Plunkett Cooney leaders pass the torch in 'race' towards expansion


 Plunkett Cooney Grand Rapids office managing partners, current and former: Timothy F. Sheridan, left, and Mark H. VerWys


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

A native Detroiter, Timothy Sheridan of Plunkett Cooney cannot say enough nice things about Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

“It’s just been fantastic for me personally,” the newly named managing partner of the Grand Rapids Plunkett and Cooney office says. “And when my partners come over from our Detroit office, they’re blown away. It’s a great place to practice, a really collegial atmosphere where your word means a lot.”

Referring to the “vitality” of this area, Sheridan explains that that is one reason he is now charged with expanding Plunkett Cooney’s presence here.

“The work load is there,” he says. “Statewide, Plunkett Cooney is clearly a full service firm, and we’d like to have this office reflect that more.”

There have been as many as 12 attorneys working out of the firm’s Bridgewater Place offices, there are currently seven, and an eighth is on

the way.

The 100-year-old firm operates primarily in the state of Michigan, which in addition to Grand Rapids include the main office in Bloomfield Hills, and smaller Kalamazoo, Detroit, East Lansing, Flint, Mt. Clemens and Marquette offices. There are also offices in Indianapolis, Ind., and Columbus, Ohio.

The Grand Rapids office was established in 1994, and Sheridan has been with the firm since 2000.

Prior to that, he received his J.D. from the University of Toledo College of Law. He then worked for a few years at a small family law firm in Monroe, but was happy to come to this side of the state in 1995 to work for Harvey Kruse, P.C., which has a small satellite office in Grand Rapids. 

One West Michigan connection is that Sheridan’s wife, whom he met while attending James Madison College at Michigan State University for his undergraduate degree, is from Battle Creek.

But once he visited here it was Sheridan himself who was hooked.

“We moved here just after the Arena was built. It was immediately appealing, and it’s grown more and more so ever since,” he comments.

Sheridan’s own practice is in civil defense litigation including construction, trucking and transportation, premises, and product liability, as well as defense of those accused of legal and accounting malpractice. 

“Right now, probably 30% of my practice is in the range of construction, defending general contractors, architects, engineers... Professional malpractice defense is close to that, but a little less,” Sheridan says. “The rest is a variety of types of clients, trucking firms, restaurants, property management companies, but I think it’s interesting that the construction litigation is the biggest part of it now, and continues to grow. That seems to be partly because there’s been more growth on the west side of the state.”

Even though he has four children  at home, including a set of ten-year-old twins, Sheridan finds time to be a member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association Pro Bono Committee, the Incorporated Society of Irish American Attorneys, the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Association, the Defense Research Institute (“DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar”), and a trial team member of the national moot court.

He is perhaps most pleased with his recently-ended service to CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates, commenting, “That was a great opportunity;” and with being on the Patient Advisory Council for Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Sheridan says he is looking forward to exploring mediation, having recently become certified. “I like to advocate and put on the litigation hat, but it’s pretty exciting to see how mediation works when there’s a huge gap with regard to where two parties are, and then after lots of hard work they have a resolution. And save a lot of angst and uncertainty,” he adds. 

Sheridan calls it “a tremendous honor” to be appointed to take the place of long-time managing partner Mark H. VerWys, who is moving into semi-retirement.

VerWys is also a litigation attorney, who specializes in product liability, marine and boating law, negligence, construction law, and complex commercial litigation. He is certified as a Civil Pre-Trial and Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and he too is a general civil mediator.

Among his many honors, VerWys counts being named a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America™; Member of the Year in 2002 from the Construction Owners Association of America; and the 1997 Mentor of the Year for the State Bar of Michigan Legal Assistants Section.

VerWys has taught at Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Davenport College, been a volunteer mediator for the Dispute Resolution Center of Western Michigan, and served on the Senior Neighbors of Kent County board.

He graduated cum laude with his Juris Doctor from Northwestern University Law School after attending Calvin College, and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and Army Reserve in the 1970s.

VerWys comments that Sheridan will make a good managing partner and he is happy to be “passing the torch” to him.

To hear Sheridan talk about Plunkett Cooney’s 100th anniversary last year seems a true measure of his philosophy.

“It was very, very neat,” he says. “We had a campaign, ‘A Hundred Acts of Kindness,’ all across the state. Our office did volunteer work at Kids’ Food Basket, and each week we got a tally of what was going on in the other communities — working with special ed programs, planting flowers, picking up trash.”

Sheridan shows off a special commemorative painting the firm commissioned, a collage of the various activities each office did.

“We had a large client get-together to celebrate our 100 years. That campaign was a big topic of the party, and [CEO] Hank Cooney stood up and told the clients, thank you for allowing us to serve you and your legal needs, and we hope with these 100 acts of kindness we’ve been able to make a positive impact.”

Henry “Hank” Cooney is the son of one of the founders, and “quite a leader in terms of commitment to communities,” according to Sheridan.

Plunkett Cooney, which employs 160 attorneys currently, can boast such impressive former members as Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, formerly on the Michigan Supreme Court, and Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Redford, among many others.