In this episode of On Balance from the NEXT Conference 2018, hosts Samantha Meinke and Janet Welch talk to Jennifer Grieco and Donald Rockwell about the programs and initiatives that have meant the most to them as bar leaders. They discuss the limited scope representation issue, the Professionalism and Practice Summit, and what motivated them to serve in their leadership roles.
Jennifer Grieco is a shareholder at the law firm of Neuman Anderson Grieco, McKenney and the president of the State Bar of Michigan.
Donald G. Rockwell is the founder of Nill Rockwell, P.C., and the immediate past president of the State Bar of Michigan.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018: What Initiatives Matter Most to Bar Leaders?
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice, with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Samantha Meinke: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
I am Samantha Meinke sitting in today for your regular hosts, JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
Today, we are coming to you live from the State Bar of Michigan’s 2018 NEXT Conference and I am very lucky to be joined by the top leadership of the State Bar of Michigan. Our Executive Director Janet Welch, our newly sworn-in President Jennifer Grieco and our immediate past President Donald Rockwell.
I am going to turn the microphone over to these three because they know so much more about leadership than I do and I want to listen and learn, so take it away.
Janet Welch: Thank you Sam. I think I would like to start by asking Don Rockwell, who has just finished his year as President, what advice he would have to give to Jennifer Grieco, who is about to hit the road and go on the local Bar circuit and talk to our members.
So Don, you have been touting the works of the Bar, according to our strategic plan, what would you tell, Jennifer, the members have to say about what the State Bar is doing and what were the highlights of your interaction with the Bar?
Donald G. Rockwell: It’s been a quick year for me, but nevertheless, it’s been one year that I have been at the job of being President and my thoughts ironically have not changed, they are virtually the same as they were 365 days ago. And as you recall, I know Jennifer was awake when she was looking at me making my speech that I made it very simple that my recommendation that we stay the course, only because we have so much going on right now and it all stems from our 21st Century Practice Task Force, which evolved into our strategic plan which began, what, a year-and-a-half ago or so, two years ago.
Jennifer and I served on the committee to discuss it. We were able to memorialize the thoughts of our 21st Century Practice Task Force and our staff. I mean, Janet’s staff has been doing an outstanding job. We have so many oars in the water right now, there’s really no reason to change the course, and that’s why I say stay the course.
So with that said, I alluded to some of the programs that we have been engaged in and Jennifer, in her wonderful speech this afternoon, did much the same, really did talking about the things that have been transpiring here, which we know as leaders, because we are involved with it firsthand, but sooner or later our membership will figure it out and hopefully they will be impressed, as they should be.
We are in a changing environment ever more quickly and some of the things that Jennifer alluded to today, I think touch upon the need to change.
Janet Welch: Don, as you were traveling around the State talking to members, which programs or initiatives of the State Bar did you find requir the most explanation to members?
Donald G. Rockwell: It was the limited scope representation issue. Many members; in fact, almost all members didn’t hear at all about that and the ongoing work of our committee to come up with rules and regulations for it, they were not aware of it.
I found the most interest in that program when I talked to the Michigan District Judges Association. And if you spend any time in district court, you know you are dealing with pro per litigants, and so anytime a judge can get a lawyer, even on a limited scope appearance inside the courtroom, it will be of great help to the court. It makes things much more efficient and it allows of course the attorney to give advice to the clients, which the judge obviously can’t do.
That I found to be encouraging because I am hopeful that given my — my theme this whole year was access to justice, that the more we can get lawyers involved with people that otherwise would not see a lawyer and albeit on a limited scope basis, then I am all for it, I am absolutely all for it. So that I think would be the most surprised I witnessed from our colleagues about that proposal, and many seem to be interested in thinking along those lines.
And as I can tell you in my own career, I have never thought in terms of limited scope, never haven’t even considered it, even when clients are not paying me anymore, but I still feel the duty to finish their legal issue, legal problem in court, but if it was a limited scope representation and the clients certainly are aware of it and fully authorizing the limited scope presentation that I can now do things and let the clients go with a little more knowledge of their pro se, pro per appearances in court, but now they have this legal training behind them, which hopefully will help the judge too.
Janet Welch: So, Jennifer, as you are about to launch your year, of all the programs and initiatives of the State Bar, which ones are you most excited to be talking about?
Jennifer M. Grieco: Well, I am certainly excited to be talking about the Professionalism and Practice Summit that’s coming up on October 18th. Professionalism was — before this program was even in place something that was really important to me, it’s something I wanted to stress as the President of the Bar, because what we are seeing in society is, is that our citizens cannot even have a civil conversation with people that they don’t agree with, that don’t agree with them.
We are seeing bullying at all levels in society and we as lawyers, as professionals, civilians with a hallmark of our profession and we can’t have the lack of civility that we are seeing in society also infringe and impact even more the profession than it already has. And in fact, it’s time for us to be leaders in society, and people come to us because they are in a dispute or they do need the assistance and so it’s time for us to step up and treat the opposing counsel as an officer of the court with the respect that we all know each one of us is due, so that we can resolve our problems.
