Strain, Murphy and Vander Wal firm celebrates over 100 years in the law


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

There is a little bit of uncertainty about exactly when Jay W. Linsey and Roland M. Shivel left the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and formed the law firm which is now Strain, Murphy and Vander Wal.

When partner Peter Bosch investigated the origins of the firm, he found that, although Linsey, Shivel and another attorney named Whitney came together originally in 1909, the two were more than likely still working as prosecutors part-time. By 1911, the other attorney had gone his separate way; Linsey and Shivel became a full-time firm.

Over the years, notable attorneys have joined the firm, and several have lent their names to its title. For example, the well-known Donald Worsfold, after whom a major Grand Rapids Bar Association award is also named, contributed to the name immediately prior to the current one: Linsey, Strain and Worsfold, P.C.

The current leadership decided to wait until 2011 to celebrate itscentennial.

Currently, Larry Vander Wal joins Bosch as a “managing partner” in the firm, but both say that is an unofficial title. “We try to do everything by consensus,” Bosch says, and Vander Wal adds, “It’s just that usually Peter and I pick up the day to day affairs.”

There is a nurturing culture evident in the firm, and Vander Wal and Bosch say that many of the firm’s lawyers stay from right out of law school until they retire. Dale M. Strain, who started with the firm in 1951 and also lent his name, is himself  now retired.

And on Nov. 26, retired Strain attorney Alan R. Smith, who also served as a part-time magistrate in the 63rd District Court, succumbed to a long illness. A 1968 gradate of wayne State University Law School, Smith specialized in general civil litigation, small business assistance, domestic issues, and criminal defense.

“He was a good lawyer, and we’ll miss him,” Bosch commented.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alan Smith Memorial Fund at the East Grand Rapids Public Library.

Strain, Murphy and Vander Wal focuses on commercial law, insurance, business and estate planning, personal injury litigation, probate, domestic relations, criminal law, and general practice. Many of its nine attorneys are trial lawyers.

The firm’s current law office, a welcoming and attractive one-story building, is very close to the new 63rd District Court on East Beltline. The original firm started out in the Houseman building and moved to what was then called the Grand Rapids Trust Building when it was new in 1926. That building, which changed its name to the Michigan National Bank Building in 1941, housed the firm until the East Beltline building was constructed in 1998.

The firm also has a presence in South Haven. An attorney from the area had joined the firm, and management decided that South Haven would be a good place to locate, so about 14 years ago, they added that office. Since attorneys from both offices conduct law all over the state, with many clients coming from cities near Michigan’s southern border, such as Dowagiac, the South Haven office has continued to be viable.

Bosch and Vander Wal say they really like their current Grand Haven Township location, both because it is a nice building and because it seems to have opened them up to getting corporate clients in the area. “We’ve gotten more corporate influence out here,” says Bosch, “but so much of our work is trial work, so we need to be able to go anywhere, basically.” Being located near I-96 facilitates that.

Part of the firm’s longevity results directly from having a series of notable attorneys. Vander Wal says, “I think the most noteworthy thing about the firm, is that it’s impressive for a firm this size to have three bar presidents, and three judges.”

Leland D. Phelps (whose name also was part of the firm’s name at one point), along with Worsfold and Strain, were Grand Rapids Bar Association presidents in their times. Along with Magistrate Smith, the Honorable John H. Vander Wal — a “distant uncle” of Larry Vander Wal — was a Kent County Circuit Judge from 1959-1975, and one other former partner has been a 61st District Court judge since 1995.

Others, including founder Jay Linsey who was Republican Party chairman in the early 1900s, have been deeply involved with politics. In addition, all of the firm’s lawyers give freely of their time to provide pro bono legal services.

Another factor, says Bosch, is client loyalty, resulting from deep satisfaction with the firm. “Some of our larger clients have been with the firm for over 50 years...Client loyalty and satisfaction have allowed the firm to remain strong, with virtually no advertising.”

The firm’s culture of mentoring new attorneys and sharing information contribute to its “minimal turnover,” according to Vander Wal. Says Bosch, who joined the firm in 1984, “I go to Larry, and vice versa, almost daily, or at least once a week, to ask, ‘What do you think of this case? What do you think of these tactics?’” That close-knit camaraderie is the rule rather than the exception.

And what about the next 100 years? Bosch says it will be more of the same. “We’re in a service industry. If you have competent attorneys and a competent staff and you work hard and well for your clients, you’re guaranteed to meet with con-
tinued success.”