Pet Project- Area attorney spearheads Michigan Humane Society

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Beverly Hall Burns set her sights on becoming a lawyer from the age of 12. But her career dream almost got kiboshed by – of all people – a Sunday school teacher

“My teacher – who was a lawyer and trustworthy, after all, since he was my Sunday School teacher! – told me that girls couldn’t be lawyers,” she says. “This was in the early ‘60s. So I believed him and became a newspaper reporter and editor instead.”

Burns worked 8 years for The Lansing State Journal directly out of her undergrad work at Michigan State University.

“During that time I had the opportunity to write wedding stories – which is what girl reporters had to do in 1967 – and then after I made enough noise I became a police, city hall and education reporter; then I was the editor of the daily feature section ¬ – my all-time favorite job – and finally, the city editor, which prepared me very nicely for the pressures of being a lawyer!

“Years later I had the chance to revisit that question – whether I could be a lawyer. I decided I could probably do that, went off to the University of Michigan, and here I am.”  

Burns, an attorney with Miller Canfield, has made the “Best Lawyers in America, Labor and Employment Law” and “Michigan Super Lawyers, Labor & Employment Law” annual lists since 2006, and this year was named by DBusiness Magazine among the “Top Lawyers, Labor and Employment.”

Small wonder that Burns became a co-founder, with two friends, of a women’s organization called the Eleanor League, that existed in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and was named for little-known baseball player, Eleanor Engle, a secretary in Pennsylvania.

“Eleanor wanted to play professional baseball – I think she played second base. Anyway, she was signed by the Harrisburg Senators in 1952 and played in one practice only,” Burns says.  “Her big league career was cut short because the manager objected to having a woman on the team and Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball at the time, canceled her contract. 

“My two friends and I wanted to start a professional women’s networking group, made up of women who wanted to ‘play in the big leagues’ in their professions – so we thought Eleanor Engle was the right person to honor when we named our group.”

In June, she became chair of the Michigan Humane Society where she has served on the board since 2007.

“I became involved several years ago because I believe in its purpose – protecting animals and positively affecting society’s views in order to be more considerate, respectful and compassionate toward all living things,” she says. “I enjoy my work with the Humane Society because, while we’ve achieved great success in improving animals’ lives, we recognize we must always work to get better.

“The Detroit Shelter is more than 80 years old -- just last year we received a very generous gift to cover purchase of property to build a new Detroit facility. We're really excited about that, and in the meantime, the MHS has amazing staff who work every day in the Detroit Shelter as well as in our other shelters, to improve the lives of animals.”

In June, the MHS held a Mutt March in Grosse Pointe Shores, raising money for lifesaving programs that include adoption, cruelty investigation, emergency rescue, reuniting lost animals with their guardians, humane education and legislative advocacy. Regular adoption opportunities are available at the society’s three shelters and certain PetSmart stores in the area. Details are available at www.michiganhumane.org.

Burns and her team are gearing up Mega March for Animals to be held Sunday, Oct. 2 at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

Burns, who earned her bachelor’s degree in English from MSU, and her law degree from the University of Michigan, now has more than 30 years’ experience representing and advocating for employers at the negotiating table, in hearings, in board rooms or community gatherings.

She was drawn to Miller Canfield as a second-year law school student when she interviewed for and accepted a position as a summer associate.  

She has acquired a niche specialty in special education and has represented schools from the Individual Educational Program meetings to litigation in federal court. She helps school districts create cost-saving student-teacher ratios in labor agreements, has assisted them in resolving special education disputes, and in addressing student discipline and expulsion issues, and helped school districts with thorny challenges related to sex offenders, sex scandals, employee theft and threats to safety.

Author of many articles and papers on labor law and school law, most recently she co-authored

“Key Employment Law Issues for Companies in 2010,” for Financier Worldwide. She has also testified in the U. S. House of Representatives, before the Committee on Educational and Economic Opportunity, and the Committee on Education and Labor.

Burns – whose family comprises husband Ben, son Ben, daughter-in-law Laura, and infant grandson BJ; and son James and his fiancée Beth – enjoys fitness, reading, cooking, travel, and gardening.