Ammon's latest honor reflects years of service to State Bar

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Jeff Ammon of Miller Johnson wants to talk, not about himself, but about the namesake of the prestigious award he has just won.

The Business Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM)  began giving its Stephen H. Schulman Outstanding Business Lawyer Award in 2006.

Wayne State University Professor Schulman was an expert in Michigan business law. A biography written at the time of his death states, “Schulman's accomplishments extended well beyond the law school. He worked tirelessly to reform Michigan corporation law... He served as co-reporter for the [business law] section’s Subcommittee on the Revision of the Michigan Business Corporation Act. His book on the MCBA, Michigan Corporation Law & Practice, co-authored with Cyril Moscow and Margo Rogers Lesser, has been noted to be ‘an indispensable guide to practitioners in this state and elsewhere.’ In 1994, Schulman was recognized [with a formal resolution] as the leading authority on the MCBA by the council of the Business Law Section.”

That resolution also recognized Schulman’s excellence in teaching, as did the Wayne State Law Alumni Association and the student body, which selected him Professor of the Year numerous times.

Ammon did not attend Wayne State University — instead graduating magna cum laude from University of Michigan Law School. He comments, “I never took any of Professor Schulman’s classes, but I remember being a young associate and when he spoke at ICLE programs, I would go to every one. The guy was amazing. He taught many of the business lawyers of my vintage, and I was jealous of them.”

So Ammon is very pleased to receive an award named after such a giant in business law. “I’m honored and humbled — and excited.”

Ammon will receive the 2012 award at the Business Law Section’s  Annual Meeting, to be held Sept. 20 in Novi immediately after the SBM meeting in Grand Rapids Sept. 19-21.
The Schulman Award goes to attorneys who “consistently exemplify the characteristics the Business Law Section seeks to foster and facilitate: the highest quality of professionalism, the highest quality of practice, an unwavering dedication to service, ethical conduct, and collegiality within the practice of law.”

Ammon notes that there is also a tradition of honoring someone who has served the section itself. He himself was chair in 1999-2000, and has been an ex officio member ever since, as are all past chairs. He estimates his involvement dates back 26 or 27 years.

West Michigan has fared well among Schulman Award winners. The 2010 winner was Alex J. DeYonker of Spartan Stores; in 2007 Charles E. McCallum of Warner, Norcross and Judd won the award; and Hugh Makens, also of Warner Norcross, was one of a group of four honored the inaugural year.

Remaining winners include: 2011, James R. Cambridge; 2009 Justin C. Klimko; 2008 G. Ann Baker (from the State of Michigan Corporation Division); a second award winner in 2007, Verne C. Hampton II; and the three additional awardees the first year, James C. Bruno, Cyril Moscow (Schulman’s co-author mentioned above), and Martin C. Oetting.

Warner, Norcross has been the home of many Business Law Section chairs, including McCallum, Makens, Conrad A. Bradshaw, and Paul K. Gaston. Warner’s James H. Breay currently chairs the section’s Financial Institutions committee, and Barnes and Thornburg’s Patrick E. Mears is chair of the Uniform Commercial Code committee.

Other Grand Rapids attorneys serving as section chairs over the years include awardee DeYonker, Tania E. (Dee Dee) Fuller of Fuller Law and Counseling, Robert Schnoor, and Tracy T. Larsen of Barnes and Thornburg.

Jeff Van Winkle of the Grand Rapids Office of Clark Hill is the section’s current treasurer.

Ammon cannot say enough about the good work of the section, which operates under a strategic plan with straightforward goals: for example, expanding resources for members, including very specific business law education resources; and promoting “improved business related laws, legislation, and regulation.”

The section hosts Business Boot Camp for new lawyers or those who want to hone their skills, once on the west side of the state and once on the east each year, and the Spring Business Law Institute, which brings lawyers up to date on the latest laws, pending legislation and case law.

About the award-winning Business Boot Camp, Ammon says, “Years ago, the people in the section realized, look, we’re all training our associates in business, since every business lawyer ought to know certain things. But it’s a better use of resources if we work together, get the best speakers we can find, and offer it to everyone.”

He also says the section’s Business Law Journal is tremendously helpful in a field where the governing statutes change frequently. The journal encourages in-depth subject-matter articles from section members, as well as covering more routine matters.

The 2011 chair of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce (see Grand Rapids Legal News for Dec. 22, 2010), Ammon credits that and his section activities with greatly improving the way he serves his clients. The deep involvement with the way laws are shaped entailed in both endeavors means that he has an acute sense of what person or agency to call if there is ambiguity or any other question.

Reflecting on his Chamber of Commerce chairmanship, Ammon says, “Being the chair was exciting; it allowed me to really be in the middle of a lot of really important work.” He is unstinting in his praise of CEO Rich Studley and the entire staff, who he says allow volunteers to contribute without requiring undue sacrifice.

“I didn’t expect there to be much of a connection between my Chamber of Commerce service and my service to the Business Law Section,” Ammon says. “But it turns out there are a lot of common goals. Both groups, the

section through shaping and giving feedback on legislation, and the Chamber through promoting them, tend to focus on providing flexibility and certainty to the business
community.”

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