Director's Dialogue

Director's Dialogue--Support Your Affinity Bar!

by D. Larkin Chenault

The State Bar of Michigan’s 33,000 members, at least the 30,000 located in state, can find leadership opportunities in the State Bar through service in our many sections and committees, as well as through our Board of Commissioners and Representative Assembly. While leadership through the State Bar is of great importance to our profession and the public with regard to statewide issues, service to the Bar in your own backyard through the affinity bars (local and special purpose bars) in your area is also a part of every lawyer’s professional responsibility. Happily, such service also offers great benefits and rewards.

There are currently 132 active affinity bars in Michigan, so it won’t be hard to find one in your area. (A list of all affinity bars and contact persons can be found on the State Bar’s website at

Affinity bars range the gamut in size, location and interests. While it’s not possible to provide a description of all affinity bars in this column, I want to highlight a few to give you some idea of the importance of the bars in your neighborhood.

Metropolitan Bars

(Please see sidebar on page 159 for information on the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association.)

Oakland County Bar Association

The Oakland County Bar Association takes pride in the fact that its members are willing to ‘‘step up to the plate’’ when there are issues to face, decisions to be made and programs to be run. The Bar considers its membership a credit to the legal profession. In turn, the Bar offers its members a venue where they can come together socially and professionally, where ideas can be exchanged, friendships can be formed, and issues can be addressed. The Oakland County Bar has over 40 committees that continually work on projects, programs, and community service activities; they have interaction with the various Oakland County benches through bench/bar conferences and social events; and they offer special services and discounts to members through various vendors.

The Oakland County Bar’s committees are very active on issues facing the judiciary, the courts, and the legal profession as a whole. In fact, the Bar has re-instituted the Judicial Media Review Committee to oversee unjust criticism of the judiciary. The committee has issued one response since September 1999. The Bar participated in a Judicial Forum where candidates for judicial office, prior to the primary, participated in a ‘‘town meeting’’ type of program which was filmed and run on cable stations throughout the county. The Bar plans to repeat this program in 2000.

With assistance from the Bar’s Criminal Law Committee and the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, a Criminal Assignment Committee was formed. This committee oversees the process of rotation for criminal assignments at the circuit court. The Oakland County Bar’s chapter of the American Inns of Court is in its fourth year and continues to be an excellent tool for developing and refining courtroom skills.

The Bar also sponsors a Youth Law Conference held at Oakland University. This one-day session serves to educate high school students on how aspects of the law touch their everyday lives.

The Bar’s Professionalism Committee developed a Civility Mentor/Facilitator Program that provides a mechanism by which lawyers practicing in Oakland County may confidentially seek to resolve civility issues between counsel through guidance/facilitation by a trained volunteer mentor/facilitator attorney.

Grand Rapids Bar Association

Lawyers in Grand Rapids who are interested in opportunities to enhance professional development, maintain professional relationships among lawyers, and improve public understanding and respect for the legal system (over 80 percent of area lawyers) are members of the Grand Rapids Bar Association.

The Association offers an informative monthly newsletter, 12 professional sections, and 20 to 25 high quality, reasonably priced continuing legal education (CLE) programs each year. Seminars cover a broad range of topics and are offered at times that fit busy practitioners’ schedules. Members and newer lawyers receive special price incentives. In partnership with Grand Valley State University, the Association is able to offer special seminars in the business, international, and law practice related areas.

Since 1989, the Association has worked aggressively to increase diversity at all levels within the Kent County legal profession. Several successful programs include Minority Jury Representation, which has contributed to a significant increase in minority jurors; the Clerkship Program, which has encouraged a number of law students to accept clerkships in Grand Rapids—and to later live and practice in the area; and women lawyers, working with Grand Valley State University, continue to improve the retention of women lawyers in firms.

The Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS), which opened in 1949, offers an outstanding public service and an avenue for lawyers to build their practices. Volunteer attorneys are made available each month at senior centers and offer free and reduced cost services to low-income senior citizens.

