State Bar’s 78th president takes the wheel

After Grand Rapids litigator Bruce Courtade took oath as 78th president of the State Bar of Michigan on Sept. 20 at DeVos Place, he emphasized that bar dues would not be raised under his watch*.

Bruce Courtade (right) acknowledges the crowd after being sworn in as 78th State Bar of Michigan president by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr.

Why? “Because Jenny will kill me,” he said to a roomful of laughter. He was referring to his wife, Jenny DeLessio, who also is an attorney.

All kidding aside, Courtade said he’s ready to lead the 2012-13 year by moving forward with the SBM’s strategic plan, and with what has been recently put into place.

He noted that the SBM’s Solutions on Self-Help Task Force has gotten SCAO-approved forms accessible via the web for people who can’t afford a lawyer to take to court. The Q&A-style forms are in fourth-grade English and will help in uncontested divorces and PPOs.

Courtade also said that the recommendations from the Judicial Crossroads Task Force initiative will continue to work for funding for legal aid providers and advocating for indigent defense issues. He noted that a House bill for indigent defense has gotten 77 co-sponsors as it goes to a vote this coming week, and he’s hopeful it will receive similar reception in the Senate

And, as he told Michigan Lawyers Weekly in a recent article, he wants to push for civics education in schools, and making citizens aware of the Constitution and their constitutional rights. To show his seriousness on that, he made sure a copy of the U.S. Constitution was on each table at his swearing-in luncheon.

“I’m not a constitutional scholar,” he said. “I carry the Constitution with me at all times to remind me why we do what we do. … It’s the words that are contained in it that makes our more perfect union more perfect.”

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan announces Dana Warnez as the newly sworn in chair of the Representative Assembly.

Right next door, at the Representative Assembly, Dana Warnez was sworn in as its 2012-13 chair, with Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan leading the proceedings. The RA also elected Vanessa Williams as its new clerk.

*As an earlier blog post noted, SBM dues actually have been reduced.

Get ready for dues, eJournal changes at State Bar

While only a fraction of State Bar of Michigan members are going to be at the SBM annual meeting in Grand Rapids today and tomorrow, Executive Director Janet Welch noted that something’s happening today that affects all members: dues invoices are going out.

State Bar of Michigan Executive Director Janet Welch addresses attendees at the kickoff of the ICLE 2012 Solo and Small Firm Institute, held in conjunction with the SBM meeting in Grand Rapids.

And, for the first time since 2004, there will be a change in the dues amount.

“Your dues are going down,” she said at her annual welcome and report at the kickoff of the ICLE 2012 Solo and Small Firm Institute, held in conjunction with the SBM meeting at DeVos Place.

This is thanks to a recent Michigan Supreme Court order that called for the decrease of the disciplinary portion of annual dues effective this bar year by $10, something the Representative Assembly has historically lobbied for (only the high court can set dues amounts). This time around, the Supreme Court acted on this on its own.

“We are below the national average in our dues, and I think we can make a good case that we are giving you more for your money than other states’ bar associations,” said Welch, who pointed to two examples for the coming year.

One of the most popular member benefits is the daily eJournal case summary email, which Welch said has summarized almost 50,000 cases since it was launched in 1999 as the first electronic daily case summary service in the country. This year, the eJournal added CaseMaker, which allows SBM members free access to its legal research software, and new features have been added to it based on what members asked for – such as faster search results with a more intuitive interface, personalized search history and customizable folders.

Then there’s the Practice Management Resource Center, the SBM’s online resource for solo and small firm management, which has refreshed a lot of its content thanks to the encouragement of outgoing State Bar President Julie Fershtman, who formed a task force last year seeking for ways to improve it. Resources in financial management, calendaring, client relations, marketing, best practices and disaster policies, record retention and IOLTA have been updated, and a new library of law-related e-books via the Overdrive software is about to launch.

In addition, Welch said that a new mentoring database, the JobTarget Mentor Board, is being developed to bring seasoned Michigan attorneys together with new ones.

That’s something that’s going under the watch of incoming SBM President Bruce Courtade, who will be sworn in later today. Check with the Michigan Lawyer blog later today for more on that.

MSC announces appointments to AGC, ADB and state bar board of commissioners

The Michigan Supreme Court announced a number of appointments to the Attorney Grievance Commission, the prosecutorial arm of the state’s attorney discipline system, the Attorney Discipline Board, the discipline system’s adjudicative arm, and the State Bar of Michigan’s Board of Commissioners, which directs the state bar’s operations, including finance, public policy, member services, and strategic planning.

Appointed to the AGC:

Wanda M. Stokes of Lansing, attorney and division chief of the Michigan Attorney General Licensing and Regulation Division, is appointed to a term ending October 1, 2015.

