By Jo Mathis
Whitmore Lake attorney Jason Negri loves the fact that he wears so many different hats, and thrives on the diversity of his daily life.
In addition to running his own practice, he is an elected Hamburg Township trustee; an adjunct professor at both Concordia University, a tutor at St. Augustine’s Home School Tutorial Program, and the assistant director of the Patients Rights Council, a nonprofit protecting the medically vulnerable from practices and policies that threaten them. He’s also involved in a startup exporting business.
“And frankly, none of this would be possible without my legal training,” says Negri. “Together with my law practice, I keep nicely busy, but can arrange my schedule to be present to my family, which is the most important thing. I might also pursue higher elected office someday.”
As for that legal training: It almost didn’t happen.
Negri, who grew up on Long Island in New York, had wanted to go to law school for years.
But when he got married and started a family soon after graduating from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, he reconsidered.
“I didn’t think going back to school for three more years—plus the debt—was prudent,” he says. “So I looked upon it as a dream I’d have to forego.”
But in 2000, he learned about the opening of Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, which was offering substantial scholarship assistance to attract quality students.
So he took the LSAT, got a high enough score to qualify for a scholarship, and packed up his family—including three kids—to move to Michigan and become part of the inaugural class.
He has great memories of those three years of law school.
“It taught me how to think, how to articulate issues and it exposed me to all sorts of realities about life in modern America that the average person will have to deal with at some point,” he said, adding that he learned aspects of the law that until then were unfamiliar to him.
Being part of the very first graduating class of a new law school was exciting in one sense. But those 2003 graduates had some strikes against them, as employers were not yet familiar with the school and there was no alumni network to help with making introductions.
Michigan’s recession had also begun, making job opportunities a challenge.
So, despite his JD and bar exam passage, Negri started working in a non-legal job for a small biotech software company as director of sales and marketing.
But he still wanted to use his law degree. So he started his solo practice in 2004. Because his marketing job precluded him from being able to go to court, he focused on transactional work and estate planning, which wound up becoming his specialty and the majority of his practice today.
He has since created a niche practice dealing with end-of-life medical and ethical issues. And although he hadn’t expected to become somewhat of an authority in this area, he now finds himself giving presentations and writing articles and booklets, including “Twenty Answers on End of Life Issues,” due to be published this month.
His former law school classmate, Ann Arbor attorney Jim Fifelski, says Negri is one of the most honorable attorneys he knows.
“He has a passion for making his local community a better place to live, as shown by his service as a Hamburg Township trustee,” says Fifelski, who notes that Negri’s nationally recognized expertise in end-of-life issue has inspired him to hone his own legal skills to better serve his clients. “As a father of a large family, Jason constantly places other people’s needs before his own. His spirit of service is a refreshing contribution to the legal and political community.”
Negri and his wife, Samantha homeschool their five children through high school, and the two oldest are now in college. His son had been considering law school, but recently decided against it.
“And I think he was right,” he says. “Every article I read these days talks about the current state of affairs — we have too many lawyers and not enough jobs. And, as with college tuition, the cost of going to law school keeps outpacing inflation and I don’t think it’s a good investment any more.
“Yes, I believe law school is invaluable in terms of the education you receive and training you to think differently, but this alone does not justify the very high cost. The jobs aren’t there anymore, and you have to think practically about this.”
So Negri is all the more grateful for the way things turned out in his career, though it’s been a challenging road.
And the fact that he works in his cottage next door to his home on a quiet Whitmore Lake road makes it all that much better, he says.
“The diversity of all I’m doing keeps me engaged and continues to stretch me to learn new things,” he says. “I am personally and professionally fulfilled, and that’s what’s important.”