Close-knit community Livonia Bar aims to further broaden its base as it approaches milestone

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Leaders of the Livonia Bar Association plan to increase the organization's public exposure significantly in the next year as the local bar heads toward its 40th anniversary.

The Livonia Bar will have a new board in 2011 as younger lawyers become involved in leadership positions. With nearly 50 paying members comprised of both attorneys and sitting judges, the Livonia Bar has a reach that extends beyond city limits and into sections of Wayne and Oakland counties. The bar is a nonprofit organization founded by Clarence Charest Sr. in 1972.

New President Kathleen Saenz Poppenger has developed a strategic plan that includes having the Livonia Bar focus on community involvement, mentoring, charitable giving, continuing legal education, and networking. But she doesn't want to ignore the grass-roots benefits of the Livonia Bar where members know each other on a personal level.

"Essentially there's not a member that I will meet that I don't know by name and a little about," said Saenz Poppenger, a shareholder at Vercruysse Murray & Calzone in Bingham Farms and a labor, employment and immigration lawyer. "There are a number of advantages to being a part of a smaller bar with a network of lawyers who are familiar to all of us."

According to the State Bar of Michigan's website, the only other bar association with a geographic component in southeastern Michigan is the Washtenaw County Bar Association. And the only other cities in the state to have their own bar associations are Detroit and Grand Rapids. But the Livonia Bar could not have survived without members coming from throughout the region, according to Saenz Poppenger. Some work in Livonia, others live in the city. And some come from neighboring communities, and see Livonia as a community where clients and prospects operate.

"We'll accept any practitioner who is in the area," Saenz Poppenger said. "You really can market yourself and your practice well in this type of environment and the personal relationships we have make it easier for us to (give and get) referrals."

Indeed networking remains a major focus of the Livonia Bar, from the annual holiday party that was held early in December to monthly events where networking is not expected, but naturally occurs. One of the reasons for this is that many of the members are sole practitioners or are from small practices that offer unique specialties.

"It's hard to give out a referral if you haven't worked with another firm or lawyer before or if you don't know them very well," Saenz Poppenger said. "But it is very easy for us because we'll be more likely to refer to fellow bar members. We know (many of their fellow members) personally in settings away from work."

The Livonia Bar also will look at other initiatives in 2011, Saenz Poppenger said. One idea is a "mentor/match program that allows younger lawyers to partner with more experienced Livonia Bar members in a professional relationship. Some of the topics that can be shared from mentor to pupil include the nuts and bolts of practicing in court, details about working with area judges, and ways to better manage a business development plan.

That program could also help increase membership by bringing in younger members who will establish long-term relationships with the Livonia Bar, possibly resulting in a slow but steady membership increase.

"We'll need to attract younger lawyers for sustainability," Saenz Poppenger said.

Another area of emphasis for the new board, which also includes Vice President/Treasurer Timothy Klisz and Secretary Carol Hainline, is community involvement. The board is planning to establish a Livonia Bar Relay for Life team as a way to promote a consistent community presence, not just at that cancer research fund-raiser, but also for other community causes. And the board is considering a partnership with the Livonia Chamber of Commerce and other local business, trade and community organizations.

"We realize that it can be hard for our members to make all our meetings and other meetings as well but we want to offer a range of options," Saenz Poppenger said. "Everyone has different interests and we want to take advantage of that."

Among the bar's other goals for 2011 are ways to enhance its lawyer educational programs. Meetings can be held in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening that include guest speakers. The Livonia Bar also is taking the pulse of what its members want to learn about through planned surveys, such as practice management, operations, hiring and managing employees, billing practices, and more.

"We have found that a lot of what our members want to learn about has more to do with the (business) disciplines that you don't learn about in law school," Saenz Poppenger said.

In essence, the Livonia Bar is looking at ways to become more connected to its surrounding community socially, business-wise and legally. It will release an updated website (at www.livoniabar.org) in the coming months and will schedule more events at different times of the day to make it more convenient for members to attend based on their personal schedules.

"We have a presence so that people recognize the Livonia Bar as an organization of leaders not just in law but in general," Saenz Poppenger said.

Contact the Livonia Bar Association for more information at Livonia.bar@gmail.com or by phone at (248) 540-6197.

Published: Tue, Dec 21, 2010

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