Martha M. Snow of Northville, attorney and shareholder in the law firm of Xuereb Snow PC, is appointed for a term ending October 1, 2015.

Rozanne F. Sedler, L.M.S.W., A.C.S.W., of Southfield, a clinical social worker with Jewish Family Services in Oak Park, is reappointed to a term ending October 1, 2015.

David L. Porteous of Reed City, attorney and principal of the law firm of McCurdy Wotila & Porteous, PC, is appointed chairperson of the AGC for a term ending October 1, 2013.

Barbara B. Smith of Bloomfield Hills, attorney and principal of the law offices of Barbara B. Smith PLLC and Smith Mediation Center, is appointed vice-chairperson for a term ending October 1, 2013.

Appointed to the ADB:

Louann Van Der Wiele of Auburn Hills, vice president and associate general counsel in the Office of the General Counsel of Chrysler Group LLC, is appointed for a term ending October 1, 2015.

James M. Cameron, Jr. of Ann Arbor, attorney and member of the law firm of Dykema Gossett PLLC, is reappointed to a term ending October 1, 2015 and is reappointed vice-chairperson for a term ending October 1, 2013.

Dr. Sylvia P. Whitmer of West Bloomfield, who served as executive director of instruction K-12 for the Birmingham Public Schools from 1990 until her retirement in 2005, is reappointed to a term ending October 1, 2015.

Thomas G. Kienbaum of Birmingham, attorney and member of the law firm of Kienbaum, Opperwall, Hardy & Pelton, PLC, is reappointed chairperson for a term ending October 1, 2013.

Appointed to the Board of Commissioners

D. Randall Gilmer of Trenton, an associate in the law firm of McGraw Morris, P.C.

C. Thomas Ludden of Bloomfield Hills, partner in the law firm of Lipson, Neilson, Cole, Seltzer & Garin, PC.

Stephen J. Gobbo of Lansing, state cemetery commissioner and regulatory compliance division director for the bureau of commercial services, Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

All three appointees will serve as commissioners-at-large for three-year terms, effective on the adjournment of the outgoing board’s meeting this afternoon.

Also appointed as a commissioner-at-large was Charles S. Hegarty of Canton, member of the law firm of Bodman PLC. He will serve the remainder of the term of Jules B. Olsman of Berkley, president of the law firm of Olsman, Mueller, Wallace & MacKenzie, PC. Olsman was elected to the Board of Commissioners by State Bar members in June. Hegarty’s term will expire in September 2013.

– Information from the MSC’s Office of Public Information

Based on past numbers, will SBM’s 2013 Lansing meeting be a bust or a blowout?

In two days, the State Bar of Michigan will open the doors at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids for its Annual Meeting and Solo & Small Firm Institute. And in looking at the below numbers for the past 10 years’ attendance, it’s apparent that Furniture City has been a popular destination for the event. So far, this year looks no different.

Now, it could be because the West Michigan legal delegation doesn’t have to drive so far, or maybe it’s that out-of-town attendees get a chance to take a working vacation (there’s some little thing called ArtPrize going on out there).

When the meeting’s been in Dearborn, at the now-in-limbo Hyatt Regency, the numbers have been healthy, too. Last year, in fact, was the State Bar’s strongest turnout in 10 years.

But what’s telling is that when the meeting was held in Lansing in 2003-05, attendance didn’t even break the 1,000 mark. Take a gander:

• 2002 — 1,362, Grand Rapids

• 2003 — 907, Lansing

• 2004 — 935, Lansing

• 2005 — 843, Lansing

• 2006 — 1,107, Ypsilanti

• 2007 — 1,351, Grand Rapids

• 2008 — 1,326, Dearborn

• 2009 — 1,387, Dearborn

• 2010 — 1,289, Grand Rapids

• 2011 — 1,467, Dearborn

• 2012 — 1,060 registered as of Sept. 17, with an estimated 1,300-1500 total registration, Grand Rapids

And guess where it’s taking place next year? Yep. Our capital city.

Logistically, meeting its members halfway, so to speak, isn’t a bad idea. It’s only about an hour’s drive from either Grand Rapids or Dearborn, and as the membership numbers show, the majority of members are practicing in either Kent County or the metro Detroit area.

Though there’s no concrete data explaining why turnout in Lansing was so low last decade (even Ypsilanti got better numbers in its 2006 stint), State Bar spokeswoman Samantha Meinke has a sunny disposition on next year. In the eight years since the last Lansing meeting, she said that downtown’s Lansing Center, where the 2013 meeting will be, has undergone a major structural transformation.

“We’re hoping that’s going to make a big difference in our numbers,” she said.

