Summer Breeze: Young lawyers honored at annual Barristers' event

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By John Minnis
Legal News

Five young attorneys were recognized for what many would consider a lifetime of achievements at the 23rd annual Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association’s Barristers Summer Breeze and Law Clerk Party held Thursday, July 15, at the Angelina Bistro on Broadway in Detroit.

As in past years, the party brought together DMBA Barristers, summer associates, law clerks, judges and other legal professionals for an evening of mingling and networking.

“The Barristers Section is comprised of DMBA members who have been admitted to the State Bar of Michigan for fewer than 10 years,” explained Mitzy Sharp Futro, DMBA executive director. “While they are often referred to as the community service/philanthropic ‘arm’ of the association, they also strive to provide professional and leadership development opportunities for younger attorneys in all types of practice settings. These include everything from substantive programming to community service projects to networking events.”

New to the 2010 event were a number of awards highlighting the professional achievements and community involvement of some of Detroit’s best and brightest young attorneys. Nominations were solicited and received from DMBA members, local law firms and the general legal community. Nominees were welcomed from any practice area and did not need to be DMBA members. Decisions were made by a committee of Barristers board of directors.

“These awards were instituted as a way to recognize the best and brightest of young attorneys,” Sharp Futro said. “So much attention is often given to the achievements of more established practitioners, the Barristers wanted to highlight the accomplishments and potential of those who may not yet be ‘household names’ in the legal community.”

Barristers President’s Award
Michelle Crockett, of Miller Canfield, was presented with the Barristers President’s Award, which is granted to a young attorney whose early career has exhibited high standards of service to the profession, his or her clients and the public.

Crockett, a full-service labor and employment lawyer, was named a partner at Miller Canfield in 2007.

In addition to providing traditional labor and employment law counsel, Crockett helps clients develop and implement affirmative action programs to advance the goals of federal nondiscrimination statutes. She works with public sector clients to encourage diversity in light of the anti-affirmative action amendment adopted by Michigan voters in 2007. She also conducts diversity training.

“Both in the advice she has provided her clients and in the effect these efforts have had on the public,” Sharp Futro said, “Michelle has demonstrated high standards of service.”

Crockett is also active in the American Bar Association and the Oakland County Bar Association and was recently appointed co-chair of the DMBA’s Labor and Employment Law Section. At Miller Canfield, she heads up the Women’s Legal and Business Network.

Pro Bono Service Award
Erin Toomey, of Foley & Lardner, received the Pro Bono Service Award based on extraordinary accomplishments through participation in pro bono activities

Toomey is a member of her firm’s Government & Public Policy practice. In 2009, she initiated, and has since coordinated, the pro bono involvement of 23 Foley & Lardner lawyers to support the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

Her efforts helped create a comprehensive support and analysis infrastructure to assist the clinic in reviewing claims of actual innocence by Michigan prisoners. In a little more than a year, the clinic received more than 3,000 claims. As a result of Toomey’s efforts and those of her colleagues, the backlog of questionnaires has already been reduced by 50 percent.

Toomey’s involvement in the clinic included securing and training volunteers to review questionnaires submitted by prisoners and, in some cases, further investigating their claims. She participates in the review process herself, and also coordinates and monitors the progress of reviewers.

Her efforts on behalf of the Innocence Clinic have also gone beyond the questionnaire review program. For example, she is one of four Foley lawyers who partnered with the clinic’s co-founders, professors David Moran and Bridget McCormack, to prepare and submit an amicus curiae brief to the Michigan Supreme Court in the case of Duncan et al. v. State of Michigan.

Community Impact Award
Presented to a young attorney whose integrity, competence and accomplishments have significantly impacted the local community, or have had a demonstrable impact on the broader state or national landscape, the Community Impact Award was granted to Joseph Kopietz, of Clark Hill.

A senior attorney in the firm’s Real Estate Services Practice Group, Kopietz has used his nationally recognized expertise in tax-advantaged financing to support community economic develop projects that have had a significant impact on the Detroit community. From new charter schools to historic apartment buildings, his involvement in structuring and closing financing has helped stabilize and grow the surrounding communities.

One of the most recent examples of Kopietz’s work was his role as part of the multi-faceted legal team responsible for assisting the College for Creative Studies in the redevelopment of the Argonaut Building into the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education. His work on the tax credit portion of the project was highlighted in an article about tax credits in the July 2010 issue of the ABA Journal.

‘One to Watch’ Award
Michelle Carter, of Bodman, was the recipient of the new “One to Watch” Award, based on outstanding professional accomplishments that demonstrate not only legal acumen and talent, but also potential for future professional growth and achievements.

In January, Carter was named a partner at Bodman, where she specializes in complex commercial litigation. She has served in leadership roles with the National Bar Association, as well as the Wolverine Bar Association (including serving as president for 2009-10). She was also recently elected to the DMBA board of directors.

Carter has also lent her professional and leadership skills in service to the community. In addition to providing pro bono services through various groups, she has been active in several charitable organizations and currently is secretary of the board of directors of Volunteers of America - Michigan. In April, Chief Justice Marilyn J. Kelly appointed Carter to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court’s Solutions on Self_Help Task Force (SOS).

Barrister of the Year
Maya Watson, of Miller Canfield, was named Barrister of the Year, which is annually presented to a member of the Barristers board who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the development and execution of Barristers’ programming.

An associate in Miller Canfield’s Financial Institutions and Transactions and Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice areas, Watson joined the Barristers board in 2009. Upon joining the board, she stepped into a leadership role with the Barristers’ annual volunteer day at the Fort Street Open Door Program. Through the program, Barristers and law students worked alongside Open Door staff and volunteers to provide food, clothing and friendship to almost 400 individuals in need.

Watson was also co-chair of the Resume/Interview/Internship Committee of the 2009-10 School Partnership Program. She also served as mentor for the Program’s essay contest, assisting her mentee in the development and crafting of the legal essay that would later be awarded third place among all essays submitted.

The DMBA Barristers would like to thank the sponsors who made this year’s Summer Breeze possible: Bodman, Butzel Long, Clark Hill, Dickinson Wright, Dykema, Foley & Lardner, Kerr Russell & Weber, Miller Canfield and  Sommers Schwartz.

Planning is under way for 2010-11 Barristers programs, which seek to provide attorneys with less than 10 years of experience with professional development and community service opportunities. For more information or to become involved, contact Sharp Futro at msharpfutro@detroitlawyer.org or (313) 961-6120, ext. 201.

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