observation:

  • Relevant programming.  Aside from last night's dinner, CABA-sponsored events include, for example, “Making Your Resume Work for You” and “speed networking.”
  • Collaboration.  The “Making Your Resume Work for You” seminar was co-sponsored by  the D. Augustus Straker Bar, Michigan Asian Pacific Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, and the South Asian Bar Association of Michigan.
  • Networking events.  CABA organizes social events that keep members engaged. 
  • First-class event program.  Last night's event program included letters from Governor Rick Snyder, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (who was scheduled to speak last night but unable to attend) that welcomed guests and supported CABA and Michigan’s Chaldean community. 
  • Community support.  CABA annually awards a scholarship to a high school graduate, and this year's recipient of its Comunity Service & Dedication Award was Ronald Acho of the Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho firm.
  • Corporate sponsorships.  Last night’s event had numerous law firm and corporate sponsors.  Corporate sponsors even donated the dessert, wines, and beer.
  • Recognition of leaders.  The event program last night included color photos and biographical information on each of its eight officers and directors.  All were recognized and thanked during the event.
  • Accessible and tech savvy.  CABA has a website and is on Facebook and Twitter. 

CABA2012.JPGVery impressive work, CABA!  For a small, special purpose bar association, you lead by example.

Pictured (l-r): me, Senator Carl Levin, CABA President Alex Ayar.

8:50 am edt          Comments

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not the Twilight Zone: Wearing a Robe at Yesterday’s Law School Commencement

In my recurring nightmare, I walk into a school only to learn that it’s exam day, but I haven’t studied a single minute.  Yesterday almost seemed equally odd as I wore a graduation robe, even though I haven’t been a student for 26 years.  This was no dream.  I was Cooley Law School’s commencement speaker.   

Here's a sampling of the remarks I offered to the graduates yesterday afternoon:

All of us can succeed in this profession; all of us can find fulfillment in our careers; all of us can make a difference for the public good.  How, you ask?  In my opinion, it takes innovation, persistence, and an unwavering commitment to your goals, no matter what obstacles you may face. 

Wait! What about ambition, you may ask?  Certainly, a good education combined with ambition got you to this point.  Education and ambition, as I see it, are the gas in the tank that are essential to drive you to success.  You’ve got that.  But innovation, I truly believe, is the spark that ignites them and makes things happen.

Innovation in a business sense was once defined by renowned author and innovation expert John Emmerling as “creativity with a job to do."

Innovation in a legal sense, as I define it, involves finding an unmet legal need and then actively exploring ways to address that need through outreach and service.  Innovation takes vision, open-mindedness, curiosity, guts, and plenty of energy.  

Innovation has kept the legal profession in touch with changing times and changing technology.  When I last wore a cap and gown, nobody ever dreamed that IT law would be a hot practice area or that social media would be invented.  Nobody ever heard of homeland security law as a practice area.  All of them exist today along with greenhouse gases/clean technology law, animal law, and cyber security law, to name a few. One website, JD Match, recently asked: “Should robotic law be an emerging practice?”  Nobody’s laughing.  Even new ways of doing business are emerging, such as Virtual Law Offices.  The unmistakable fact is, as lawyers we can step up, go beyond the everyday practice, find unmet legal needs, and address them through uniquely tailored law practices – or even a combination of a few of them.

Opportunities may not come to all of us, but we can try to make our own opportunities.  Be willing to think outside of the box, seek out that unmet need – even if outside of the traditional areas of practice.  Through your own efforts and creativity, fulfill that need.  Be willing to venture ahead, armed with a vision and an unwavering desire to be the lawyer you always wanted to be. 

And while we’re on the topic of unmet legal needs, please be mindful of the fact that we will always have unmet legal needs of the poor, the vulnerable, the people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer but are in desperate need of our help.  In your quest for success in your career, please remember their unmet legal needs, too.  Make pro bono service an annual effort or contribute annually to a local legal aid provider through the State Bar’s Access to Justice Fund.

Ladies and gentlemen, the fact is that there are wrongs to be righted, harms to be prevented, disasters to be averted.  Lawyers have the unique training to help people and make a difference.  People need lawyers.  And for lawyers, numerous opportunities exist to help people.

7:20 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thank You, Wexford-Missaukee Bar Association
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon in Cadillac with members of the Wexford-Missaukee Bar Association.  According to State Bar records, these two counties have a combined State Bar membership of 52 people.  Yet, an astounding 20 members, including some of the local judges, came to the luncheon.  This is almost half of all lawyers in the two counties! 

Its current President, Melissa J. Ransom, has a general practice in Cadillac.  Though a 3-year member of the bar, she became President of the association in the “youngest first” manner of selecting leaders.  Another active member who attended the luncheon, Eilisia G. Schwarz of McBain, Michigan, is a young lawyer who has already made substantial contributions to the State Bar by serving on the Representative Assembly and the State Bar’s Domestic Violence Committee 

The Wexford-Missaukee Bar Association is a small but accomplished bar association.  Recently, its members worked very hard to maintain the 84th District Court judgeship in Cadillac.  They persuaded the Missaukee and Wexford County Boards of Commissioners to pass resolutions in favor of keeping it, and they worked hard in Lansing to make sure that legislators exempted this court from legislation eliminating judgeships.  Their efforts succeeded. 

