Hammond, 2017 GRBA President's Award winner, just keeps saying yes



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Attorney Benjamin H. Hammond of Hilger Hammond Attorneys at Law has a history of answering “yes” when the question concerns volunteering for the Grand Rapids Bar Association.

“I’m the kind of person who usually says yes to serving those kinds of worthwhile organizations,” the construction law attorney admits.

The GRBA rewarded that willingness at the Law Day Celebration April 28 by giving Hammond the President’s Award.

Each year since 2002, the GRBA?has given the award to recognize “special contributions and unique service” to the Bar Association itself. The award description goes on to say, “It signifies unusual and extraordinary help and assistance that has been given generously and in the spirit of self-service.”

But Hammond modestly notes, “I would say I did nothing extraordinary to receive the award. I just did ordinary things over and over and over.”

He started out immediately upon graduation by joining the GRBA’s Young Lawyers Section, and eventually became a leader in that section.

“I was elected president after a couple of years,” Hammond says. “Some of my responsibilities included being in charge of the golf outing and the Horn of Plenty food drive, organizing the progressive dinner, and bringing in speakers. I met a lot of great folks, and I have a lot of great memories.”

At that time, he was an attorney at Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, after graduating from Cornerstone College (now University) magna cum laude, and receiving his J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law.

The Ann Arbor native, raised in the metropolitan Detroit area, was a summer clerk for Smith Haughey and then decided to settle in the Grand Rapids area and work for the firm, which he did for seven years.

Then Hammond followed his instincts and started his own boutique construction law firm with partner Stephen Hilger. The successful firm now has six attorneys.

Along the way, Hammond’s Young Lawyers Section leadership work led to his being asked to run for the position of GRBA trustee, and later for secretary of the board.

Among the varied support work he did which resulted in his President’s Award, Hammond chaired the personnel committee, part of the secretarial position’s duties. “This particular year there happened to be a lot more required from the secretary than sometimes in the past. We revamped the employee handbook, and looked at employee health insurance. We also had a significant personnel departures when Debbie Kurtz left. That was a huge loss to the bar, so we had to navigate through that,” Hammond explains.

“Another thing was the organization and development of the Destination CLE, a fairly significant undertaking. We put the program together, tracked down logistics, contacted speakers, and more.

“I would also say I also gave a fair amount of time and effort in the development of future new and exciting programs, but” — he laughs — “I can’t talk about them yet.”

In past years, the President’s Award has gone to such leading lights as Jon Muth, Don LeDuc, Bruce Courtade, Paul Sorenson, Tom Behm, Elizabeth Joy Fossel, and Ann Cooper, among other local leaders.

As reported the May 3 Grand Rapids Legal News, the current GRBA President, 17th Circuit (and business docket) Judge Christopher Yates said that his initial impression of Hammond in the courtroom was that he was “brilliant,” and that he was glad that in later years he had the opportunity to get to know Hammond personally.

Hammond comments, “Now that I’ve had a couple days to reflect on the award, I’m extremely grateful. At this point it’s a career highlight. I just can’t thank them enough for the recognition. And I had no idea about Judge Yates,  his comments were unexpected and a significant compliment. But, when I look at the names of people who have own these awards, it’s an extreme honor to be listed among those local legal giants.”
This comment comes from a still-young attorney (he has been in practice 15 years) who has already earned a good amount of recognition.

Hammond, who is also a pro bono lawyer for Legal Aid of West Michigan, was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers in 2010, 2011, and 2012, after which he has been consistently named a Super Lawyer to the present. He was part of the 2012 “40 Under Forty” cohort named by the Grand Rapids Business Journal, and designated an Up and Coming Lawyer by Michigan Lawyers Weekly in 2012.

Such honors reflect Hammond’s professionalism as an attorney, primarily in the construction law area. He is a litigator but also does transactional work with his clients.

He comes by his interest in construction law honestly. “My father was a heavy machine operator on construction sites. I grew up with it, so it’s always interesting to me to look at it from the legal liabilities point of view. It gets fairly complex very quickly.

“That’s what I find most interesting. To me every case is a huge learning opportunity – one you learn about windows, the next is about wastewater treatment plants.”

Hammond’s practice has now expanded beyond strictly construction law. “For the past several years my practice has already been naturally evolving into more real estate and business law, and I would see that continuing to develop. In my longer term plans, I see the possibility of a mediation practice that interrelates with the construction and real estate law I’ve already been doing.”

Some of his professional involvements are winding down. Following Hilger Hammond’s philosophy that attorneys should be active in associations that serve the interests of the firm’s clients, Hammond has been an active member of the American Institute of Architects, Grand Rapids, and the Western Michigan Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. His five-and-a-half-year term on the American Subcontractors Association board is coming to a close, which may leave him time to pursue personal interests such as being a trustee at Ada Bible Church and coaching little league.

Though Hammond says his three sons (8, 10, and 12) “are active doing their own things,” he finds coaching very rewarding. The family lives in Grand Rapids Township.

Something else coming to an end, at least temporarily, is Hammond’s position on the GRBA board. He ran for Vice-President, which would lead to the four-year succession including the presidency, but Kevin O’Dowd was elected instead. “If I had to lose, I was happy to lose to him,” Hammond comments.

But that is no indication that Hammond will be absent from GRBA action. “My plan there is to stay as involved as is reasonably available, to continue to give back to a great organization in whatever capacity I’m asked to. That’s kind of how I got involved in what led to this award, just saying yes when people asked me to help,” he says.