Kennedy awarded prestigious honor as Respected Advocate

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The great prestige attached to the Michigan Respected Advocate Awards results in part from the fact that no one can apply for them.

The two awards given each yer result from word-of-mouth about the reputations of distinguished trial lawyers, vetted by the nomination committees and boards of both the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) and the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel (MDTC).

Another source of prestige is that the honors reflect excellence that is comprehensive.

As current MDTC President, Tim Diemer of Jacobs and Diemer in Detroit, says, “The recipients have to have excellent advocacy skills and success in representing clients, in addition to consistent civility and professionalism — all the things we want our lawyers to exemplify. It’s not just a Mr. Nice Guy award.”

Or, in the case of 2012, Ms. Nice Guy. Katherine Smith Kennedy of Pinsky Smith Fayette and Kennedy was named MDTC’s Respected Advocate at the State Bar of Michigan annual awards banquet Sept. 19.

Another interesting aspect of the two-part award is that the MDTC, “the statewide organization of attorneys representing the defense in civil litigation,” recognizes someone from the plaintiff’s bar, while the MAJ, the organization representing “people who became lawyers so they could help Michigan's working families seek justice when they are injured by an unsafe product, drunk driver or by another person's negligence,” honors an attorney on the defense side.

As Diemer points out, not all attorneys have anything to do with these types of cases, so giving the award allows MDTC and MAJ representatives a chance to explain and promote their organizations.

Kennedy does about 75% of her employment law practice in the federal courts, and she was the first woman president of the Federal Bar Association in the Western District of Michigan Chapter in 2010-2011. During her tenure, the Western District won the Chapter Activity Presidential Achievement Award from the Federal Bar Association.

On behalf of individual employees, she pursues wrongful discharge and discrimination claims.  Her specialty within employment law is wage and hour litigation. “I represent employees who haven’t been paid overtime or minimum wage, or haven’t been paid equally for their work,” she says. She also represents unions in collective bargaining.
Kennedy practices with her father, Edward “Ned” Smith, a labor lawyer who concentrates in representing unions in contract negotiations and grievance arbitration. He too has spent a great deal of his career in service to his profession and the community, including chairing the Grand Rapids Bar Foundation and the Kent County Democratic Party. He serves as a mediator and court evaluator in Federal and State courts.

In her acceptance speech, Kennedy gave substantial credit to her partners, who also include Mike Fayette and Rhett Pinsky. She later said, “A lot of this award is about civility and giving other people respect, and I have three of the best mentors I could have with Mike, Rhett and my dad. They taught me how I can be a really aggressive lawyer who represents my clients zealously but still be respectful and nice.”

As far as how her name came up for nomination, Kennedy conjectures that, although her clients come almost exclusively from West Michigan, opposing counsel representing the employers sometimes are from the east side of the state — from which MDTC draws the majority of its over 500 members.

She adds, “I’ve had some involvement in various State Bar committees, so people around the state have gotten to know me that way, too.” This service includes six years on the District Character and Fitness Commitee.

In addition, she is a member of the Professionalism Advisory Committee for Cooley Law School and the Hillman Trial Advocacy Program Steering Committee.

Comments MDTC’s Diemer, “I had never met Kathy Kennedy, so I talked to some of the attorneys who had cases with her. They told me that she’s honest, she doesn’t misrepresent anything, she’s reasonable, she presents her side of the case fairly and always does a good job in advocating for her clients’s interest. One said, if you see her on the other side you know there’s going to be substance to it because she doesn’t bring non-meritorious cases.”

And for her part, Kennedy states, “I truly do cherish the award. I can just say that it was very humbling being in the company of people who’ve received the award in the past – when I saw the names of the people who’ve come before me I was in awe, people like Bill Jack and Bill Mills and Kathleen Bogas.”

In 2008, attorneys William Jack of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge won the MAJ award, and William Mills of Gruel Mills Nims and Pylman won the MDTC award, though it was mere coincidence that both Grand Rapidians were honored the same year.

The 2012 MAJ award went to Laurel McGiffert of Plunkett Cooney’s Detroit office. McGiffert   practices in medical liability, labor and employment law, municipal law, civil rights, and general litigation. She represents clients in Michigan’s Alternative Dispute Resolution system, and is an independent arbitrator. She is listed in Who’s Who in Black Detroit 2010, and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

Kennedy says that very early in her career she attended a trial advocacy course for which McGiffert was one of the faculty. Kennedy was impressed and comments with a little laugh, “I remember I wanted to be just like her.”

McGiffert says about being named a Respected Advocate, “It humbles and pleases me to have earned the respect of my peers, and especially my opponents; and the award is unquestionably a highlight of my legal career.”

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