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.

SBM executive director gets Lawyers Weekly’s top honor as 2011 Woman of the Year

Janet K. Welch, executive director of the State Bar of Michigan, was named Woman of the Year at Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2011 Women in the Law event. (See her blog post here)

At the Sept. 26 luncheon at the Detroit Marriott in Troy, Lawyers Weekly Publisher Don Stemmermann remarked that Welch “is the proverbial ‘lawyer’s lawyer,’ an attorney whose judgment and opinions are sought after — and respected — by her colleagues. And she is a leader of her colleagues as well — more than 41,000 of them.

“I believe each of you will see a little of yourself in her.”

In her acceptance speech, which followed personal recognition of 19 other honorees (see below), Welch said “that description is accurate, in that every one of my amazing colleagues in the group of lawyers who were honored today does share so many characteristics with me.

“They are amazing lawyers, and they are women, which means that all the achievements you heard about … we had to sort of do a lot of what we did in high heels and backwards,” referencing Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. “So I think it’s more impressive to be in a group of women lawyers than in just a group of 20 lawyers being honored.”

At the event, it was noted that Welch worked as a legislative analyst in both the Michigan House and Senate. This led her to law school, then a distinguished career of government service, first with the Michigan Supreme Court, then the State Bar.

Recently, Welch was hands-on with State Bar’s Judicial Crossroads Task Force, which generated a much-needed blueprint for court-system reform. The judiciary is solidly behind it, and favorable legislative action is anticipated.

In closing, Welch said, “Thank you to Lawyers Weekly, and to the lawyers in Michigan who are working to make the profession better. We’ve still got work to do, and we’re going to do it.”

The other 19 honorees recognized at the event are:

• Natalie Alane, Alane & Chartier, PLC

• Hon. Dorene S. Allen, Midland County Probate Court

• D. Jennifer Andreou, Plunkett Cooney

• Mary V. Bauman, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, PLC

• Elizabeth K. Bransdorfer, Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones PLC

• Hon. Diane M. Druzinski, Macomb Circuit Court

• Elizabeth J. Fossel, Varnum LLP

• Lisa Sommers Gretchko, Howard & Howard Attorneys, PLLC

• Jennifer M. Grieco, Neuman Anderson, P.C.

• Eileen K. Husband, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C.

• Nancy L. Little, Bernick, Radner & Ouellette, P.C.

• Andrea L. Moody, Bowman and Brooke LLP

• Kary L. Moss, American Civil Liberties Union

• Kathryn L. Ossian, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.

• Linda Paullin-Hebden, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP

• Abby L. Pendleton, The Health Law Partners

• Tonya Schuitmaker, Schuitmaker Cooper Schuitmaker Cypher & Knotek, P.C.

• Tricia A. Sherick, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP

• Zena D. Zumeta, Mediation Training & Consultation Institute

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Pro bono fairs set for next month

We’re less than two weeks away from Pro Bono Month, and the State Bar of Michigan’s Pro Bono Initiative is giving attorneys plenty of opportunity to find what suits them best.

The group will launch its first ever Michigan Pro Bono Fairs, and will host them at the following locations and dates:

Oct. 6: Oakland & Macomb Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills; 4:30-6:30 p.m.; Info: Dionnie Wynter, (248) 751-7800, Ext. 7742.

Oct. 11: Detroit Pro Bono Fair; Dykema Gossett PLLC, Detroit; 4-6:40 p.m.; Info: Heidi Naasko, (734) 214-7710.

Oct. 11: Grand Rapids Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Grand Rapids; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Info: Karen Rowlader, (616) 301-6800, Ext. 6708.

Oct. 17: Lansing Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing; 4-6:30 p.m.; Info: Dionnie Wynter, (248) 751-7800, Ext. 7742.

Attorneys attending the pro bono fairs are under no obligation to take a case or to make a time commitment. The fairs are meant to be a chance to learn more, network with colleagues, and to consider new ways to provide pro bono services.

To learn more, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (517) 346-6412 or rmathis@mail.michbar.org.

Diversity matters, Archer tells prospective Pledge signatories

Just steps away from the Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum, Dennis Archer offered his take on diversity in the legal profession during Thursday night’s Celebrate Diversity Reception, as part of the State Bar of Michigan annual meeting.

Archer — who served as SBM president from 1984-85, in addition to Detroit mayor, Michigan Supreme Court justice and 2003-04 ABA president — noted that between 2015-19, the majority of people ages 18 and younger in the U.S. will be people of color, and that 30 percent of the U.S. population as it stands now represents people of color.

And, he said, as the population has grown, the business community, wanting to capture global market share, has moved through diversity initiatives as a means of meeting what the rest of the world truly looks like.

As far back as Victoria Roberts’ term as SBM presidency, he said, gender and ethnic bias in the state court system has been studied. Under recent SBM presidents Edward Pappas, Charles Toy and, most recently, W. Anthony Jenkins, the Pledge to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion was formed, making its debut at the 2010 State Bar meeting in Grand Rapids. Although many small and big firms and solo practitioners have signed it since, the Pledge was reintroduced at the 2011 reception, with cleared room for new people to sign it. (The online version can be found here.)

Incidentally, the day before, Jenkins was overcome with emotion as he closed his final speech as 2010-11 SBM president. The soft-spoken Jenkins recalled how he grew up on Detroit’s east side and how hard he worked to make his professional dreams come through – a time that included a stint as a professional basketball player – and how proud he is to be in the legal realm. The room gave him a lengthy standing ovation.

What does Jenkins plan to do now? He told Lawyers Weekly that a break was in order, “just to regroup,” and then he’ll go back to his full-time gig as a corporate, municipal law and finance, and minority business enterprise specialist at Dickinson Wright PLLC.

77th State Bar president says ‘I do’

Following her swearing-in today by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., Julie I. Fershtman took the podium at the State Bar of Michigan annual meeting Dearborn as 77th SBM president.

And, following the expected thank-yous to family, friends and fellow bar members – Fershtman was ready to talk business.

As she told Michigan Lawyers Weekly for the Aug. 29 edition, she was going to form a committee that will broaden and improve the Practice Management Resource Center, where State Bar members can receive, as part of their annual dues, training and hands-on assistance with legal technology and management components.

Taking the next step Fershtman announced today that Rebecca Simkins, who has served as chair of SBM’s Law Practice Management & Legal Administrators Section, would head the group. And, today, the PMRC rolled out an overhauled website, with easier navigation and the “Practice EZ” theme to emphasize it.

She also announced that her SBM presidency blog, www.sbmpres2012.com, would be rolled out later today. In it, she’ll post what she’s doing and what’s she’s seeing happening across the state, with posted pictures from tours she’ll be going on across Michigan, when she meets with local bar associations.

Fershtman also remarked that things SBM members should expect throughout the year include:

• A crackdown following member complaints of various “unauthorized practice of law” sprouting up online, and educating the public on the risks of do-it-yourself legal functions, such as wills and trusts;

• A staff of the Member Services Committee that is now doubled, and primed to explore and expand member services and benefits;

• Exploring mentor programs, and determining not just what works, but also what’s best for membership.