In 2001, the LRIS will partner with Legal Aid of West Michigan, the Dispute Resolution Center, and several other community resources to open the Legal Assistance Center in Kent County’s new Hall of Justice. The Center will provide a central location for citizens dealing with legal issues.

The law library, long the cornerstone of the Grand Rapids Bar, will, if approved by the members of the Association and in partnership with Grand Valley State University, be transferred to the University’s new downtown campus this summer. It will be maintained by the University, but will remain available to Bar members—with special research assistance and other privileges for members.

As the Grand Rapids Bar moves forward into the new millennium, plans are underway to strengthen and increase services to the lawyers of Kent County.

Macomb County Bar Association

The Macomb County Bar Association is located in Mt. Clemens, just northeast of Detroit. It is the fourth largest local bar association in Michigan. The Macomb Bar produces a monthly magazine, Bar Briefs, which features substantive articles, authored by members of the Bar. ‘‘Circuit Court Corner,’’ written by the circuit court administrator, keeps members abreast of circuit court practice developments and procedures. Articles by the Bar president and executive director keep the membership informed about events, member benefits, and current issues. The Legal Assistance and Young Lawyers Sections regularly contribute articles of specific interest to their membership. In addition, Bar Briefs is full of jury verdict information, classified ads, and print ads featuring products and services of interest to the profession.

Since 1991, the Macomb County Bar, in partnership with the city of Sterling Heights, has produced the local cable television program ‘‘Legally Speaking’’ as a service to the public. The program, which airs in 13 cities in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties, provides the viewing public timely information from the benches on how the judicial, legislative, and administrative branches of government affect our everyday lives.

The Macomb County Bar Association is obligated to serve the public interest by reporting to the public its members' evaluations of the candidates for election to judicial office. Each even-numbered year, Bar members are asked to evaluate the individuals seeking judicial office and rate the candidate’s trial skills, settlement skills, diligence, temperament, and legal analysis skills. All polls are received and reported anonymously. If the candidate is lacking sufficient experience, or there is no knowledge of the candidate, no rating is published. The judicial polling process and its results benefit the public, judiciary, and members of the Association. The public benefits by being provided with information on the caliber of judicial candidates. Since this is not a ‘‘blue ribbon panel,’’ each Bar member is provided the same opportunity to have an equally weighted public voice. The judiciary benefits by receiving appropriate kudos and criticisms via this subtle check and balance system.

The Macomb County Bar also takes pride in the close relationship it has with the bench and offers its members convenient services, networking, and job placement opportunities.

Mid-Size Bars

Kalamazoo County Bar Association

Part of the Kalamazoo County Bar Association’s mission is to elevate the standards of integrity, honor, and courtesy in the legal profession; facilitate the administration of justice; cultivate good fellowship among its members; and maintain high standards of professional ethics in the community. The Kalamazoo Bar is currently working on more pro bono programs to assist the community and the local Legal Aid Bureau.

The Bar offers its members an opportunity to develop good working relationships between the bench and bar, create stronger ties with others in the legal community, and connect with the local community.

Midland County Bar Association

The Midland County Bar Association is currently focusing on how to enhance the public’s image of the legal profession. The Bar attributes the guidance and commitment of one of its members, 75th District Court Judge James E. Wilson, with the Association’s Law Day activities being at an all time high. On Law Day, Midland County Bar members volunteer to serve as speakers at the local high schools in Midland and Sanford. The speakers provide a combination lecture and question-and-answer session for students on law-related issues. Past Law Day activities have also included mock trials at the high schools. In addition, there is a luncheon sponsored by the Lawyers Auxiliary where the Liberty Bell Award is presented.

This local Bar, though much smaller than most, is now developing a program and clearinghouse for local bar members to provide pro bono legal services to their community. The Bar is also in the process of developing a Web page, which will provide space and listings for all dues-paying members. The Midland County Bar’s membership dues are $50 per year and members meet on the second Tuesday of each month, September through June.

Washtenaw County Bar Association

In recent years, the Washtenaw County Bar Association, located in Ann Arbor, has instituted two valuable programs that serve one of the main purposes of all bars: improvement of relations between the bar and the public. The Bar conducts an annual ‘‘Bias Awareness Week’’ and has formed a partnership with public schools.

