Change agent


Photos by Frank Weir

Ann Arbor attorney takes reins as State Bar president

By Frank Weir
Legal News

"I've known since the ninth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer when I saw a classmate being bullied," Lori Buiteweg, the new president of the State Bar of Michigan, told the inaugural luncheon audience last week at the State Bar's Annual Meeting in Novi.

"I wanted to speak for those who did not know how to speak for themselves."

A shareholder at Nichols Sacks Slank Sendelbach & Buiteweg in Ann Arbor, Buiteweg said that "being here is a surprise, honor, and delight that I will cherish the rest of my life. How did I get here? I have no story of overcoming adversity like some of our past presidents. Although I am the only person in my family to become a lawyer, it was my grandparents who overcame adversity and provided a better life for my parents, who provided a better life for me."

Buiteweg indicated that her "path to this podium is paved with a lot of hand-raising and volunteering to do things, from bar activities to being involved as a parent at my kids' schools, and engaging in community support programs."

She noted that friends often ask her how she gets everything done.

"I tell them it's easy, I don't watch television," she said with a smile, quickly adding that the "support" of many around her makes it possible.

Buiteweg praised the work of outgoing State Bar president Tom Rombach, and said that she plans to "carry forward" his efforts emphasizing collaboration.

"We will have continuity and consistency in our leadership," she promised.

Rombach, she said, "established the 21st Century Practice Task Force chaired by past presidents Julie Fershtman and Bruce Courtade.

"He brought together 166 top legal minds, both veterans and new leaders, in the state who are having frequent, intensive dialogue about: efficiency with which we deliver legal services; logistics of delivering legal services from anywhere to people located anywhere; the way we structure and own our law firms; and how our regulatory structure should adapt to change; how we bill; who can perform legal services; what can we do about law school debt; how do we bridge the law school to practice gap; how do we protect the public from lawyers retiring too late; what to do about technologically savvy entrepreneurs who are nibbling away at the corners of what we do."

On the last point, echoing remarks heard throughout the Annual Meeting, Buiteweg said, "If we don't wake up and run to greet them, to join forces with them or learn how to do what they do better, we're going to be eaten alive and lose our ability to protect the public."

In his farewell remarks, Rombach noted that Legal Zoom is "now the largest law firm in the United Kingdom."

Buiteweg said that, "These are all real concerns. They're tough issues. Issues we're working on in the 21st Century Practice Task Force. We want to hear from you about these concerns and I encourage you to call, e-mail or tweet your challenges, solutions, questions and ideas with the hashtag #SBMfuturelaw to take part in this conversation."

Buiteweg closed her remarks by calling for greater flexibility and adaptability in law practice.

"One of our challenges is accepting, incorporating, and adapting to our newest generation of lawyers, many of whom, thankfully, are less concerned about face time and billable hours than they are about advancing the greater good and having a sustainably happy work-life balance.

"For example, if young parents, both mothers and fathers, can raise their families in person, by working remotely, does that make them less valuable as lawyers? I do not think so."

She noted that surveys have shown associate attorneys to be the unhappiest professionals in the nation "because of their company culture, a culture focused almost solely on money.

"I encourage those of us who are in leadership positions to be keenly aware of what it takes to attract the best and brightest to our profession and keep them there. Let us be tireless and undaunted in our efforts.

"A good leader tells her organization what she expects of them," Buiteweg said. "I have three requests of you: take care of yourself; treat others as they want to be treated even if they don't reciprocate; give generously of your time and skills in pro bono work and bar work because when we give of ourselves, we feel like our work has real meaning beyond just 'making a living.'

"It improves our self-esteem, helps us go outside our own sphere of problems and needs, and gives our existence ultimate meaning," she said. "Let's make this a great year!"

Published: Fri, Oct 16, 2015