A Golden Get-Together

April 28, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — As part of its annual Law Day Celebration on Thursday, the Grand Rapids Bar Association will recognize three attorneys for their five decades of legal practice in the city.

The careers of Timothy Conroy, Charles Lundstrom and Thomas Winquist will be highlighted and celebrated at the luncheon as the association presents each of them with its 50-year award.

Conroy formed his own firm, which still exists today. Lundstrom and Winquist were partners at Warner Norcross & Judd, arguably the city’s largest law firm.

Winquist earned his law degree from the University of Michigan and practiced business law by representing a host of small companies and family-owned businesses.

“He was an outstanding lawyer who was a very zealous advocate for his clients. He was one who not only advised his clients to do what was legal, but to do what was right,” said Wally Knack, an attorney at Warner Norcross who worked with Winquist at the firm for 35 years.

“Tom had a very high sense of ethical obligation to his clients. He gave them good advice, but he still didn’t want them to do what he felt was the wrong thing to do. Tom was very clear on that,” added Knack, who still works at the firm.

As an example of how strongly his peers respected and valued Winquist, they chose him as the firm’s initial managing partner in the first such election the firm held in 1980. He stayed in that post for six years. When Winquist retired, his partners called him an effective leader; a robust advocate; a wise counselor, guide and philosopher; and a friend.

“He really was our leader at a time when our firm was really growing substantially. When I joined the firm, there were 18 of us in 1963. When Tom was managing partner, we were up to 60 or 70. Of course, now we’re over 200,” said Knack.

But Winquist, who grew up in Rockford and worked at his father’s bait shop as a young man, played a vital role in shaping the firm long before he became managing partner.

“He was key in our recruiting efforts back in the 1960s. A decision at the firm was made not to just continue to hire Michigan graduates and a few from Harvard, but to go out and try to attract people from around the country, and Tom led that recruiting effort. As a result, he was key in hiring lawyers like myself. I’m from upstate New York and went to school at Harvard and Columbia,” said Knack.

“He was key to the hiring of a great many of our lawyers who have been with us through their entire professional career.”

Lundstrom was born in Manistique and also earned his law degree from Michigan. He concentrated his practice in the fields of trusts and estates, estate planning and closely held business matters. In fact, he started the trusts-and-estates practice at Warner Norcross in 1965, and for years he was the trusts-and-estates practice until he grew the field for the firm.

“He was good in estate planning for people, in part, because he also represented so many small businesses here in Michigan, many of which grew to larger businesses. Because he worked with the small-business people, he knew what their needs were and what their worries were,” said Knack of Lundstrom’s efforts to help them plan for their families and their futures.

“He was outstanding in this kind of work.”

After he became a Warner Norcross partner in 1963, the same year that Knack did, Lundstrom served as secretary of the partnership for 25 years. He also became a mentor to other attorneys at the firm and encouraged them to get to know all the lawyers in the city.

“He said you’ve got to get to know your fellow lawyers and always be open, honest and friendly with them. Agree to make adjournments, if you have to, but always remember to put your clients first,” said Knack of the advice Lundstrom gave to his peers.

“He was conservative in his nature and he had the highest ethical standards. Charley in many ways is like Tom. He said if there is a doubt as to whether it is ethical, don’t do it, and that is what you advise your clients. He was aggressive, but he wasn’t going to step over the line that he felt a lawyer should uphold.”

After practicing law at a couple of the city’s larger firms for a few years, Conroy decided to start his own firm in 1965. The Battle Creek native, who now lives in Florida and celebrated his 75th birthday there a few weeks ago, was a founding partner of the firm now known as Conroy, Potyrai and Conroy. John Conroy, his son and a partner in the firm today, said his father was a general practioner in the field of law.

“He was good in probate, estate planning, wills, deed work, and then he expanded into personal injury and criminal defense, real estate and domestic and family law. So it was a very general practice for a long time,” said John Conroy.

John Conroy also said his father was a feisty advocate for his clients, one of his most impressive traits as an attorney.

“I mean he would fight for the little guy. He was always willing to put up a fight for the little guys against the big guys. That meant sometimes being deluged by the bigger firms, like the ones he came from, who were willing to put a bigger onus on him. He would take them on, slug it out and not give up,” he said.

“He had the ability to take on a case that maybe other people wouldn’t, and he had a true love of his clients and what their causes were. He always recognized that they never came in happy. Like going to the dentist or the mechanic — do you want to go? Not really. But when you have to, you’ve got to. In nearly 50 years, he never had a complaint against him from a client.”

Timothy Conroy moved to Grand Rapids following his junior year of high school. He contacted the late Father Joseph Murphy, then principal at Catholic Central High School, to tell him he wanted to attend his school after reading about the high school’s achievements on the playing fields.

“He ended up playing sports there, and he worked his way through his senior year at a butcher’s shop. He then went on to Aquinas (College) for two years before he attended law school.”

Timothy Conroy earned his law degree from the Detroit College of Law in 1958, but he passed the bar exam before he finished law school.

“Back then, I think the rules were different. He went to Aquinas for two-and-a-half years before he went to law school, because you didn’t have to have an undergrad degree,” said John Conroy.

The Federal Bar Association and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School are cosponsors of Law Day with the local association. U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Michigan Janet Neff is the featured speaker at the luncheon. Neff was the first female president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association. Winners of the bar association’s Liberty Bell, Distinguished Service and President’s awards will also be announced at the luncheon.

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