Incoming president aims to 'grow' MCBA

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

For as long as he can remember, the newly elected president of the Macomb County Bar Association (MCBA), Donald D. DeNault Jr., viewed volunteerism as an avenue to reach out to others in his community.

“I got involved in the bar as a young lawyer, but I’ve been volunteering from a very young age,” said DeNault.

A shareholder at O’Reilly Rancilio in Sterling Heights, where he is the chairperson of the municipal practice group, DeNault comes to the top seat at the MCBA with a desire “to reinvigorate” the 1,400-member association through outreach to those who have been hesitant to participate.

DeNault’s enthusiasm for his new responsibilities as MCBA president is evident.

“I am excited because this is a culmination of years of commitment. To not have a final chapter would be a disappointment,” said DeNault, who served on the MCBA board for several years before taking the top post.

Even though he won’t be formally installed as president until September, DeNault is busy planning a strategy that aims to draw more members to the organization.

“I want to spread our cloak to those who are reluctant to get involved by encouraging a spirit of collegiality,” DeNault said. “This is the right time to bring young lawyers in, let’s listen to their needs and bring more people in.”

The new president hopes to accomplish this through more family oriented events, monthly articles, a speaker series, and courthouse lunches with judges throughout Macomb County.

By giving back, DeNault has created opportunities to teach.

“Teaching can be achieved in so many different ways, and I’ve done many of them,” the 87th president of the MCBA said.

One of those ways is occasionally hosting a monthly cable television show, “Legally Speaking,” produced in conjunction with Sterling Heights Television and the Macomb County Bar Foundation (MCBF), an affiliate of the MCBA. The 28-minute segment brings members from the foundation on to discuss legal matters that are relevant to local residents.

Besides his appearances on “Legally Speaking,” DeNault shares his knowledge with a number of different causes, ranging from sports to academics. He has taught Spanish to sixth-graders, sociology and law to college students, coached youth baseball, worked on mock trial tactics with high school students and participated in MCBF’s reading program.

“Maybe my subconscious is inspiring me to aspire to teaching without actually changing professions,” DeNault said.

Participation in youth baseball left a lasting impression on DeNault, one that continues to influence his life.

“My interest in coaching baseball was borne from being the kid on the team who wasn’t the best and wasn’t the coach’s favorite.  I never forgot that feeling and I made it a mission for eight years to make sure the kids I coached never felt that way,” DeNault said. “From what I’ve been told, I accomplished my goal with the kids I coached, because they and their parents have never forgotten me.”

DeNault finds his coaching skill also impacts his work with the bar.

“Post-baseball, as it translates to the bar association, I still want to make sure no one feels left out, no one feels less valued than someone else, the rules are learned, appreciated, and followed, and everyone is heard and respected.”

The kid who found challenges on the field has become a winning attorney who uses his past experiences to foster discussion.

“That may seem like a strange motivation, but being ostracized or dismissed for having an unpopular opinion or following the rules is something no one should ever experience. I suppose anyone who disagrees with me can blame my time playing summer baseball as a kid,” DeNault said.

Right out of law school and taking nothing for granted, DeNault ran for the Michigan Legislature. After he lost in the general election, DeNault accepted an offer as an associate from O’Reilly.

“I always tell people my involvement at my firm was a complete accident,” DeNault said. “Initially, I came to my office after two others turned down offers for summer internships.”

When his internship developed into a job offer after law school, he became a mentee of the late Paul O’Reilly, a founding partner.

“Paul was a city attorney. That’s how I learned municipal law.” DeNault said.

He represented Sterling Heights from its inception in 1968 until his retirement. O’Reilly died in 2003.

“Municipal and school law had never dawned on me in law school,” DeNault said. “Schools and cities need every kind of law you can imagine. We represent the organization to guide them through to the right resolution. Low budgets, cyber-bullying and ‘sexting’ are just some of the issues facing schools today,” DeNault said. “We help schools create a safe environment.”

More than a decade after O’Reilly passed away, DeNault still credits his former mentor with teaching him the value of good character.

“Paul always instilled in me that your reputation precedes you. He subscribed to the theory to be respectful and let others be heard,” DeNault said. “That’s how I live my life.”

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