The first Bias Awareness Week and presentation of the first Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ Award was in October of 1992. The first recipients of the award were Julia Darlow and Hon. Harold Hood.

The highlight of Bias Awareness Week each year is the dinner, featuring a speaker and the presentation of the award, but other activities—usually luncheons with speakers—are also held. These luncheons are co-sponsored by one or more other local bar associations. At the 5th annual dinner, the Vanzetti M. Hamilton Bar Association joined as co-host and presented its first Frederick Douglass Racial Justice and Harmony Award. This was the beginning of a continuing tradition.

The Bar sponsors a program, Classroom TLC (Teachers, Lawyers, and Children), where lawyers partner with teachers to develop lesson plans. The lawyers visit the schools three times per year to educate students on legal subjects. This program is part of the public schools’ Partners for Excellence program.

The Washtenaw County Bar takes pride in the level of involvement of their members with the Association, their concern for the state of the justice system, and their willingness to work toward the betterment of that system.

Small Bars

Delta County Bar Association

The Delta County Bar Association, located in Escanaba, in the Upper Peninsula, serves to bring the attorneys of Delta County together to discuss and resolve common problems of interest to legal practice in the county and to promote the effective administration of justice. The Bar also gathers to discuss those issues that have an overall impact on the practice of law.

The Bar has collaborated with the local community college to bring a ‘‘People’s Law School’’ to local residents. In conjunction with this program, Bar members volunteer their time and expertise to serve as instructors in public school classrooms. Members also hold a number of activities in their community in conjunction with Law Day. The Bar takes pride in its ability to continually promote a positive image of the legal profession to the community through its members.

Shiawassee County Bar Association

The Shiawassee County Bar Association, which regularly meets in Owosso, is proud to have represented the legal profession in the community since 1843. Every attorney ever admitted to practice in Shiawassee County signs his or her name in a book, which dates back to 1857 and is kept on file in the County Clerk’s Office. Like many practicing attorneys in small towns around the state, many of the Bar’s members are second and third generation attorneys.

The Shiawassee Bar, imbued with a great sense of tradition, supports many programs and events of importance to the community. Even the Shiawassee legal secretaries are active there, showing their commitment to their community and the legal profession by funding scholarships through flower sales for students who wish to pursue careers in law. There is also a traditional softball game between attorneys and law enforcement officers, which raises money to purchase teddy bears that are given to children who come in contact with law enforcement personnel in times of crisis.

Special Purpose Bars

Wolverine Bar Association

The Wolverine Bar Association was established by a number of African-American attorneys during the 1930s and is one of the oldest and largest associations of primarily African-American attorneys in the nation. It was organized to coordinate the energies and talents of the increasing number of African-Americans admitted to the practice of law throughout Michigan. Membership in the Wolverine Bar is inclusive and has always remained open to any member of the State Bar in good standing, without regard to race, creed, or national origin. The Wolverine Bar is an affiliate of the National Bar Association, which is a national organization of primarily African-American attorneys.

The Wolverine Bar Association is dedicated to promoting equal opportunity and advancement in the legal profession for its members, and maintaining equal access and equal justice under the law for members of the community. The Wolverine Bar promotes the professional development of its attorney and law student members by providing continuing legal education seminars where topics of substantive law and professional ethics are presented. The Bar also provides a mentoring program where new lawyers can benefit from the legal knowledge, guidance, and moral support of experienced attorneys in the same practice area.

The Wolverine Bar offers financial assistance and opportunities for law students to obtain meaningful legal experience by awarding scholarships, which are made possible, in large part, through generous contributions from Ford Motor Company and proceeds from the Damon J. Keith Community Spirit Award Luncheon. Through the establishment of the Wolverine Bar’s Summer Associate Program, law students gain substantive legal experience by working with a participating employer in the Detroit Metropolitan area. Participating employers have included private law firms, corporations, and governmental agencies. In partnership with the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association and the Association of Black Judges of Michigan, the Wolverine Bar also sponsors a Bar Passage Program in which lawyers tutor law students and offer practical advice on passing the bar exam.

