Duty Bound New Bar Association president issues her own 'call to service'

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 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
As the new president of the Oakland County Bar Association, Jennifer Grieco repeats a mantra that has resonated throughout her professional and personal life. It is more than a mystical formula of incantation. It is a way of life for the 1997 graduate of the University of Toledo College of Law.
The “call to service” message that she so neatly articulated during the OCBA’s Annual Meeting in early June has deep family roots, the kind that endures for generations. Her parents, Linda and Ralph Grieco, have a history of volunteer service, consistently giving of their time and talents for the benefit of various worthy causes.
“They set such a positive example about the importance of community service that it was only natural to follow their lead,” said Grieco, a partner with the Southfield firm of Neuman Anderson, P.C.
Her brother, Kevin, took their message to heart, following in his father’s footsteps as a member of the armed forces. He began his career straight out of high school, enlisting in the Navy, serving a tour of duty 2002-03 in the war-torn Mideast.
“Kevin volunteered for one branch of the service or the other for over 15 years,” his sister related. “He actually transferred from the Navy Reserves to the Illinois National Guard in 2008 because he wanted to do more for his country.”
As fate would have it, his National Guard unit was “immediately called up” for duty in Afghanistan, Grieco said.
“Kevin did not complain,” she said. “He felt that he was called to serve to keep the fight over there, but also because he worried about a draft being instituted. If he as a trained soldier didn’t volunteer, who would?
“For Kevin, being a soldier was what he was meant to do – what he was trained to do,” said his sister. “And therefore, in a time of need, what he was called to do.”
His story of Army service would not be written with a happy ending. On October 27, 2008, just two days after celebrating his 35th birthday, he was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. In an instant, his wife became a widow, his two children fatherless.
“The loss that our family and his friends feel without Kevin is profound because Kevin was such a genuinely good person,” Grieco said. “Kevin had a great laugh, he was always positive, polite, and he treated everyone with respect. He cared deeply about his family and friends, and his country. He was a wonderful and caring father.”
As Grieco delivered her June 3 speech as the new head of the OCBA, she had hoped that it would be a proud moment to be shared with her beloved brother, who is buried in Arlington Cemetery, close to the grave of his grandfather, a veteran of both the Army and Navy.
“He would have probably worn his uniform,” she said softly. “He was very proud to be a soldier.”
Instead, Grieco could feel her brother’s presence, hoping that his story of dedication and sacrifice would serve as a source of inspiration for those committed to the ideal of “service above self.”
In particular, and especially now in her role as the incoming president of the OCBA, Grieco urged her legal brethren to rally to the cause of the profession in a “time of need.” She said that the “number of new lawyers coming out of law school without jobs is one of the greatest challenges” facing the legal profession.
“The new lawyer is now competing for employment in an impossible market,” she said. “For those who have participated in OCBA’s speed networking events or just talked to any recent law school graduate, you appreciate how dire the situation is.”
Grieco, as part of an OCBA initiative, is strongly recommending that veteran bar members make an effort to “mentor” new lawyers, providing them feedback and training as their schedules allow. The effort is especially needed as the number of new lawyers “hanging up their own shingle” increases as opportunities with major firms dwindle.
The chance to lend a hand, she said, is most readily apparent in pro bono cases where the need continues to grow.
“The recession, and the corresponding fallout, has made the demand for legal assistance even greater among those who can’t afford professional representation,” Grieco said. “A growing number of people are being ‘locked out’ of the legal system, a trend that we can counter by encouraging our members to be more committed to pro bono work. They can do this by working in tandem with lawyers who are new to the legal profession, providing them guidance and sharing their expertise along the way. The challenge we are facing is really better viewed as an opportunity to help the needy in the community and to give new lawyers the benefit of our years of experience.”
As the daughter of an Army officer, Grieco gained plenty of worldly experience during her formative years, bouncing from base to base in Germany and the States.
“The longest we ever stayed in one place was three years, while the shortest was 11 months,” Grieco recalled. “It was tough being uprooted all the time, but on the other hand it was great to have the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and to see so many parts of the United States. Being an Army ‘brat’ did have its benefits.”
Grieco graduated from high school in Heidelberg, Germany, opting to pursue her collegiate career at the University of Toledo, the Ohio city in which her grandmother lived. It was at Toledo that she met her future husband, Chad Burch, a finance major.
“I was focused on becoming a lawyer since I was 13,” Grieco said. “I can remember watching a movie on the case about the Atlanta child murders and all the legal issues surrounding it. I knew from that point on that I was going into the law.”
In 1997, she earned her juris doctor cum laude from the University of Toledo College of Law, where she was a member of the law review. Her first job was with Sommers Schwartz, P.C., a firm where she clerked during law school. During her 10-year stay there, Grieco established a reputation for her expertise in handling black mold cases. It was also a time frame when she became involved in the activities of the OCBA, the Women’s Lawyers Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, now known as the Michigan Association for Justice. She served as president of the Oakland County Region of the WLA from 2003-04 and was on he executive board of the MAJ from 2002-06.
Three years ago, she joined Maddin Hauser in Southfield, principally handling professional liability defense work. In March of this year, she joined Southfield-based Neuman Anderson as a partner, focusing her practice in complex commercial litigation.
“I was eager to have more courtroom opportunities, both on the defense and plaintiff side,” Grieco said of the move. “I like the challenge of meeting the burden of proof. I missed being in court. For me, cross-examining a witness at trial is the most exciting part of the job.”
She is balancing her work and OCBA leadership responsibilities with an altogether different challenge – motherhood. She and her husband became parents a year ago June, welcoming Meadow Rose to their family. The child’s primary caregiver is her father, a former executive with American Equity Mortgage.
“As a new mother, I’ve gained a special appreciation for the demands that it places on women in the workforce, especially those in the legal profession,” Grieco said. “It’s a delicate balance between work and raising a family, and I’m fortunate that I have a husband who is willing to step back from his own career to help raise our daughter. It’s a wonderful blessing.”
 

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