New JCBA president plans more outreach

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

About a year ago, prominent Jackson defense attorney George Lyons was asked why he wasn't a member of the Jackson County Bar Association.

"I've never been asked," Lyons responded.

Rick Mills, who became president of the Jackson County Bar Association on July 1, wasn't surprised by Lyons' response.

"I have friends who claim they have never been asked," said Mills, 33, sitting in his office across the street from the Jackson County Courthouse. "And that's a problem. ... I'd like to recruit more members and encourage more participation."

The Jackson County Bar Association has 131 members, each of whom pays annual dues of $75. The fee covers the annual meeting, Christmas party, Law Day Breakfast, court updates, inclusion on the website, and networking.

There is an additional charge for the JCBA's annual golf outing.

The local bar has tried to reach out to more members, said attorney Jennifer Walker, who serves as the first vice president.

"I fully support his goal of reaching out to more attorneys to get them to join the organization," Walker said. "We would love to hear from members or prospective members on what things they would like to see from the JCBA that would encourage increased membership or better turn-out at events."

Peter Langley, a past president of the Jackson County Bar, said bar associations around the state are all having difficulties retaining members and attracting new faces.

"It seems like for the Jackson County Bar Association there is a core group of members that you can always count on to participate and then there is the rotating new faces," Langley said. "The economy has affected attorneys just like other businesses and I think people are focusing on their businesses and putting food on the table for their families right now. Rick is a great guy and I'm sure he'll do a great job. Potential members are just going to need to see the value of their membership and how it's going to help move their businesses forward and keep them profitable."

Mills was offered the job as president in May, when he was still serving as second vice president. He said he took a week or two to think it over before accepting.

"This is just the opportunity to serve the local bar," said Mills, a 1997 Lumen Christi High School graduate.. "It is an important role that gets overlooked."

The Jackson County Bar Association has usually kept a low profile, Mills said. They put out a newsletter in 2011, skipped 2012 and published another in 2013.

Mills has some ideas to expand and do some more activities.

He'd like to do an introductory type program for the new lawyers and paralegals in town that would involve a tour of the courtroom as well as introducing the newer lawyers to the courtroom staff.

"It would be just to show them how the courtroom works," Mills said.

He'd also like to see the more experienced attorneys mentor the younger ones.

Serving on the Jackson County Bar Association isn't the first time Mills has done work on boards. He also has served on the boards of the Catholic Charities of Jackson, Legal Services of South Central Michigan and the Village of Spring Meadows, a retirement community in the Jackson area.

Mills, who is married and has three children, graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a MBA and law degrees. Mills opened his own practice in 2010, which focuses on estate planning, charitable gift planning and probate court office. He is a member of the Probate and Estate Planning section of the State Bar of Michigan.

"I became a lawyer because it allows me to satisfy my natural intellectual curiosity while helping people in my community in a practical way," Mills said. "I knew when I could hardly go to sleep at night during the first week of law school that it was right for me."

And Jackson was the place Mills wanted to work.

"I just missed Jackson. My family has been here for several generations. When my wife was expecting our first child we both wanted to come back home. Jackson truly is a good town to raise a family and it doesn't hurt to have the support of both our families around with young children. There is nothing like practicing law in your hometown. It is very gratifying."

Published: Thu, Jul 11, 2013

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