As it’s looking now, incoming State Bar President Bruce Courtade has a sizeable audience once he takes the oath Thursday. We’ll just have to wait and see if Brian Einhorn can say the same when he’s sworn in as 2013-14 president.

Got improv skills? Know the EEOC? Two events can help

Two State Bar sections are hosting upcoming seminars that emphasize audience participation.

First is the Young Lawyers Section’s “Think Fast! Boot Camp for New Lawyers” workshop, which takes place 3:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12 at Go Comedy! Improv Theatre in Ferndale.

Here, new lawyers will work on their improvisational skills, with improv actors teaching participants “Trust and Learning to Fail” (how to respond to an unexpected or unwanted ruling in court) and a “Yes, and …” exercise, which involves working with answers, or rulings, that seem impossible or unexpected There also will be a small informal dinner after the workshop, as well as an optional 8 p.m. show by the troupe.

Cost is $10 for the workshop and $5 extra for the following show. Space is limited to 25 participants. Register by May 5 at the SBM Young Lawyers Home Page at For more information, contact Syeda Davidson at (313) 207-4229 or

Then, at 4 p.m. June 7, the Labor & Employment Law Section hosts its annual Spring-Board series of roundtable discussions at The Reserve, next to Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham.

This year’s seminar will focus on the “ABCs” of agency practice, with agency representatives, investigators, administrative law judges, and experienced practitioners discussing how to effectively represent clients before the EEOC, Michigan Department of Civil Rights, NLRB, MERC, and Unemployment Insurance Agency.

It’s all followed by a networking session along with complimentary beer, wine, and hors d’oeuvres.

Cost is $50 in advance and $60 at the door.  For more information, contact Susan Hiser at (248) 540-4987 or

State Bar to be honored at U.S. Supreme Court

Next week, the State Bar of Michigan will be at the Supreme Court of the United States — not as a means of seeking justice, but in recognition for helping others do so.

The SBM is one of five organizations chosen to receive the 2012 American Bar Association Grassroots Advocacy Award, for its efforts to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation.

LSC helps provide legal aid for low-income Americans and is the nation’s single largest provider of civil legal aid to citizens who live on incomes below or near the poverty line.

In a statement, the ABA noted that in 2011 SBM “played an exemplary role in advancing access to justice by successfully advocating for adequate funding for LSC during the congressional budget allocation for fiscal year 2012. The State Bar of Michigan advocated for LSC funding through an ongoing grassroots legislative advocacy campaign that included urging congressional members on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to push for increased LSC funding.”

The bar “worked to prevent a potentially devastating $104.2 million (25.7 percent) proposed cut to the LSC budget of $404.2 million in fiscal year 2010. While the House of Representatives proposed funding LSC at $300 million, the Senate favored an allocation of $396 million. Ultimately, funding was set at $348 million, thanks in large part to efforts such as” the SBM.

The award will be presented April 18 as part of ABA Day 2012.

SBM president: Nobody can feel breast cancer ‘until it’s too late’

Two weeks after she was sworn in as 77th president of the State Bar of Michigan, Julie Fershtman went to her doctor’s appointment.

The doctor discovered a lump in her breast.

She later was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. And though the carcinoma was small — 1.9 cm — and had not spread to any lymph nodes, she underwent a double mastectomy per her doctor’s precaution.

It’s now been two weeks since her fourth and final chemotherapy treatment, and she is spreading the message on the importance of prevention and detection.

“No matter how busy women are in this profession, there’s always time to go out and visit your doctor and get tested,” Fershtman told Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for her once the lump was detected. Her associate, with whom she had worked for four years, had just moved on to another opportunity. And after years of moving up the chain of leadership at the State Bar, Fershtman was about to leave for the Upper Peninsula as part of her presidency tour. There was nothing she could do until she came back, when the more invasive tests would be done.

But, she said, “If there was any time for this to happen, this was the best time.”

Her surgery took place before Thanksgiving, and her chemotherapy began near Christmas, periods when there’s a lull in State Bar activity. She still managed to go to every holiday party she was invited to.

And, by using specially designed ice helmets for her chemo treatment, she didn’t lose any of her hair.

She said that the only time she broke down in tears was when her surgeon told her she’d need six weeks off work. That worry was for naught, as she was back in the office 1 1/2 weeks later. And she said she had a support system at her firm, Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith PC, to cover for some of her matters when she had to go in for diagnostic tests.

She noted that keeping a full schedule helped her stay centered, but she was worried about what people would think of her, especially when she told some people about it.

“Concern is one thing, sympathy is another,” she said. “And even though I kinda kept all of this quiet, word trickled out to them. … But I didn’t want people telling me how sorry they were about this situation.”

