Experienced attorney with nationwide clients thrives in his own environmental practice

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

(Editor’s Note: This continues the series of profiles about solo and small firms in the Grand Rapids area. If you have a suggestion for a firm to cover, please email cprice@legalnews.com.)

Though environmental lawyer Dustin Ordway seems completely comfortable in his own practice, he has nothing bad to say about larger law firms.

Which is understandable, since he spent many years at a variety of medium to large firm practices, including an impressive one at the beginning of his career: Beveridge and Diamond.

The first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, founded  the multi-award-winning Beveridge and Diamond in 1974;  Ordway was an attorney in its New York office from 1986 to 1988.

How did the Michigan native and graduate of University of Michigan Law School end up in New York City?

“Actually, the reason I moved there is that my main interest was in children’s law. I wanted to do it full-time, and?New York is one of the few places you can do that,” Ordway explains. “So I worked for three years for the children’s rights division of legal aid there.

“But it’s a pretty tough practice, and after a while I realized that lawyers help but it’s really social workers who are in the forefront of finding solutions. So I applied to law firms, with all that litigation experience gained from being in court virtually every day.”

Once he started practicing environmental law, he never looked back.

He did, however, decide that he wanted to return to Michigan. Ordway and his wife, whom he met while at University of Michigan, now had two children. “We realized that we were using all our vacation time to visit family — my parents in Traverse City and hers in Detroit. We rented the whole time we were there, and when you combined the higher cost of buying a home there with traveling back here so often,  it made sense to come back.

“But it wasn’t really a trade-off,” Ordway says. “The practice of law in Michigan is good, and we can always visit friends in New York. It didn’t feel like giving up anything.”

And Ordway is proud to be the fourth generation in his family to graduate from University of Michigan Law School and practice in Michigan. His maternal great-grandfather, Jesse Monroe Hatch, graduated in 1880; his grandfather, as well as two great-uncles, started practicing in the 19-teens and 1920s; and his maternal uncle Hazen van den Berg “Van” Hatch practiced in the Kalamazoo area until his death in 2013. Ordway proudly displays the three generations of diplomas in his office at 2080 Monroe, courtesy of his Uncle Van.

He is still admitted to practice in New York, and as of January 1st, he opened an office in?New York City.

Since Ordway’s clients are all over the U.S., he acknowledges that, “It’s a nice time to practice right now; you can be anywhere if you have a phone and a computer.” But he still has court appearances and enjoys in-person client contact, so the New York office is helpful. “I do have clients with headquarters in the New York-New Jersey area, but even if the client companies are headquartered in Michigan, the people may not necessarily be here. I opened the New York office simply to make it easy for me to be accessible.”

Ordway also has an office in Traverse City and is active in the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association.

His additional bar activity extends to the American Bar Association, where his membership in the Dispute Resolution, Environment and Natural Resources, and Litigation Sections includes vice-chairing the ADR?Committee of the ABA’s Section on Environment, Energy and Resources; a recent term as chair of the State Bar of Michigan’s Environmental Law Section; membership in the State Bar Association of New York; and founding the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s Environmental Law Section, serving as the section’s second chair, among other GRBA involvements.

Ordway also finds the time to participate in such community activities as the Peninsular Club of Grand Rapids and the Children’s Law Center of Grand Rapids (both of which he served as president). He is an avid rower and has been a board member of both the Grand Rapids and Traverse Area Community Rowing associations. He is also a founding member of the West Michigan Chapter of the Air and Waste Management Association.

He does both counseling and litigation, and each accounts for about half his workload. He also practices mediation about five per cent of the time, and says one reason he likes it is, “It enables me to run into other lawyers.”

A major area of expertise is contaminated site cleanup under such statutes as CERCLA (also known as Superfund), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Great Lakes Legacy Act. He has had some major victories for clients under such acts.

Ordway’s solo practice is a little over six years old. After his return to Michigan, he was with two other firms, but for the most part he finds being on his own advantageous.

Though it might be counter-intuitive, one reason he points to is that he has even more time to engage in the environmental work. He feels that in his well-established practice, he benefits from not having to worry about management or personnel issues.

“There are certainly some things I’m not trained to do; for finances, insurance, bookkeeping, IT, you want to have someone you can count on, and I do. Right now I don’t have administrative help, but I’ve often had an intern. That’s been great for me and for them.”

But, he adds, “Would I recommend starting on your own right out of law school? Not really, because I gained a lot by working with other lawyers.” He continues to work collaboratively with many area, and national, firms.

Whatever the structure of his practice, Ordway continues to enjoy environmental law. “It’s always evolving,” he says. “Environmental law has really only been around for 40 years or a little more. In the scheme of things that’s not a long time.

“There are hot button issues — for example, when I started six years ago I wasn’t doing anything with shoreline issue, but that changed a  few years back — and since there’s a technical component as well as a regulatory one, we’re always learning more. So I see it as continuing to evolve in the future.”