If a crisis has affected you or someone you know in the legal community, the State Bar of Michigan wants to help! Their newly implemented SOLACE Program offers support in the event of a catastrophic illness, accident, or event; and this help is available to all legal professionals and law students in Michigan. On Balance hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Molly Ranns welcome Bruce Courtade and Rob Mathis to discuss how this program operates and how Michigan’s legal community can learn more and get involved in the SOLACE network.
Bruce Courtade is an attorney at Rhoades McKee and a former president of the State Bar of Michigan.
Robert Mathis is the pro bono service counsel for the State Bar of Michigan.
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 here on Legal Talk Network.
Molly Ranns: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance podcast on Legal Talk Network. I’m Molly Ranns.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We’re very pleased to have Bruce Courtade, shareholder with the Grand Rapids law firm Rhoades McKee and the 78th president of the State Bar of Michigan and Rob Mathis, State Bar of Michigan’s Justice Initiatives counsel join us today to talk about the SOLACE program. So Bruce and Rob, would you share some information about yourselves with our listeners?
Bruce Courtade: Sure, thank you. This is Bruce. I am as mentioned the past president of the State Bar of Michigan. I’m a commercial litigator and construction attorney with Rhodes McKee in Grand Rapids Michigan and I am the very proud husband and father of Jennifer DeLessio who’s also a Michigan State Bar member and Jessi Courtade and today’s her 29th birthday so happy birthday Jessi.
Robert Mathis: I am Robert Mathis. As JoAnn said, I am the Justice Initiatives counsel with the State Bar of Michigan. Prior to joining the State Bar almost 11 years ago, I used to be the managing attorney of a legal aid program. And currently in my position at the bar, I do a lot of the State Bar’s access to justice work and really try to promote pro bono legal services. And it’s kind of special having Bruce here today because he was the 1991 recipient of the biggest pro bono award in Michigan, the Kaminsky award. So thank you Bruce for all your pro bono service and your commitment to access to justice.
Bruce Courtade: My pleasure, thank you.
Molly Ranns: Wonderful. Thank you both so much for being here. Rob, let’s start with you. Can you tell our listeners what is SOLACE?
Robert Mathis: Well SOLACE is a brand new State Bar of Michigan program that is designed to help members of Michigan’s legal community and their immediate families in critical need because of a sudden catastrophic illness, injury or event. And really the way that SOLACE helps members is really quite simple; that members in need go to the SOLACE website and submit a request for assistance form and that is then transmitted to the SOLACE team and the SOLACE team will work with that member in need to craft an email that will briefly outline that member’s need and ways that other members in the legal community can help and the email is then sent to all members of Michigan’s legal community that have opted in to receive SOLACE emails and also members of SOLACE partner programs which currently includes most of the largest bar associations in Michigan.
And so, if you account all of the members that have opted in and all of the members that are members of those bar associations, we have more than 8,000 members of the SOLACE network right now. They’re ready to step in and help other members if they are willing and able to do so.
JoAnn Hathaway: Bruce, you’re very active within the bar and have many different roles and responsibilities within the community so what made you want to get involved with this particular program?
Bruce Courtade: This program just hit accord with me because it goes back to the very roots of why I wanted to become a lawyer and why I think most lawyers wanted to actually go into the legal profession and that is, we are a service provider, we’re a help organization. Most people when you ask them why do you want to become a lawyer, they say I want to help people, I want to solve problems. And this is unnatural because as we get more established in our legal practices, we get big networks of clients and contacts and people we know in our various communities and this is a no-brainer where somebody within our profession, somebody affiliated with our profession needs help and it gives us an easy opportunity just to reach out to somebody we know and say, “Hey, this person is in need, can you help him out?” It’s an easy, quick, limited involvement that we get a chance to help somebody out who needs assistance. So it just falls right in with everything that I was looking for before I went to law school and became a lawyer.
Molly Ranns: Such a great program. Rob, can you help our listeners understand who is eligible for SOLACE and generally, how the program works?
Robert Mathis: So every member of Michigan’s legal community is eligible to participate in SOLACE either requesting assistance through SOLACE or being able to offer help to those members in need. And we define members of Michigan’s legal community as judges, lawyers, court personnel, paralegals, legal assistants, legal administrators, law students and their immediate families. So anyone in that population that has a sudden catastrophic illness, injury or event can request help through SOLACE. And so, when a member needs help, they simply go to the mishbar.org/solace website and they complete and submit a confidential SOLACE request for assistance form.
