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.


Pro Bono Fair 2011 coming soon to a place near you

A partnership of law firms, local bar associations, legal aid clinics and the Thomas M. Cooley School is presenting Pro Bono Fair 2011 at four locations across the state in October.

The events are designed to connect attorneys and legal services organizations in their community and to explore volunteer opportunities.

The inaugural event is the Oakland and Macomb Pro Bono Fair on Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills Campus, 2630 Featherstone, Auburn Hills from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Dickinson Wright is sponsoring the event.

The keynote speaker will be Julie I. Fershtman, President, State Bar of Michigan.

Fershtman, along with Peter M. Alter, Oakland County Bar Association President; Gail Pamukov-Miller, Macomb County Bar Association President; Stephanie D. Jones, Straker Bar Association President and David S. Maquera, Hispanic Bar Association President say:

The Oakland and Macomb Pro Bono Fair is a practical and expedient way for you to learn more about legal services organizations and the programs that help the thousands who are in urgent need of civil legal aid. The need has grown, as funding for legal services has been dwindling.

Michigan’s legal community has been generous with its time and financial support, but more help is needed. All Oakland and Macomb area attorneys are urged to attend the pro bono fair. You are under no obligation to take a case or to make a time commitment. The fair is meant to be a chance to learn more, network with colleagues, and consider new ways to provide pro bono service.

Other Pro Bono Fairs are scheduled for later in the month. Here’s a list:

  • October 11, 2011
    Grand Rapids Pro Bono Fair
    11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
    Thomas M. Cooley Law School
    Grand Rapids Campus
  • October 11, 2011
    Detroit Pro Bono Fair
    4:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • October 17, 2011
    Lansing Pro Bono Fair
    4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
    Thomas M. Cooley Law School
    Lansing Campus

For more information, and to RSVP (requested but not required), please contact Robert Mathis, SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel, at
rmathis@mail.michbar.org or call (517) 346-6412.

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.

Lots of feet expected to move at SBM annual meeting

If you’re attending the annual State Bar of Michigan meeting today and tomorrow, let’s hope you brought comfortable shoes. Because you may be part of standing-room-only crowds at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn.

That’s because about 1,200 SBM members pre-registered for it, which was noted to be a higher than normal number of attendees compared with recent years, and around 100 were estimated to have registered at the door.

Besides section meetings, recognition luncheons and banquets, the meeting is coupled with the ICLE Solo & Small Firm Institute, offering two days of roughly hourlong seminars on everything from smartphones and tablets to effective deposition procedures and handling minor-in-possession cases.

And with the legal profession becoming more competitive than ever, solo attorneys and small partnerships in Michigan are looking to learn as much as they can to expand their repertoire in as quickly a period as possible.

SBM Executive Director Janet K. Welch let that be known in her annual welcome and report.

“Solo and small firm practitioners are the heart and soul of the State Bar of Michigan,” she said. “Over the last year, we have learned more about you than we have ever known as a result of the Economics of Law and our members survey. … What we know is that many of you are working a lot harder to stay where you are. As well, larger-firm practice is more and more difficult and competitive.”

To that end, Welch introduced incoming SBM President Julie I. Fershtman, who wasted no time in making her 2011-12 mission known.

“The State Bar’s strategic plan has noted that the interests of the solo and small firm practitioners in this state is an area that deserves strong attention,” she said.

“We are listening. … We are sensitive to the concerns of solo and small firm practitioners,” she added, noting that such attorneys are the “innovative practitioners here in the state of Michigan” who don’t have the constraints of larger law firm members, but also don’t have the resources to make their practice niche ideas work while juggling the running of a business.

So, she announced that the content of the Practice Management Resource Center ­– the SBM’s online resource for better firm management – will be expanding, and a committee she will be appointing people to in order to look at the content offered. The group will meet within the next few weeks, and will include professors, IT gurus, practice management specialists, “and even the average practitioner, who is thinking of expanding his practice and what he wants to see.”

One thing’s for certain: attendees today and tomorrow will be seeing a lot of their colleagues and brethren over the next two days. They just might not be sitting down while they do it.

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