We don’t — citizens don’t need to have a bunch of lawyers fighting each other; they can fight without us, what we need to do is come to resolutions and in order to do that you have got to be civil.
So I am excited for the program. I think that we need to be working with our bench, we need to be working with the local Bar associations in order to make change. I mean, we could talk about this problem all we want, if we don’t get ahead of it soon, the lack of civility is just going to get worse in society.
And we have got a new group of lawyers, a new group of law students that this is what they are seeing every day on TV, this is what’s going on in the news and that’s not the way of this profession. So we need to get a hold of this problem now. Obviously, the bench needs to be involved in whether it’s sanctions or reprimands, but we all need to work together at this point in time. Even before I started in this role as President, I was reaching out with the President of the Oakland County Bar Association Jim Parks and we have already started having discussions with the chief judge in Oakland County, because we really need to figure out how can we solve this problem before it gets worse.
Donald G. Rockwell: I totally agree with Jennifer and it’s been an ongoing problem as long as I have been a lawyer, which is excess of 40 years now, but part of the problem I think and what we are going to be dealing with is that the client expectation is that they want their lawyer to have this pit bull mentality both in and out of court. And so, the lawyers are not unaware of that and so they recognize they have to appeal to a certain type of client, and in order to do that they have to look like pit bulls all the time, which obviously doesn’t do anyone any good whatsoever, certainly not the client ironically and certainly not the court.
Janet Welch: So, how do we educate the public that good lawyering and civility is good business and good for them?
Donald G. Rockwell: If we could remove several lawyer-based shows, TV shows, with Hollywood highlighting this pit bull mentality, that would be a large step. We can’t do that obviously, and Jennifer I think hit it, we really need to educate our lawyers and recognize that we are professionals first and that we have the public to serve, not their own personality inclinations and certainly not their unreasonable expectations of their clients.
Jennifer M. Grieco: I also think that all lawyers can come up with examples of how the lack of civility and professionalism in a case caused the client to spend more money. I mean there are concrete examples of this dispute did not need to happen, this dispute did not result in any improvement in your case, but it cost you this motion, these hearings, these issues, $20,000, $30,000, you put concrete numbers on what just being a jerk to your opposing counsel cost you in the case, that makes a difference. That’s showing you, you want to litigate — everybody wants to litigate their cases cheaper, quicker, more efficiently, lack of civility only causes more cost, more time and more inefficiency.
So you want to get to a resolution, you want to get out of this lawsuit, you don’t want to spend money on attorneys, and we hear that all the time, well, then allow us to do our job and be efficient.
Janet Welch: So Jennifer, you talked about working with local Bar associations to promote initiatives of the Bar, I am wondering if there is an opportunity, because collaboration is an essential element of our strategic plan, for us to be thinking about say collaborating with local Chambers of Commerce to spread the word about civility being a good practice for lawyers to have?
Jennifer M. Grieco: Absolutely, the business community is the one that we really need to reach out to.
I am a member of the Negligence Council and that has plaintiff and defense lawyers who are very civil towards each other the majority of the time, at least on the section, but there are also lawyers that work with each other on cases time in and time out, they work together on cases, and so they want to have that good relationship.
Probably one of the worst areas is commercial litigation, which I work in and you would have opposing counsel who you don’t see as often and it’s the corporate dollar that is driving how they respond in litigation and so really getting to the business client and through the Chambers of Commerce to say this is costing you more money, it is not effective, it’s not efficient, it’s not the result you really want I think is a great idea.
Donald G. Rockwell: I couldn’t agree more, but I will speak in my neck of the State of Michigan that it is the domestic relations disputes that we are having the most problems with civility, and again, it goes back to client expectation. The emotions are so high, for example, when a couple is divorcing and it’s not a matter of what’s fair, what is equitable, but rather it’s the matter of getting a piece of flesh or getting some kind of another emotional response from the other side and it is totally unproductive.
We have had judges in my area of Michigan where the judges will have the litigants go into chambers without the attorneys and the judge will then tell the clients that you are just costing the system and you are costing yourselves with this approach to your domestic relations matter.
Janet Welch: Of course we have an Alternative Dispute Resolution section that has been preaching the importance of civility and mediation and effective non-adversarial methods of resolving disputes.
Donald G. Rockwell: Excellent point. I do serve as a mediator quite often and I find it fascinating, at the outset of the mediation process the litigants are very emotional, they are very confrontational, but when the process continues there is almost a catharsis, where now the litigants have been able to say what they have wanted to say in the presence of the other opposing party and now they have had their “day in court” and the emotional level is tangibly reduced because of that.
And that’s a very good point, ADR, I think, and especially mediation, when the parties are actually in the same room looking at each other and I have found great results without having to go to court and get you to get resolution, which to me is a lot more efficient and actually it’s closer to what I would ever call justice, because now both parties can walk away saying okay, this is what I have agreed to.