But she was surprised when the few people she did tell would pass along a name to her of someone who also had breast cancer. A fellow State Bar member sent her pink ribbon silicone bracelets and pins, and Fershtman plans to pass such accessories onto other women as motivators.

She’s happy to know that “this network of survivors is growing,” and plans to be a part of it for the Susan G. Komen Mid-Michigan Race for the Cure in Lansing on April 29, wearing a survivor’s hat.

“Nobody can feel cancer until it’s too late,” Fershtman said, noting that Kim Cahill, one of her mentors, died of cancer a few months after her term as 72nd State Bar president ended.

“You won’t know you have it, which is more reason to go in and have the test done. It was because I stayed on track and didn’t put this off for a year, when I otherwise could have, that I found the problem. Had it waited a year, I don’t know what my prognosis would have been.”

What’s going on with the SBM president these days?

We’re almost at the point when we can write a headline saying “State Bar of Michigan President Julie Fershtman: The First 100 Days,” but we’ll jump the gun a bit here.

Over a cup of Earl Grey tea at a Starbucks near her Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C. office, the 2011-12 SBM president reflected on all the things she’s either worked on, witnessed, or simply felt good about since her Sept. 15 inauguration.

First is the task force Fershtman formed to enhance the SBM’s Practice Management Resource Center (PMRC). Headed by Rebecca Simkins, it’s working on coming up with recommendations by April — some of which could be instilled immediately, others may be long-term goals.

But it’s been getting the word out about the PMRC overall that Fershtman said has given her the greatest satisfaction. Meeting with bar associations across the state, she said practitioners have been receptive to taking advantage of the service, which offers bar members training and hands-on assistance with legal technology and management components. She noted that many of the bar members she’s met haven’t known much about the PMRC, and she hopes the task force helps to change that.

That leads to hearing from bar members directly. Fershtman did say in her incoming speech that she wants to be the most accessible SBM president in history — complete with a presidential blog — and has kept her word by taking emails and calls from practitioners, spending upwards of an hour on the phone listening to what they have to say.

“I’m encouraged that they are comfortable enough to make the call,” she said.

Fershtman added that she’s also encouraged by the SCAO report calling for the elimination of 45 judgeships across the state — per the SBM’s Judicial Crossroads Task Force’s report — which she said wasn’t met with the kind of resistance as expected, as it’s attrition-based, “which is what we were seeking.” As well, she said Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently formed Indigent Defense Advisory Commission looks promising.

Still to go at the bar, she said, is better educating the public on the unauthorized practice of law, as well as the “Solutions on Self-Help” project, meant to give in pro parties some direction as to the proper court forms they need, and thus not wasting judges’ time.

Not bad for 100 days. Or something close to that.

MSC announces state bar, court reporting appointments

Attorney Colleen A. Pero of Laingsburg has been appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to serve as a commissioner-at-large on the State Bar of Michigan’s Board of Commissioners. Her three-year term begins immediately.

Pero is vice-president of Pero Consulting, Inc., a public affairs consulting firm. A former vice-chair of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Pero served as Special Counsel and Director of State Affairs for Governor John Engler.

The Board of Commissioners is one of two governing bodies of the State Bar of Michigan, the other being the Representative Assembly. The Board of Commissioners oversees the State Bar’s operations, including finances, public policy, member services, and strategic planning.

Bonnie L. Rozema of Byron Center, Michigan has been appointed to the Court Reporting and Recording Board of Review by the Michigan Supreme Court. She will serve a partial term that will expire on March 31, 2013.

Rozema, who has served as a freelance court recorder since 1995, has been a recorder of grand jury proceedings in both state and federal court. She is a certified electronic recorder and has been certified as a legal video specialist by the National Court Reporters Association.

The Board of Review tests and certifies court reporters and recorders, and publishes guidelines for their work. The board also handles complaints against court reporters and recorders.

Information from the Michigan Supreme Court.

MSC reduces discipline system dues

State Bar of Michigan members will pay reduced dues to support the attorney discipline system beginning in 2012, according to a Michigan Supreme Court order.

The Court ordered a $10 reduction in the portion of the dues that supports the attorney discipline system.

“The attorney discipline system has become vastly overfunded, with a surplus of about $5 million. In light of this large surplus, the present $120 in discipline dues is not justified,” the Court said in its Oct. 6 order.

The attorney discipline system’s total operating expenses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 10, 2010, were $4,733,442, according to the Attorney Discipline Board’s recently released 2010 Annual Report.

The attorney discipline system includes the Attorney Grievance Commission and the Attorney Discipline Board.

Discipline dues will be $110 beginning next year, down from the current $120. The Court’s order does not affect the amount of general bar dues, currently $180, or the $15 assessment for the State Bar of Michigan’s Client Security Fund.