Stanley Stek of Miller Canfield wins Legal Aid's pro bono award 2017


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

One characteristic that winners of the Michael S. Barnes Pro Bono Award from Legal Aid of West Michigan share, aside from their dedication to access to justice for all regardless of economic status, is a belief that they have done nothing out of the ordinary.

This year’s honoree, Stanley Stek of Miller Canfield, is no exception.

“I was a little surprised by the award at first, but it is very rewarding and humbling and honoring all at the same time. For me, to be engaged in that activity of providing pro bono services is simply part and parcel of how we ought to be living our lives. Justice is one of the things we’re all required to implement, and it’s just how I’ve decided to live my life,” Stek said. “But it’s nice to be acknowledged, and I also think it’s very valuable to be part of a community that celebrates doing that work.”

The nonprofit Legal Aid of West Michigan (LAWM) provides legal advice and representation to those of low income. People LAWM helps may have disputes in domestic matters, housing, government benefits, among others.

LAWM has five offices in West Michigan, and they are staffed with over 30 lawyers, but the organization relies on the dedication of volunteer attorneys.

Every year for over two decades, LAWM has shown its appreciation by giving out the Michael S. Barnes Award, named after a Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge partner who was dedicated to pro bono and was a long-serving LAWM board member at the time of his premature death.

And each year deserving people like Stan Stek come before an audience that includes proud and loving families and a good number of the previous Barnes Award winners, some of whom have gone on to win the State Cummiskey Pro Bono Award as well.

Even in that illustrious company, Stek is a bit of a standout, because he has managed to maintain a highly successful practice and represent many clients without getting paid, while giving substantial time to public service, including as a Kent County Com-

missioner. He commented, “I was asked for this award to think about my community service, and I discovered that my involvement in organizations and either quasi-public or public entities comes to about 35.”

These include many that stem from his office as a commissioner, but reviewing his contributions, Stek mentions some that he feels best about over the years. “I was involved in establishing Home Repair Services of Kent County back in 1979 and then served on the board, including as chair, for about 20 years. I also worked with a group of folks to start Jubilee Jobs, which helps with employability skills for populations that are underserved,” he says.

Stek has also served on the Wedgwood Christian Services, which helps at-risk youth and families, and now chairs Integrity Education Service, an organization that provides support services for schools.
His public service career started with volunteering in the City of Walker, where he lives with his wife Cyndy, who is a current Walker City Commissioner. The couple have six children and nine grandchildren, most of whom are in this area.

Stek sat on the Walker Citizens Advisory Committee and was chair of the historical commission, and was named Walkers “Person of the Year” in 2007. He represents Walker and a small part of west side of Grand Rapids on the Kent County Commission.

In part, he is able to do all that he does because of Miller Canfield’s commitment to giving back to the community. “I’ve been very pleased with the role that my firm has taken with respect to pro bono in general,” he says, “both individually and as an entire firm.”

Before starting at Miller Canfield in 1996, Stek was with Clary, Nantz, Wood, Hoffius and Cooper until they dissolved. “I have former partners everywhere,” he comments.

The Calvin College graduate received his J.D. from Valparaiso University School of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the law review.

His practice focuses on general commercial litigation, including for the public sector (with special experience in condemnation and land use litigation), and a variety of other areas. A focus on real estate, he says, has allowed him to help pro bono clients in domestic law.

In the meantime, Stek, who enjoys being a lawyer so much that he says, “I still haven’t ever thought I’ve had a job,” will continue in the role of ensuring money is no barrier to receiving justice in the courts.

“As I said at the award ceremony, I don’t know of any other profession that has an obligation to ensure access for everyone. I mean, as a profession we’re economically rewarded very nicely; it’s only appropriate that there be some attention paid to assuring that there’s equal access,” he says. “Justice issues are just as visceral for someone who has no money as they are for a millionaire.

“I wonder sometimes what we would be like as a society if all professionals had the obligation to give back the way we do,” he adds.