For a bar association of its size, it organizes impressive community service projects.  One is “Feed America” through which members donate funds toward the purchase of food.  The amount collected, I’m told, has enabled the association to fill a semi truck with food for the needy in the community.   

WexfordMissaukee.JPGThank you, members of the Wexford-Missaukee Bar Association, for yesterday’s well-attended, informative and engaging lunch.  Please make sure to post your next “Feed America” project on the State Bar’s “A Lawyer Helps” page. 

Pictured (L-R): Eilisia Schwarz, me, Melissa Ransom

8:47 pm edt          Comments

Friday, May 11, 2012

Elder Law of Michigan's Call to Justice Awards
Today’s guest blogger is Kate Birnbryer White, Executive Director of Elder Law of Michigan, Inc.

I want to thank Julie for participating in Elder Law of Michigan’s Call to Justice Awards.  The event honors individuals who are making important contributions to the fields of law and aging. Today a growing number of older adults face very difficult challenges including poverty, hunger, access to health care, injustice, financial exploitation and elder abuse. These winners are on the front lines making a difference every day through their professional and volunteer service.  The Call to Justice honorees included:

·        Attorney General Bill Schuette for his work fighting hunger and consumer protection
Attorney Tom Trainer for his leadership in developing the field and practice of elder law in Michigan
The Honorable Edward Sosnick of the Oakland County Circuit Court for leadership in elder abuse prevention
State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker for her leadership in championing a bi-partisan legislation for the protection of vulnerable adults
·        Paul Bridgewater, President and CEO of the Detroit Area Agency on Aging for his vision and service to older adults.  

ElderLaw2012.JPGJoining Julie in celebrating their lives and work were Attorney General Emeritus Frank Kelley and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman. 
For more details on the event and how Elder Law of Michigan helps older adults throughout Michigan, visit our website.

Pictured L-R: Julie Fershtman, John Lazet for Bill Schuette, Milton Scales, Frank Kelley, Stephen Markman, Edward Sosnick, Tonya Schuitmaker, Tom Trainer

11:04 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ottawa County Bar Association: Positive Changes and Community Service

On Monday I joined the Ottawa County Bar Association at its Annual Meeting in Holland, Michigan, where I shared some remarks regarding Law Day.  For an "outsider" from Southeast Michigan, having the chance to drive through the annual Holland Tulip Time Festival and its local festivities en route to the meeting was a definite plus.

The OCBA, led by its President Kurt S. Bauer, has unquestionably been busy.  Its events bring together —as I saw last Monday —a sizeable and congenial turnout of lawyers and judges in the community.  A few months ago, the OCBA wrote an amicus brief in the contentious matter involving Ottawa County District Judge Kenneth Post who jailed a lawyer for contempt after he invoked his client's Fifth Amendment rights; many will recall this matter as it received considerable press, and the contempt order was later reversed by Ottawa County Circuit Court's Chief Judge.  On Monday, the OCBA amended and restated its Bylaws for the first time since 1975 to, among other things, grant non-voting memberships to law students (which will expand its membership and encourage networking  opportunities) and to allow members to deliver proxies by electronic means.  It also awarded a deserving and accomplished local high school student its annual Elise Joy Frantz Scholarship.  The OCBA announced the launch of its impressive new website,   

Congratulations to the Ottawa County Bar for making positive changes within your organization and for actively serving your community.  

7:36 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Law Day 2012 - Local Bar Associations Rise to the Occasion
2012lawday.jpgToday is Law Day, a day when we reaffirm our respect for the rule of law and our dedication to our country’s democratic values.  This year’s Law Day theme is “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom,” which reaffirms the importance of our nation’s courts as well as the importance of advocating for greater funding to safeguard our system of justice.

Click here for a link to the State Bar of Michigan’s Law Day page where you will find a list of Law Day activities throughout Michigan, a link to ABA resources including a Law Day Planning Guide, and information on Law Day celebrations in Michigan. 

Several bar associations are offering Law Day programs.  They include:

Saginaw County Bar Association - numerous Law Day theme contests in the local schools and high school mock trial tournament involving each high school in the county.  It is also organizing a Community Town Hall meeting discussing the Constitution.
Washtenaw County Bar Association’s New Lawyers Section is hosting a “Free Legal Advice” event in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan is holding an open house today along with an “Ask the Lawyer” program, courthouse tours, and special presentations.
Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association is sponsoring a Free Legal Aid Clinic, speeches at senior centers, essay contest, awards luncheon, and more.   
·    Shiawassee County Bar Association is holding its Fourth Annual Free Legal Advice Fair.
Rochester Bar Association is holding its 7th Annual Law Day Oratory Competition, judged by judges from the 52-3 District Court, which will take place at the Older Person’s Commission and includes a speech from a senior member of the community.
·     Livonia Bar Association is hosting an “Ask the Lawyer” event as well as an essay contest.  The contest winner will meet Livonia’s Mayor at the association’s May 17, 2012, dinner meeting.  

I thank all bar associations that have organized programs in celebration of Law Day.  Whether or not you are involved in a formal activity, please help others understand the significance of Law Day.  And please feel free to contact me or the State Bar if you'd like help planning a program for next year. 
11:07 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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