Now that form will go to the SOLACE team and a member of the team will be identified to work one on one with the member in need or their designee to prepare an email that will briefly outline the need of the member and what type of assistance they are requesting. Now that request for assistance email message will be sent to all members of Michigan’s legal community that have opted in to receive SOLACE emails or they are a member of a SOLACE partner association. When that email goes out and when it reaches a member that believes that they have the ability to assist, they will send an email to SOLACE at mishbar.org with a brief description of how they can help and that member wanting to help is then connected with the member in need. At that point, the State Bar of Michigan and SOLACE is out of the mix and then the member in need and the member helping will then coordinate assistance and how to make that exchange.
JoAnn Hathaway: So many people might be wondering about a financial component to SOLACE. Bruce, how is this program funded?
Bruce Courtade: Okay. As far as funding, that’s one of the beauties of this thing. No member’s dues are going to pay for this program. It’s all self-funded by the donations of the participating members and in fact, most of the requests are not going to be financial in nature at all. So going to what Rob was just saying, an example might be somebody who has a family member who is on a mission trip to Peru and is diagnosed with some form of cancer and they need assistance getting that person back to the U.S. and getting lined up with a specialist in that type of cancer.
So the email then goes out to the SOLACE community and you may have a member who says like me I am terrible with using my frequent flyer miles but I can donate them to that person so that person can then use my frequent flyer miles to get their family member back home. And then Rob may have a contact, his cousin is an oncologist who specializes in that form of cancer. So Rob then sees the email and says, “Well I can’t help out with the travel but I’ll hook you up with my cousin and my cousin can then sit down and meet with the member in need.”
So the financial impact is minimal. It does not affect the State Bar’s budget and hopefully we’re not going to get many requests for financial assistance. When we do, we will treat them appropriately but a lot of this is not financial at all.
Robert Mathis: That’s right Bruce. It’s all about really the connections that lawyers and other members of the legal community have and it really is amazing that someone could be experiencing a really devastating situation and they see no way through it but someone else sees an immediate solution, they make a phone call and it resolves itself. So in many cases, having someone in the SOLACE network on your side to advocate for you, to help you, really can make a huge difference in the lives of people who at some point, may feel like there’s no hope.
Bruce Courtade: Yeah, and the key to it again, from the State Bar’s perspective, I don’t want to minimize the State Bar staff involvement.
I mean this idea percolated up through State Bar staff and the State Bar helps with the development implementation and administration of the program but the State Bar is not out reaching into attorney’s pockets. This is something that is coming not from the pocket but from the heart.
Molly Ranns: It sounds like the help provided to the members of Michigan’s legal community in need is voluntary and it sounds like it’s based entirely on the goodwill of other members of the legal community which is amazing. And I’m hearing that it sounds like help can be provided within days, within hours or even within minutes in some circumstances so this program sounds wonderful. Rob, in looking at the website, there’s some information about SOLACE program partners. Can you talk a little bit about the program partner’s piece of SOLACE?
Robert Mathis: So there are well over 100 local and affinity bars in Michigan so the SOLACE team has reached out to — in phase one of the outreach to the bar associations to recruit the largest bar associations in terms of members to become SOLACE partners. And so, when a member submits a request for assistance, that request will go to the bar association leader and then that leader will then distribute that request for assistance to all their members.
What’s really great about SOLACE and the way that the State Bar is partnering with these bar associations is because, especially in the current pandemic situation, the local bar associations see that there are many other members in need of some assistance. And so, this is a great way for the bar associations to partner with the State Bar but also offer a helping hand and SOLACE assistance to their members that may be struggling and just need some assistance when they’re going through a tough time. So it’s really a great way for State Bar and all the bar associations in Michigan to support their members and really give them a helping hand if they need it.
JoAnn Hathaway: Bruce, you already gave a wonderful example of how a family member could be helped, are you aware and can you give some examples of what type of assistance has been provided through SOLACE possibly in other states and maybe even share some other examples for our Michigan listeners?
Bruce Courtade: Absolutely. And going back to, I think it was Molly who asked the first question about why I wanted to get involved in this program. I’ll tell a personal story here going back years before SOLACE was even a thought. I had a family member who was diagnosed with a serious disease and I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to turn, it was a complete shock. I had been involved through the years with a number of activities with the University of Michigan, my alma mater, so I just sent out an email to two friends; the executive director of the alumni association and somebody who worked in U of M’s development office and said, “Guys, I need help.” And within 10 minutes, the phone rang and the head of the department from U of M’s hospital with that particular illness was on the phone talking to me and giving me a referral that was desperately needed and which made my life and my family’s life a lot easier. So that’s the type of thing that SOLACE can do except using the entire legal community not just Bruce Courtade’s contacts at the University of Michigan.