Janet Welch: So Jennifer and Don, lawyers are notoriously busy working tremendously long hours, how did you find the time for Bar work and what was it about working with the Bar that inspired you to find the time to serve in the way that you have?
Jennifer M. Grieco: Well, when I first came to Michigan, because I did not live here and didn’t go to school here, I joined the Bar and wanted to become active in the Bar to meet new lawyers for networking to develop a book of business, even early on I knew that that’s something that I wanted to do, but being active in the Bar for me is more than just networking and meeting other lawyers, it’s my ability to serve the public and give back, and that was the whole reason I went to law school. It’s the whole reason why I wanted to be a lawyer was to feel like I was making a difference in community and society.
It’s hard to get that feeling on a day-to-day basis as a lawyer. Some cases at the conclusion you have that great feeling that you have done well for your client, you can get some good results, you can get maybe a decision. I have had a couple of those that have had an impact.
But the day-to-day practice, fighting with opposing counsel over discovery and working on billable hours and trying to collect your bills, that doesn’t do it for me. What does it for me is making a difference and helping those in society and you are able to do that collectively on this bigger scale with members of the Bar.
We are able to look at big picture issues, whether it’s indigent defense or access to justice, equality before the courts and we are able to work together, pull our resources, and really make an impact. And so that’s sustained me as a lawyer. Without that ability to give back through the Bar Association, it would be hard to continue the day-to-day grind. While I love practicing law, it is a grind, and it’s a business and this allows me to feel like I am being a professional, that I am following and complying with the rules of professional conduct, the preamble that says lawyers should be public citizens, so that’s why I am a member and have been active in the Bar because I get so much out of it myself.
Donald G. Rockwell: Janet, you ask a great question. I am not sure I have a great answer to it. You are asking really what has motivated me to volunteer my time, certainly I volunteered much of my time in a Bar setting, both at my local level and at the State Bar level, but I have also found that the lawyers that I see also volunteer their time and they do it beyond a Bar, they do it beyond our profession. They volunteer their time in nonprofit settings, and why do they do that, it’s that giving back I think that Jennifer is alluding to, it really is.
We are blessed to be professionals in a tremendous profession, because we help people and it’s the best of professions because of that, but you can help people beyond being a lawyer and being a volunteer in a leadership role as a lawyer, you can also do it in a charitable nonprofit community as well.
Now, what has motivated me? Networking is one thing that Jennifer talked about. I certainly preach that to young lawyers. I tell them the best thing they can do in their young careers is to meet other lawyers and what better way to do it than be active in your local Bar with other volunteering lawyers who are the best of the lawyers.
There is a certain irony here. It’s always the busiest lawyers that volunteer their time. It’s the other lawyers that are struggling that don’t perhaps have a full load of clients, they don’t seem to want to volunteer their time. Now, why is that? It seems to be almost an ironic situation. I don’t know why. It’s almost a dilemma to me.
And I certainly see it at the state level. I look at Jennifer, who has I am sure a huge book of business; I had a huge book of business when I started as a young lawyer. The firm I joined, they just handed me many, many files and I am thinking, I don’t have time to do it, but that didn’t detract from my desire to be very active at the local level.
And I learned, by the way, from the best of the lawyers that were around my area of the state, because I was able to interact with them, because they were volunteering their time and they were the best of lawyers and I am now in their presence that I am listening to what they are doing in their practice, it didn’t take me long to figure out this is what I want to do, to stay active with the best lawyers.
Jennifer M. Grieco: I certainly think that as lawyers we give back all the time, but being able to use your law degree and your Bar Association work or being able to do pro bono work and do something that nobody else can do; only lawyers can do pro bono, only lawyers can work on access to justice the way we do, only lawyers can work on reforming the law and have a better understanding of the law. So if you are not feeling satisfied with your law degree and how you are using your law degree in your day-to-day office setting and billing hours and fighting for cases and dealing with clients and opposing counsel, you can use your law degree to really help you feel like this has been a worthwhile endeavor and that you are getting a lot from your degree and you are giving back to both the profession and the community.
Samantha Meinke: I want to thank you guys so much for joining us today. Thank you Janet. Thank you Jennifer. Thank you Don.
I have one last question before I let you go, how can people find you guys online if they want to interact with you and gain some more insight into the knowledge you have?
Janet Welch: So find me, and I can’t believe I am saying this, @SBMExecDirector on Twitter.
Jennifer M. Grieco: You can find me on Twitter @jennifer_grieco.
Donald G. Rockwell: You can also find me on Twitter @DGRockwell, but you can also go on Google to the State Bar website and you will see an email address for me, Donald G. Rockwell, and the email is certainly something that I will respond to.
Samantha Meinke: Very good. Thanks again you guys for joining us and sharing all of your wisdom and knowledge, we very much appreciate it.
That’s all the time we have for this program. Thanks everybody.
I want to thank our listeners for tuning in. If you liked what you heard today, please take a moment to rate us in Apple Podcasts.
I am Samantha Meinke, standing in for JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent and we will see you next time for another episode of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
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