Consistent with its historic commitment to community service, the Wolverine Bar cooperatively works with other bar associations to actively support, educate, and strengthen the community by jointly sponsoring programs to develop leadership potential among youth. The Wolverine Bar and the D. Augustus Straker Bar jointly sponsor the Dr. Martin Luther King Advocacy Program; the Bar joins the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association in sponsoring an annual Law Day program; and, in partnership with the Detroit branch of the NAACP and law firms from the Detroit Metro area, the George W. Crockett, Jr. Law School has been established to help the public and community participants gain a better understanding of the legal process.

Italian American Bar Association

The Italian American Bar Association holds approximately eight dinner meetings throughout the year. Dinner meetings are a mix of social and professional activities. For example, last year, State Bar of Michigan President J. Thomas Lenga served as keynote speaker at the September dinner meeting. In contrast, the March dinner meeting was an indoor Bocci game (held once each year) against the Irish American Lawyers of Michigan. The Bar’s main event each year is its dinner dance, held in November.

Meetings of the Italian American Bar Association provide members with opportunities for professional enhancement, networking, and continuing legal education. At no cost to members, guest speakers such as judges, prosecuting attorneys, and experts in various areas of law are brought in to address the Association.

The Italian American Bar holds an Annual Meeting, Justinian Night, which provides members with an opportunity for professional networking. The Bar invites local circuit, district, and probate judges and members of the federal bench to this event in an effort to reach out and bring the judiciary and the Bar together. The Association also announces its law student scholarship award recipients during this event. These competitive scholarships are based on merit and the Bar is proud of its continuing provision of these scholarships to deserving law students.

The Bar’s annual dues are $50. As part of membership in the Italian American Bar Association, members also automatically become members of the National Italian American Bar Association (NIABA). Dues are $10 for those 65 years of age or older, if they also wish to maintain an NIABA membership. If not, dues are waived for those over 65 years of age. The NIABA is comprised of attorneys throughout the country and provides a wonderful vehicle for professional, cultural, and personal opportunities.

Women Lawyers Association of Michigan

The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM) was established in 1919 when five women attorneys banded together to provide support for one another in what was then a pre-eminently masculine profession. The Association was founded for the purposes of "securing the rights of women in society, advancing the interests of women members of the legal profession, promoting improvements in the administration of justice, promoting equality and social justice for all people, improving relations between the legal profession and the public, and encouraging the continued legal education of lawyers."

Although originally established in Detroit, the Association is currently located throughout the state and consists of 14 regions, which are made up of one or more counties. The size of each region varies from 11 members to over 150.

The WLAM has been active in its educational role over the years and has sponsored periodic Women in the Law conferences. This year, the Conference will be held May 12-13 and will address six topics of concern to female legal practitioners. The Association also began a job search conference in 1989-90, which continued until its merger as one of the three tracks in the State Bar’s Opening Doors Conference in 1994. The Association has also held programs on employment policies, the glass ceiling, and court reorganization and reform.

The WLAM sponsors specialized training annually for attorneys who volunteer to provide pro bono services in the areas of family law and domestic violence and to seek other ways to help funding crises in legal services agencies.

In 1983, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Foundation was founded. As its primary mission, the foundation promotes programs that enhance civic education through law, and promotes scholarships and opportunities for women at primary, secondary, college and law school levels. Each spring, the Foundation awards $1,250-$2,500 to five women law students on the basis of their demonstrated leadership capabilities, community service in such areas as family law, child advocacy or domestic violence, or potential for advancing the position of women in society. Candidates for the award may be full or part-time students at a law school in Michigan. The Foundation also financially supports the Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament of the Center for Civic Education Through Law.

Hispanic American Bar Association

The Hispanic American Bar Association was established in 1991 to, among other things, support the delivery of legal services to minority communities. Among the many efforts made by the Bar in this area is work on the implementation of a certification program for foreign language interpreters in state courts. The Bar has co-sponsored and funded the publication of a Spanish language booklet in the area of youth and children’s services, and has annually participated in Law Day activities.

