Paralegal Profile: Miller Canfield real estate paralegal loves the variety of his busy position

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David Jarvis, paralegal at Miller Canfield, working out of the Grand Rapids office

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Paralegals fill positions with many different job descriptions. Some work with just one attorney and are in close contact with him or her on a daily basis, while some others have a set number of projects and tasks to fulfill within a discipline, generally resulting in more autonomy while still operating under attorney supervision.

David Jarvis has the second type of position, working for the Real Estate Practice Group of Miller Canfield, and he loves it.

“I’m able to work fairly independently,” he says, noting that the paperwork he creates is always reviewed before completion. “The attorneys rely on my judgment to know when I  need to consult with them and when not. So far my judgment hasn’t been wrong!”

He likes what he does so well that, as his paralegal career progressed, he set aside plans to do anything else.

While attending the Institute for Paralegal Training in Philadelphia, Jarvis thought that he would probably eventually become a lawyer or pursue another profession. In fact, that idea was behind his choice of specialty at the Institute. “I thought if I specialized in real estate, that would offer the most options for later on. But then, over the years, I really liked doing this, so I never ended up jumping off to another career,” he explains.

Being a paralegal was not his first career choice. The “dairy farmer’s son” from Lapeer, in the Thumb area, originally attended Michigan State University for a degree in Natural Resources. While he feels the agricultural environment was a wonderful backdrop for his upbringing, he adds, “But while growing up, my desire was to say goodbye — to cattle, at least.”

At the time of his graduation from MSU, in the recession of the late 1970s, he was unable to find a job at any of the state Natural Resource departments. Then one day he noticed that, in the MSU placement listings, the Institute for Paralegal Training guaranteed graduates a job, or at least a certain number of job interviews.

“My bank account was really getting low,” Jarvis says. “It was really joblessness that led me to it, even though it turned out to be a great thing for me.”

He sold his 1500-plus record album collection to able to afford to attend.

“It was only a four-month program,” he says, “but it was fast and furious .”

He wanted to work in the Detroit area, and was delighted to get a position with Miller Canfield. He remains delighted to this day.

“The real estate and commercial real estate financial attorneys I work with, all the people around me are, and have been since the beginning, bright and capable people with wit and humor. There’s laughter every day, which has kept me doing this.”

Originally, Jarvis’s focus was more on financing. He adds that the bulk of his learning was on-the-job, and at the time there was no formal in-house training, such as now offered by “Miller Canfield University.”

“I learned from tough taskmasters, through hard knocks. People would take you under their wings, but you were constantly learning. The forgiveness afforded me for my mistakes is one of the greatest gifts people at Miller Canfield ever gave me,” he says.

Jarvis works out of the Grand Rapids office but notes, “I work with dozens of individuals throughout North America. The attorneys may be in the Chicago office, the Detroit or Troy office, or very occasionally Poland, but it’s just seamless. I sit here in Grand Rapids — mainly it’s just my desktop and I — but I’m working on projects everywhere.”

Miller Canfield has offices in Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Gdynia in Poland. In addition to the other Jarvis mentioned, the firm also has Kalamazoo, Lansing, Windsor (Ontario), Tampa, New York City, Cincinnati, Shanghai and Monterrey, Mexico, locations.

Jarvis observes that his usually-stationery job is in contrast with Miller Canfield’s litigation paralegals, who are out of the office, or in court, more frequently. “I know nothing about litigation,” he says wryly, “and that’s how I’d like to keep it.”

Jarvis covers all aspects of real estate transactions, from contracts to due diligence, and the specific real estate transactions range across a wide spectrum.

“The variety is immense. Miller Canfield has a diverse client base,” he says. “I thrive on variety. It’s never been cookie cutter type of work. And I just have such a high regard for the people in the real estate practice in this firm, both in the past and the present.”

He has most recently worked on a multi-year wind energy park project, and says he enjoyed collaboration with the consulting engineers and project managers as well as the legal team.

“There are ebbs and flows with the economy,” Jarvis observes, “but even during the recent great recession, there was continual work involved with the disposition of properties. I worked on a lot of REO [lender-owned] sales.”

He wound up in Grand Rapids at least partly so that he and his wife, who is originally a British citizen, could afford their first home. “We were priced out in Royal Oak,” he says, laughing.

So when the law firm, which started out in Detroit in 1852, opened the Grand Rapids office in the late 1980s, Jarvis moved here and helped with a large retail shopping center development.

"He and his wife, a former journalist who once worked for The Miami Herald, live in Wyoming and have a son who has stayed in the area."

Jarvis stays busy by participating in the State Bar of Michigan Real Property Section and Legal Assistants Section, as well as the Real Property committee of the Grand Rapids Bar. He, along with the two other highly experienced paralegals in the Real Estate Practice Group, stay up-to-date by going to a number of Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) sessions. “I attend the Homeward Bound seminars ICLE puts on,” he says, particularly those in the past couple of years that focused on energy law.

Though he recognizes that he “may be closer to the retirement horizon,” he has no desire yet to give up all that Miller Canfield has offered him.

“The attorneys here are careful about how many hours they’re billing for, so I feel my role is to help them provide far more cost-effective services. Not only being efficient in the service of a client, but also freeing up the attorney’s time to take up other professional efforts,” he says.

“They’ve appreciated my work, and they’ve expressed it as well. It’s just been a really wonderful group of people to work with.”

 
 

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