New law firm specializes in criminal defense

June 3, 2011
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Starting a law firm, just like any other business, can be a scary proposition, especially when the economy is as ugly as it has been. But that’s exactly what Andy Rodenhouse and Jessica Kuipers did.

Last November, they hung up the Rodenhouse Kuipers PC shingle in a downtown office on Front Street. They did so partly because they knew it was the best direction for them to take at the time, considering the job market.

“It’s scary, always, to start something new. But, essentially, because there are no jobs out there — even for attorneys — I was put in the position where my only choice was to hang out my shingle and go out on my own.

“But I’ll be honest: While it’s scary, it’s also very exciting,” said Rodenhouse, who was on his own for about a year before partnering with Kuipers.

“It was basically the same reason for me. I had applied for jobs but they wanted two to three years of experience. I obviously did not have that experience, and Andy asked me if I wanted to partner with him. I thought about it for a while and we decided to go ahead and do it,” said Kuipers.

It’s fair to say they might not have taken the risky leap without family members and others, such as the city’s legal community and the bar association, stepping up and offering them encouragement and support.

“The attorneys in Grand Rapids and West Michigan are a great group of people to work with. Our mentors have helped us a tremendous amount. So we’re not out there on our own. We have people that can assist us when we have questions so that we can do the best job we can for our clients,” said Rodenhouse.

“It’s a real close-knit community. You get to know everybody over a period of time, and the people that we’ve met have just been wonderful attorneys and they’re always helpful, even when they’re on the other side of the aisle,” he added.

Rodenhouse and Kuipers met while attending Thomas Cooley Law School, where both earned their law degrees in 2009. While at Cooley, Rodenhouse won top honors for his oral arguments in Moot Court, Mock Trial and Interviewing and Counseling. He also was a Law Review senior associate editor and captured the John D. Volker Award. Kuipers earned the certificate of merit in Moot Court, Criminal Procedure and Criminal Practice. He went into solo practice, while she worked for the Montcalm County prosecutor. Both served in the Public Defenders Office of Kent County.

“That was a wonderful experience. It really taught us both a lot about the criminal justice system, how the criminal procedure works in Michigan. It was our first real hands-on experience in handling cases,” said Rodenhouse.

“We gained a lot of friends through that externship, and they’ve become our mentors,” said Kuipers.

While criminal defense is the firm’s primary practice area, which includes cases of theft, assault, larceny, domestic violence and all misdemeanors, Rodenhouse and Kuipers also do environmental law. They handle litigation for contract, property and child custody disputes. They also do collision repair cases. That area comes from Rodenhouse’s experiences at his family’s business, Rodenhouse Body Shop Inc. on Remembrance Road in Walker, where he worked before he attended Cooley.

They also defend attorneys.

“Jessica and I have a practice area in what is known as the attorney grievance field, for when attorneys get grieved by their clients and end up being charged by the Michigan Bar Association. We partnered with a gentleman named John L. Cote. He goes by ‘Jack,’ and he was the very first person appointed as chairperson of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission,” said Rodenhouse, of the panel established by the state’s Supreme Court in 1978.

“He has become friends with us. He is also our mentor. He has been working with us and bringing us into his area of practice, which is the attorney grievance area.”

At the six-month mark of being in business, Kuipers said things were going well. She said she is picking up new clients and their attorney grievance practice is progressing nicely. Rodenhouse said that they’re hiring their first associate this summer. Christian Wynbelt, also a Cooley law school grad, will join Rodenhouse Kuipers after he passes the state bar exam in July. “We’re actually adding an employee during these times,” he said with a chuckle in reference to the economy.

Rodenhouse earned his undergraduate degree from Hope College and a Master’s of Management from Aquinas College. Kuipers earned a bachelor degree from Grand Valley State University, where she majored in psychology and minored in criminal justice. Kuipers is a life-long resident of Grand Rapids.

“We’re very fortunate here in West Michigan, and in Grand Rapids in particular, to have such a fine legal community. We have a lot of excellent attorneys, great legal minds and people working together to resolve issues. We do have a wonderful court system here,” said Rodenhouse.

“As far as criminal justice goes, it’s a very good working environment. We feel very fortunate to be here and to start a practice here. It’s a good environment.”

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