GR Trio Take Office As State Bar Leaders

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — For the first time in recent history, and quite possibly for the first time ever, Grand Rapids has three attorneys from two local law firms that hold a handful of key positions with the State Bar of Michigan.

Bruce Neckers and Bruce Courtade, of Rhoades, McKee, Boer, Goodrich & Titta, are  State Bar president-elect and chairman of the Representative Assembly, respectively. While Scott Brinkmeyer, of Mika, Meyers, Beckett & Jones, is the organization’s secretary.

Neckers, who currently serves as vice president, assumes the State Bar’s top post in September, taking over then from current president Thomas Ryan.

“The future of the Bar is here in Grand Rapids,” said Ryan, a solo practitioner from Sylvan Lake.

The three also sit on the 10-member Executive Committee.

Having the trio at the top of the state’s leadership could be the most significant event for the city’s legal profession since local attorney Jon Muth broke a longstanding tradition and served nearly two terms as president, a first in State Bar history. Normally, presidents only serve for a single, one-year term.

Neckers felt that having three city-based attorneys so prominently involved at the state level recognized the high quality of law practiced here and the Bar’s interest in that practice.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on the quality of the practice here. The quality of the judiciary and the quality of the lawyers is as good as we encounter anywhere, and is better than it is in most parts of the state and country,” he said.

“But I think we’re realizing that there is a lot of mutual benefit that can come from State Bar involvement. The mutual benefit being that we have a lot to offer to the State Bar of Michigan and, in turn, we get a lot back from that.”

Neckers explained that the legal community has benefited from the State Bar, namely for the local Access to Justice program -- an annual development campaign undertaken by law firms and solo practitioners to fund Legal Aid of West Michigan.

“I think what the State Bar does could not be done by the Grand Rapids Bar Association alone.

"The Legal Assistance Center (going into the new county courthouse) is happening in part because of a large grant from the State Bar Foundation,” said Neckers, who has been actively involved at the state level for the past six years.

“I think the lawyers of Grand Rapids are realizing that there is a lot of benefit in the collective group that lawyers can provide, and I think we’ve learned that there is a whole other aspect to the practice of law that occurs in other parts of the state and in rural areas.”

Before being elected secretary, Brinkmeyer served as a board member, treasurer and a two-term assembly chairman. His term as secretary ends in September.

But Brinkmeyer told the Business Journal that he plans to run for the vice presidency then and, if elected, run for president. He has been heavily involved with the State Bar since the early 1990s.

“It’s been an incredibly wonderful experience from my perspective. I’m 51 and was in my early 40s when I became associated, on an elected basis, with the State Bar. It was at the goading of then-president Jon Muth that I became involved,” he said.

After all those years of dedicated service to the State Bar, Brinkmeyer trusts that having him, Neckers and Courtade near the top means that the local legal community will have a stronger say in matters at the state level.

“What I hope it means is that Grand Rapids has retained a recognized voice at the highest level of our organized profession,” he said.

“The Bar is governed by the board, and for many years it was largely comprised of lawyers from the southeast Michigan corridor.”

Courtade, a recipient of the John W. Cummiskey Award for his pro bono work, heads the Representative Assembly, the policy-making body of the State Bar, and has been actively involved with the organization for the last seven years.

Courtade said that GR lawyers have become more involved at the state level because of the leadership displayed by their predecessors, who paved the way for the current crop of attorneys. Holding three top posts at the State Bar, he felt, showed that the reputation of the city’s attorneys is expanding statewide.

“I think it reflects the growing respect and growing presence of Grand Rapids lawyers around the state. For years everybody has known about the high quality of practice locally,” he said.

“And I think now that we’ve got three of us on the Executive Committee, it just sort of reflects that growing recognition.”

In addition to the Executive Committee seats, Neckers also chairs the Strategic Planning Committee and Brinkmeyer heads the Membership Services Committee.

As for Muth’s accomplishment, one that may never be duplicated, he served two terms as State Bar president.

While president-elect, Brinkmeyer said Muth was asked to move to the top post when then-president Michael Dettmer became the U.S. Attorney for West Michigan and had to step down. Then Muth served his term.

“He served for darn near two years,” said Brinkmeyer, “which is the longest term that any president has ever held that position in the state.”

Membership in the State Bar is required for all licensed attorneys in Michigan and the organization has roughly 33,000 members.

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