Purpose driven: Pro Bono Award winner takes long view on law

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Kitch Drutchas attorney John Sier leads the firm’s commercial litigation section, but when he’s not practicing law he can be found dedicating his time to legal aid groups in southeastern Michigan.

“My involvement in pro bono work goes all the way back to college. I was Jesuit-educated at Loyola University, where the magis is men and women for others,” Sier said. “By getting a law license, not just a degree, you get the privilege to provide a certain type of service for people who may not otherwise be able to afford legal services.”

In recognition of Sier’s dedication to providing free legal services to underserved populations, the Detroit Bar Association presented him with its Pro Bono Award at its recent annual meeting.

For Sier, pro bono work is one of the constants in his life that helps him to stay mindful of the importance of giving back to the community.

“If you don’t have someone or something in life that keeps you grounded, you can lose yourself,” Sier said. “The role of pro bono is also to remind you of how the decisions you make in life can go one way or another. There’s not a lot separating most people – it’s a few decisions along the way that may have gone right or may have gone wrong.”

The other more corporeal constant in Sier’s life is his wife of 33 years, Maureen Sier, who Sier credits with preventing him from becoming too consumed with his work.

“Maureen keeps me sane. She is very good at keeping everything in context. She is a great listener who asks the questions that get you grounded.” Sier said of his wife, who has a master’s degree in counseling. “She’s been critical in raising our three kids well and communicating with them.”

After he graduated from Loyola, Sier attended Drake University in Des Moines, where he earned a dual degree in law and journalism.

“Journalism was one of my interests, and the program enabled me to get a graduate assistantship to pay for most my tuition,” Sier said, noting that his move to Detroit was prompted by the effect the farm crises was having on the job market and the sale of a newspaper where he’d hoped to work.

“I graduated from law school in 1986 during the farm crises. There was not a lot going on in Iowa. One of the thoughts I had was to work for The Des Moines Register and Tribune. It had a very active legal department that did a lot of litigating about open meetings and public access laws,” Sier said. “During my third year of law school the paper was sold to Gannett. They let the local legal department go and brought in their own attorneys. Kitch had a partner who had grown up in Des Moines and periodically would post openings at Drake. I interviewed and came to Detroit to work at Kitch.”

Since Sier joined Kitch, he’s combined his journalistic and legal skills to become an in demand speaker and author on topics related to construction law.

“I always thought the best way to learn about a particular area is to write about it,” Sier said of the articles he’s written on the topic of construction law. “It’s hard to get me to shut up sometimes,” he added with a laugh.

Sier is similarly vocal when it comes to his continued advocacy for pro bono work, where his years of experience have taught him to take a long view.

“I’m not going to change the world, but I can do something and somebody else can build on that. When people swing for the fence and get frustrated because they’re not hitting home runs, maybe you say, ‘That’s not what’s needed,’” Sier said. “Maybe laying down a bunt or hitting a series of singles is the type of understanding you need – that you are part of a larger system. If there is one little thing that needs to be done and if you can do it and get it done well, then that’s what your purpose is.”

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