The Hispanic American Bar promotes participation by its members in community affairs and co-sponsorship of activities with community based organizations. The Bar provides opportunities for professional networking, peer recognition, and leadership.

The Bar publishes a quarterly newsletter and schedules beneficial membership activities including opportunities to engage members of the judiciary in social and professional settings. Activities like the Bar’s annual Spring Gala dinner dance, and events with guest speakers that have included prominent members of the federal and state judiciary, past presidents of the State Bar, and national community activists, have received wide acceptance by the membership and the legal community.

The Bar has raised funds for various scholarship programs, and funds have also been raised or contributed to community based organizations. Since the Hispanic Bar’s creation, it has provided support to members’ causes not inconsistent with the objectives of the organization.

The Future of Affinity Bars

Affinity bars are a vital part of the legal community throughout Michigan. Membership in these bar associations is a wonderful way to create strong bonds, not only within the legal community, but the local community as well. To ensure the continued strength and longevity of affinity bars in your area, it’s important that you give them your support. Not only will you build a strong professional network, you will also play an important role in your community and ensure that lawyers maintain a positive and visible presence for years to come.

If you have an interest in learning more about the affinity bars in your area, please contact your local or special purpose bar directly, or call Lisa Allen-Kost, State Bar Assistant Executive Director of Affinity Bars and Member Services, at 800-968-1442, extension 6304 for more information. The State Bar publishes a Pictorial Directory of the presidents and executive directors of Michigan’s affinity bars that is available free-of-charge by calling Senior Administrative Assistant—Member Services, Judy Clark at 800-968-1442, extension 6322.

The Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association: Focusing on the Future

The Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA) is the oldest local bar association in Michigan, with a rich, 163-year history. The DMBA was established in 1836 and was originally referred to as the Bar of the City of Detroit before changing its name to the Detroit Bar Association in 1897 and, finally, to the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association in 1996. Although the Bar has changed its name a few times over the years, the DMBA’s commitment to committee and section work, its excellent working relationship with the judiciary, and its dedication to community service have remained constants and have continued to grow stronger within the Association.

A large part of the DMBA’s history has always been its law library, which was officially established in 1853. The library remained a staple in the legal community for 146 years until its closing this past summer. The closing of the library evolved from a number of factors, including the legal community’s change in preference over the years for Web-based and electronic legal research. Less than 200 people per year used the library on a regular basis and, with an annual operating cost of $350,000, too many resources were being devoted to a service used by too few members. On a positive note, without the operational expense of the law library, member dues will be reduced in the new dues cycle, which begins in April 2000.

The closing of the DMBA’s law library left the DMBA with over half of its leased space in Downtown Detroit’s Buhl Building vacant. The vacant space, accompanied by an inability to sub-lease, has led the DMBA to move their offices from the Buhl Building to the Penobscot Building. Although the move was not in the DMBA’s plans, the Association is pleased with the new Bar Center, which is still conveniently located between the Circuit and Federal Court Buildings in Downtown Detroit. In addition, DMBA Executive Director Z. Kay Fitzpatrick, a former executive with the State Bar of Michigan, reports that the Penobscot’s management is in the process of designing a state-of-the-art conference center within the building that will be available for DMBA seminars and larger meetings. The lease agreement also gives them first option on additional space as needed as the Bar continues to increase in membership, programs, and services.

Despite the recent changes that the DMBA has undergone, the Association continues its proud tradition of service to lawyers and citizens and offers more programs in professional development than it ever has. The DMBA has over 2,000 members, and many of the DMBA’s past presidents have gone on to provide leadership to the State Bar of Michigan, the courts, and other interests of the organized bar. The DMBA is active with the Michigan Association of Bar Executives, National Association of Bar Executives, and Great Lakes Organization of Bar Executives (GLOBE). In fact, the Association will be the local host for the GLOBE meeting in October 2000. The DMBA will also be producing a Pictorial Directory in 2000, for the first time in 10 years.

The DMBA is an Association with a rich heritage. With the continued support of its members, and the leadership of its Board, president, new executive director, and staff, the Association will see its strong presence in Detroit’s legal community grow for years to come.

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