Throughout the country where SOLACE has been implemented already, there have been all sorts of things that have happened. There was an instance when the quadriplegic wife of a solo practitioner needed rehab help and a SOLACE member helped navigate discussions with their insurance company to make sure that she got the required treatment. Another one where a law student faced foreclosure dealing with a serious illness, in that instance a SOLACE member was able to negotiate with the mortgage company and prevent the pending foreclosure. Even things as seemingly small as it seems when an attorney was away from home receiving cancer treatment, a SOLACE member volunteered to take care of the attorney’s dog. So things like that, it doesn’t have to be a big grandiose thing.
It doesn’t have to be a donation of a huge amount of money. Just giving your time and putting somebody in contact with somebody who might help can ease the person’s mind and make their life easier and that’s what the intent of the program is.
Molly Ranns: Thanks so much Bruce. Thanks for those examples and the personal example as well. I think our listeners will really be able to identify with that. Rob, you’ve talked a little about program partners. What about if you’re an individual say a law student or a lawyer a judge or just a member of the legal community, how can individuals get involved with this really great program?
Robert Mathis: Individual members that want to get involved can simply go to the SOLACE website and again, that’s mishbar.org/solace and the newly designed and streamlined website has a button that says opt in to SOLACE. Simply click that button, provide your email address and from that point on, whenever a member submits a SOLACE request for assistance form, that member that has opted in will get notice of that communication. Of course, when a member opts in anytime in the future if they want to opt out, they can but the system for opting in is quite simple.
JoAnn Hathaway: Is there any additional information either of you would like to share about the SOLACE program with our listeners?
Bruce Courtade: First off, I would like to congratulate the State Bar for implementing a program like this. It really is it’s a great opportunity for our members to give back in an easy way that can really make a significant difference in somebody’s life when they need it the most. I love even the name of the program because we’re offering SOLACE to members at a time in their lives where they just need a helping hand and this is an opportunity with very little involvement, very little effort to just use the network that you’ve already created through your years of practice as an attorney and even if you’re a brand new attorney through people that you’ve met throughout your life to just be able to reach out and help somebody in need, what a great thing. So I encourage all State Bar members, everybody affiliated with the State Bar to take advantage of this program. It’s one of the best things that’s come along in years in my estimation and I’m honored to be given the opportunity to help out.
Robert Mathis: Yeah, I’ll just follow up. I’m really, really thankful that the State Bar’s executive director Janet Welch was aware of this program. She came to us in July of last year and said this is a great program. We really need to bring this to Michigan. We really need to be able to offer SOLACE assistance to our members. So we got to work and we’ve been really designing the Michigan program from the ground up. One reason why the reception has been so great already is because our SOLACE team which Bruce is the chair is made up of top-notch mini past presidents of the Bar, future presidents of the State Bar that are really committed and dedicated to supporting the members of Michigan’s legal community.
If folks want to read a lot more information, a lot more background about SOLACE program in the June 2021 Bar Journal which should be out in just a couple days, there is a fantastic article on the SOLACE program that was authored by Ms. Molly Ranns. It’s a great article, provides great information and we are as far as the roll out to Michigan on a large scale that’s going to begin in early July, there will be an e-blast to all State Bar members in the early part of July and then after that, there’s going to be a social media blitz and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that the message gets out to our members and not just of the State Bar but members of the entire Michigan legal community that if they need assistance, it’s available and if folks want to help, they will be given an opportunity to help.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well this sounds like such a wonderful program. It looks like we’ve come to the end of our show.
We’d like to thank our guest today Bruce Courtade and Robert Mathis for a wonderful program.
Molly Ranns: If our listeners would like to follow up with either of you, what’s the best way for them to do so?
Bruce Courtade: As far as contacting me, my email is [email protected] or my direct dial right to my desk is (616) 233-5152. I’d love to hear from anybody who’s looking for more information and is willing to help out.
Robert Mathis: This is Robert. If folks are looking for more information about SOLACE, I would strongly encourage them to read that June Michigan Bar Journal article. Visit the SOLACE website and feel free to contact me directly at my email address [email protected] and my direct dial telephone number is (517) 346-6412. And if you want to send an email to SOLACE, it’s [email protected]. Just know that if you send an email to SOLACE or you submit a request for assistance, it is our goal to respond within 48 hours. In most cases, significantly less amount of time. Whenever a request comes in, it really starts the wheels moving fast and we want to be able to get in motion and try to coordinate assistance for our members in need as quickly as possible.
Molly Ranns: Wonderful! Thank you both so much.
Bruce Courtade: Thank you Molly and JoAnn.
Robert Mathis: Thank you Molly and JoAnn.
Molly Ranns: Thank you. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan On Balance podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnn Hathaway.
Molly Ranns: And I’m Molly Ranns. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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