Buchanan Makes A Difference
Just one. And that's no lawyer joke.
But it was the how-many-lawyers-does-it-take jokes from late-night comedians, along with bashings by publicity-seeking politicians who were trying to cover up their own foibles, that inspired
So, through a series of advertisements — some of which won the Dignity in Advertising Award from the American Bar Association — Buchanan stressed integrity, honor, community service and other traits ingrained in the vocation, and began signing up small and medium-sized law firms that pledged to uphold those characteristics.
Primerus drew national attention. The Wall Street Journal described the society as the legal world's version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and wrote that choosing a Primerus firm meant a client was choosing integrity.
Today, the society has 100 independent firms and 1,200 attorneys as members. Its nine employees operate the society like a very large law firm that provides a selection of services to a number of practice groups.
"We say that Primerus lawyers are good people who just happen to be good lawyers. We also say that Primerus' role is dual. One is we help good lawyers and law firms find good clients, and two, we help good clients find good lawyers," he said.
"So, really, Primerus' role is to help good law firms that meet high standards get known in the community and help people in the community find good lawyers."
Buchanan has been a good one since 1962. He owns Buchanan & Beckering PLC with his son, Rob Buchanan, and daughter, Jane Beckering. All three attorneys were inducted into the Woodward/White Inc. "Best Lawyers in
"They've only got six law firms there in
"Seeing our small boutique firm that primarily represents individuals in major litigation, and to see our law firm be recognized in that way was tremendous. I'm very proud of that."
After graduating from
The 1977 lawsuit is best known as the "lawnmower case." The plaintiff was severely injured mowing his lawn when he was hit by a coat hanger that was buried in the grass. The mower threw the wire hanger back into the young man's chest. Buchanan broke from tradition in arguing the case, setting a few trends that are now routinely followed in court.
He presented the jury with "a day in the life" of his client, which the jurors could identify with as similar to their own — and did so by using video, long before it became commonplace in the courtroom.
"But you could really illustrate with these kinds of video tools," he said. "You have two responsibilities when you're working with juries: to educate and persuade. You've got to take the complicated and make it simple."
Buchanan did keep it simple and ended up educating and persuading the jury like no other attorney previously had, and the decision made banner headlines.
"We ended up getting the largest settlement — what happened at that time to be the largest settlement in any type of injury case in western
"If there was any single thing that really did a lot to boost my career, that was it. I became well known. After that, the University of Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education asked me to get on its speaking circuit and lecture lawyers on trial concepts."
John and his wife, Sheila, reside in
In his spare time, Buchanan flies his Beechcraft Bonanza and sails as often as he can with his family. He and Rob are classic car collectors. A 1949 maroon and tan Ford convertible is Buchanan's favorite in his collection, a car he fell in love with as a kid. And the Buchanan family recently got some very exciting news.
"Gov. (Jennifer) Granholm and the whole Democratic Party asked Jane to run for the Michigan Supreme Court. Jane is 41 and a tremendous lawyer. Her chances of winning are going to be tough, running against an incumbent. But Granholm personally asked her to run for the Supreme Court. So that is kind of a neat thing," he said.
Buchanan doesn't see any startling changes in his immediate future, except maybe getting to see his daughter move behind the bench. He plans to remain active with the law firm and the Primerus society, continue to fly and sail, and keep developing properties and restoring classic cars.
"I have no intention of retiring. I want to keep working as long as I possibly can. I think what keeps you young and healthy are work passions — being part of life and contributing," he said.
"Retirement is unemployment to me. You're no longer out there helping people. You're no longer making a difference in the world. And I can't do that. I can't sit and say, 'Well, I play golf and I travel.'"