By Sheila Pursglove
Chris Trebilcock, an attorney with Miller Canfield in Detroit, comes from a newspaper family in Manistique in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
His parents, who divorced when he was 2, owned The Pioneer Tribune in Manistique and The Delta Reporter in Gladstone. His mom ran The Tribune for the next two decades, while his father sold The Reporter and became publisher of the Traverse City Record Eagle and president-elect of the Michigan Newspaper Association at the time of his death in September 2000.
Trebilcock chose not to make a career in newsprint.
"I thought about it briefly and worked nearly every job growing up -- from stuffing newspapers to writing sports," he says. "The thought of starting from scratch each week was daunting and the inability to step away from being 'the paper' scared me away."
Trebilcock, who calls himself "a dreamer with an entrepreneur's heart," daydreamed about all kinds of careers -- from being point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers to Congressman to CEO of Microsoft to a fishing guide on Indian Lake.
"I guess that comes with the territory growing up in a small town and a family run business, However, being a lawyer has been my primary focus since high school. I enjoy using knowledge to solve problems," he says.
"My ability as a lawyer is only confined by the bounds of my creativity and thirst for learning. At the end of the day, I enjoy helping solve problems by finding solutions."
Trebilcock, who earned his law degree from Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston-Salem, N.C., is deputy leader of Miller Canfield's Employment + Labor Group. Named a Michigan Super Lawyers' Rising Star Employment & Labor in 2008-09 and again in 2011, he manages arbitrations and administrative proceedings; conducts collective bargaining negotiations; and advises and represents clients on labor and employment issues.
A member of the National School Board Association Council of School Attorneys and Michigan Council of School Attorneys, he provides guidance on Freedom of Information Act requests, compliance with the Open Meetings Act, student disciplinary matters and employee discipline and discharge. He also has advised public entities entering into intergovernmental cooperation agreements.
Trebilcock, whose newspaper legacy shines through in his catchy article headlines like "HIPAA Might Just Getcha," and "Tread Carefully: Mass Layoff Landmines Ahead," enjoys the challenges of his chosen niche.
"Every case is unique and has real ramifications on both sides," he says. "For my corporate clients, personnel are often the most significant cost of doing business. For the employee, his or her job is what allows them to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. I can't think of higher stakes. It means that every case counts the same no matter the size of the employer or the wage of the employee.
"Nothing is tougher than giving advice to a client that is forced to reduce headcount or cut wages because of a down economy. The employer isn't happy about having to make the cuts and good and hard working employees realize painful cuts to their wages and benefits."
A political junkie from his teens, Trebilcock volunteered on Congressman Bart Stupak's campaign while in high school, and earned a bachelor's degree in political science and business administration, cum laude, from Alma College.
He later worked in Stupak's Washington office, at the Department of Labor, and as press secretary for Secretary of State candidate Butch Hollowell and campaign manager for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh. He served as policy and field director for Jim Blanchard in the 2002 gubernatorial race, and as Michigan campaign press secretary for John Kerry's presidential bid in 2004.
A 2004 Fellow of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University, Trebilcock advises candidates, elected officials, political action committees, and ballot question committees on campaign finance, ballot access, recount and other issues; and has organized statewide Election Day voter access response teams and recount teams, including a recount where a candidate squeaked in with fewer than 80 votes.
"My parents always stressed civic responsibility and growing up in a newspaper office meant local elected officials were often around," he says. "In fact, Governor Blanchard and my mom were voted most outstanding male and female seniors at MSU so he was always someone my parents referenced growing up as an example of how hard work and passion can pay off and benefit others.
"Politics has such a negative connotation, understandably but unfortunately. True statesmen, in my view, see politics as a means to a legitimate end -- better public policy. Today, it seems as if politics is an end in and of itself. Politics should be used to solve problems for greater good."
Trebilcock might even take a stab at running for office one day.
"If there was ever an opportunity where I could make a positive difference more effectively than working at Miller Canfield, yes," he says. "However, I'm not sure I could win an election in my own home so I doubt the opportunity will ever present itself -- I'm often outvoted by my wife Susan, 2-year-old daughter Cora, and dog, Cecelia."
Trebilcock appreciates the support Miller Canfield gives employees to engage in activities they are passionate about. He serves as president of the Founders Junior Council (FJC), an auxiliary of the Detroit Institute of Arts that has granted more than $2 million to the museum for programs, operations and capital expenditures and sponsors exclusive tours of artists' studios, private viewings of special exhibitions and selections from the DIA's extensive collection.
"Miller Canfield has a long tradition of supporting the DIA and several colleagues were involved," he says. "They invited me to some events and it brought me back to my childhood when my family would visit the Chicago Art Institute ---Chicago was closer to us than Detroit.
"I find the volunteer support from such a diverse segment of Detroit to be inspiring and am hopeful that Detroit's better days still are within my lifetime."
He serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, and Michigan's Children, and in 2009 was appointed to the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council. He previously served on the boards of The Church of the Messiah Housing Corporation in Detroit; and the Downtown Detroit Rotary where he served as Speaker Program Chair; served four years on the board of the Oakland County Bar Association New Lawyers Council; and took part in the 2005-06 Cornerstone Program of Leadership Oakland XVI.
"There are so many issues and causes that you wish you had all day to commit to," he says. "If you think about the foundation of Michigan's future what could be more important than our children and our Great Lakes?"
Trebilcock, who a few years ago launched The Political Winery offering "red" and "blue" wines for oenophiles of all political leanings, counts wine among his interests, as well as fishing and college sports -- "Especially MSU football and basketball. Go State!"
This Yooper -- who now calls Royal Oak home -- enjoys living and working in the greater Detroit area.
"The people of Detroit have a pride and passion that is hard to replicate and it is inspiring," he says. "Being so close to the most beautiful fresh water preserve in the world, ain't bad either. I wish I could find more time to get out and fish though."
Published: Fri, Oct 28, 2011