Beckering Takes A Seat

September 10, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — So here is the scenario. It’s a typical Friday afternoon and you’re running routine errands with the kids in the mini-van. Suddenly your cell phone rings. You think it might be your spouse calling with a change in dinner plans because friends are visiting, or maybe it’s your boss telling you that you now have an early Saturday morning meeting in Columbus and you see your weekend plans vanish.

Not even close — at least not for Jane Beckering.

When Beckering answered, it was Gov. Jennifer Granholm on the other end of the line, telling her to buy some black robes because she would soon be heading to the bench.

“The kids were talking and I had to get them to quiet down so that I could listen to the governor’s call. So it was fun to be with them at that time,” she said.

Starting today, Sept. 10, Beckering becomes a state appellate court justice. She replaces Judge Janet Neff who moved to the U.S. District Court, and she will hold the post through next year. She will serve on a three-justice panel for a court that covers the state’s 3rd District and she will review cases from 13 counties, including Kent and Ottawa.

Beckering has been a partner and member at Buchanan and Beckering PLC since 1995. She is a trial lawyer who specializes in medical negligence, catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases. She works at the firm with John C. Buchanan, her father, and Rob Buchanan, her brother. Her last day there, for at least the next 16 months, was Friday, when she handed over her client list to her partners.

“I can’t look at my first file at the court until I’ve stopped practicing law,” she said.

The phone call she got from the governor a few weeks ago wasn’t the first time Beckering had heard from Granholm. A year ago, Granholm asked her to run as a Democrat for the state Supreme Court against Justice Maura Corrigan, a Republican incumbent who has been on the court since 1998. It took some persistence by Granholm, though, to get her to run.

Jane Beckering
Company: Buchanan & Beckering PLC
Title: Partner/Member
Age: 42
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Cascade Township
Family: Husband, Ray; two daughters and a son
Business/community organizations: Michigan Trial Lawyers Association; Grand Rapids Bar Association Trustee; Justice Foundation of West Michigan; American Bar Association; Women Lawyers Association of Michigan; Women’s Progressive Alliance; Michigan Bar Association; and Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
Biggest career break: Joining her father, John C. Buchanan, at Buchanan & Bos in 1992.

“It was something I tried not to do. I politely declined about three times and finally got convinced to do it. But I found it very rewarding. I met so many wonderful people that care deeply about our justice system, about the state of the state, and are really engaged in trying to make our state strong,” she said.

“Usually as a lawyer you deal with your clients, you deal with opposing counsel, you run your firm and then you go home. This really took me outside of that comfort zone, from the day that I decided to the day I was campaigning. Within 24 hours, I was in front of 3,000 people giving a speech. It was very daunting to do that, but also exhilarating.”

Beckering began her stellar legal career at McDermott, Will & Emery, a large law firm in Chicago, after she earned her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin. She left the Windy City a few years later when her future husband, Ray Beckering, wanted to come here to practice criminal law. So Jane joined her father at his firm, then called Buchanan and Bos, in 1992 — a move that turned out to be the best career decision she has ever made.

“I’d say that was the smartest thing I ever did in my career, not only personally but professionally. The opportunity to work with my father was wonderful and very fulfilling to get to know him as an adult. But he is also an exceptionally talented lawyer who not only is good at what he does, but he loves the law,” she said.

“He taught me the skills to be an excellent trial lawyer and to uphold it as a profession with civility and integrity, and to never take it personally but always strive to do outstanding work.”

To never take accusations made by opposing attorneys in a heated case personally or to internalize to an extreme an unexpected loss can be difficult for some lawyers. But if an attorney can’t make that adjustment, Beckering said a career could be lost.

“You have to advocate, but you can never take it personally. And that’s when, I think, things tend to go awry for people who make that mistake.”

Jane met Ray the summer she was clerking at the Chicago firm while she was still in law school. Ray was doing the same at another firm where Jane’s roommate worked, and she introduced the two at a social event. Today, they live in Cascade Township with their three children. Daughters Marlee and Katy are 13 and 10 years old, respectively, and son Ray is 9.

“They still enjoy being around their parents. They’re a real pleasure,” she said.

Ray is an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division and heads the health care fraud section.

“He started that position about a year ago. Before then, he was in the drug crime division and did the King case that had a lot of youth selling drugs at high schools,” she said.

Beckering likes to run in her free time, not for office but for exercise. She reads whenever she can and heads up north with Ray and the kids as often as possible to go boating.

“Love my family, love my kids, and my husband is my best friend,” she said.

Surprisingly, Beckering didn’t start out wanting to practice law. The social sciences held her interest in high school because she enjoyed interacting with others, and she thought she’d complete a psychology degree in college. But after a summer of clerking at Buchanan and Bos as a college student, she immediately knew a legal career was in her future.

Back then she realized the law presented her with insights into many fields. And those fields, such as medical practice, business and science, offered her the human-interest stories she so desired. Well, now the law has presented her with yet another opportunity for new insights, but this time from behind a bench instead of before one.

With her immediate future in place, Beckering took a verbal look at what she was leaving behind in order to go forward.

“I think it’s a bittersweet time because I love what I do. I love practicing with my brother; he has just been a pleasure. As for my secretary, Shelly Sichta, we laugh every day, and humor is so important. I’m going to miss them and that environment. And I’m my own boss, and there is something that is very gratifying about that,” she said.

“So that’s difficult. But this is certainly an honor and a new challenge, life experience and a civic obligation. I feel very strongly about our system of justice — to participate in it and give back in some way by working for the state of Michigan.”

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