Schnelker, Rassi, McConnell law firm gives Santa helping hand with his suits


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

“If you’re going in to an interview I think wearing something nice impacts your confidence, and you feel better about your prospects,” says Jason Schnelker.

He is talking about the benefits of the “Santa Brings a Lawsuit” project he and partner Andrew Rassi undertook 13 years ago when they were just starting their legal careers.

Schnelker and Rassi joined Wade McConnell in forming their three-person law firm less than two years ago, but they were determined, despite the challenges of running a new business, to continue the holiday tradition.

And quite a tradition it is.

The attorneys spearhead a drive to collect gently-used suits, which they then donate to Goodwill Employment Training and Placement Services for distribution to economically disadvantaged people going on job interviews or on their first day of work. As Schnelker points out, this results in a number of less tangible benefits alongside the obvious one of giving the recipients something to wear.

In past years, “Santa Brings a Lawsuit” has brought in as many as 150 suits, which represents a very strong response from the Kent County legal community. Anyone with a gently-used business suit can donate, but most of the donations come from lawyers; donors are also encouraged to give dress shirts and ties. The drive is advertised in several ways, appearing front and center on the Grand Rapids Bar Association website.

Susan Oestreich of Goodwill Industries agrees with Schnelker about  “the boost in confidence of appropriate work attire.” She says Goodwill is very grateful for the great success of this drive, and is looking forward to the influx of clothes this year will bring.

When Schnelker and Rassi were at Siebers Mohney in 1998, Schnelker heard of someone in the San Francisco area doing such a drive, and contacted him. He got back reams of information on the logistics, and the two new associates decided to give it a try. There are now numerous “lawsuit” drives conducted in cities from Tulsa to St. Paul.

Schnelker laughs when he recalls their first years. “We would go and pick the suits up at law firms in every kind of weather. Sometimes our cars would be overflowing on the way to dropping them off, and we’d be out in the slush and snow... it was miserable.”

The first year suits went to a number of organizations, but since then they have settled on Goodwill — with the added bonus that the company sends out a truck to pick them up.
In the meantime, Siebers Mohney PLC has disbanded, with many of the other attorneys joining Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith. Schnelker, Rassi and McConnell decided that their strengths would work well together, and started the current firm, which primarily serves the business community.

Rassi says, “We have big firm experience and backgrounds and expertise, but we operate as a small firm in terms of our responsiveness and how quickly we get things done for our clients.” All three attorneys were selected as Rising Stars in 2011.

Schnelker focuses on general corporate, finance and real estate matters, and has extensive experience as borrower’s counsel on workout and restructuring transactions. He is a 1997 graduate of Indiana State University School of Law, and has served  on the State Bar Representative Assembly as well as lecturing and writing on commercial lending in Michigan.
Rassi represents closely held and family businesses in areas including estate planning and business succession planning. He has very specific expertise in franchise law and development assistance. Rassi went to Hope College for his B.A. and Vanderbilt University School of Law for his J.D.

Third partner Wade McConnell is an experienced litigator working in both the business arena, including complex issues, and in divorce and family law. McConnell, whose law degree is from Wayne State University, serves on the Board of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids Foundation, a nice tie-in.

The firm’s offices at 44 Grandville S.W. served as a drop-off point for the drive, along with the MVP Metro Club on Fountain Street, where Rassi says he urges his fellow basketball players to donate.

The drive does not produce as  many women’s suits as men’s. This may be due in part to the existence of a similar “Clothes Closet” at the Women’s Resource Center.

Those facing economic hardship who are interested in accessing ths suits may get involved with Goodwill’s training program by going to their new Heartley Center offices.