A series of close calls may define attorney's purpose in life

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

“Head-on” is an adjective that will give most everyone the shudders, conjuring various unpleasant thoughts about collisions, unwelcome clashes, or unwanted challenges.

Three days before Christmas, Grand Rapids attorney Jack Buchanan came face-to-face with the term in a chilling car-truck encounter on an icy Michigan road, stirring memories of several other close calls that have added some unexpected spice to his life.

It began somewhat innocently enough when Buchanan went out on a festive shopping expedition, stopping by one of the local malls to pick up a holiday present for his wife Sheila. When he departed on that afternoon mission, the roads were dry and clear, camouflaging a dramatic change in weather to come. 

Less than an hour later, Old Man Winter began to rear his ugly head, coating local roads with a slippery mixture of snow and ice, quickly turning highways into veritable skating rinks.

Suddenly, Buchanan’s short drive home became a white-knuckle affair, as he attempted to steer his way through treacherous road conditions. Within moments, the trip came to an unceremonious end when his rear-wheel drive car failed to make the crest of a small hill, leaving him stuck in the right lane on a busy suburban road with little or no shoulder for a safe escape.

His predicament was worsening by the minute, as vehicle after vehicle raced by from both directions despite the wintry weather conditions that were about to cause peril even after police help had been summoned.

Then, as Buchanan nervously awaited emergency assistance, a pickup truck came speeding over the hill from the other direction, sliding across the centerline in out-of-control fashion.  The resulting head-on collision crushed the entire front end of Buchanan’s car, setting off a series of airbags meant to protect him from the 40-mph impact.

Miraculously, Buchanan escaped the crash without injury, hurriedly exiting the vehicle before it eventually was engulfed in flames.

In every sense, Buchanan had just experienced his own version of a Christmas “miracle,” prompting a flashback to another “head-on” that he survived 50 years ago when diagnosed with an oftentimes fatal form of cancer.

A University of Michigan Law School alum, Buchanan was a young lawyer at the time with a wife and three children, staring down the medical barrel of an agonizing cancer collision that was expected to end his life within the span of a year. 

But then fate intervened, as an experimental treatment program magically appeared, offering him a new lease on life – a life that would include the opportunity to see two of his children join him in the successful law firm he founded. 

His son, Rob Buchanan, would go on to create his own medical malpractice firm that also specializes in catastrophic vehicle crash cases, while further making a name for himself by serving as president of the State Bar of Michigan from 2020-21.

His daughter, Jane Beckering, would eventually take her legal career in a judicial direction, first serving on the Michigan Court of Appeals before ascending to a seat on the federal bench for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The two drew inspiration from their father, who enjoyed an illustrious 40-year career as a trial lawyer, successfully trying more than 200 jury cases in Michigan while earning the distinction of being inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.  

But that’s not the end of the Buchanan story. Far from it. There is one more close call to mention, coupled with his current quest to make a much-needed difference in the public service profession.

A 1987 close call was of the decidedly tragic variety and involved an ill-fated Northwest Airlines flight bound for Phoenix on the evening of August 16. 

Buchanan was booked on that flight before his legal assistant found a more convenient Phoenix-bound flight departing from Grand Rapids, obviating the need to drive all the way to Detroit.

But then word came that the flight originating from Grand Rapids would face a lengthy delay, making Northwest Airlines Flight 255 out of Detroit once again the most attractive option.

So, as Buchanan prepared to head to Detroit to board Flight 255, a Northwest ticket agent regrettably informed him that the last seat on that aircraft had just been sold, forcing him to wait out the mechanical delay in Grand Rapids. 

A few hours later, his momentary misfortune would be cast in an altogether different light as news flashed that Flight 255 had crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 154 of the 155 onboard. The sole survivor was a 4-year-old girl who lost her parents and brother in the deadly crash.

For Buchanan, it was a mystifying example of fate leaning heavily his way, affording him further opportunities to make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

A few years later, Buchanan founded Primerus, an alliance of boutique law firms framed within the trademark phrase, “Good People Who Happen to Be Good Lawyers.”

 Thirty years after its founding in 1992, the organization has grown to include more than 170 law firms in some 40 countries, all bound together by a commitment to the “Six Pillars,” which embraces the concepts of honesty, integrity, proficiency, and a desire to help others.

Last year, upon the 30th anniversary of the international alliance, Buchanan helped launch the Primerus Foundation, a philanthropic endeavor designed to attract higher quality candidates to political office.

It figures to be another defining moment in his life, eventually connecting the Plymouth native to a growing network of “good people” all around the globe, each of whom can play a role in making the world a much better place.

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available