Opening Chapter

Vets give legal boost to new organization

Attorney Steve Dunn spent part of his spring jumping out of airplanes as a U.S. Army officer, so when fellow attorney and veteran Fred Dewey suggested that they form a Detroit chapter of the new Veterans Bar Association, it wasn't hard for Dunn to take another leap.

"I attended an annual dinner for attorneys who are University of Detroit Jesuit High School alums and I met Fred," Dunn says. "We started talking and realized that we were both veterans. Fred told me that he had recently heard about a Veterans Bar Association chapter in San Diego and he speculated about whether we could start one here. I said, 'Absolutely!' and I told him of a number of friends of mine in the area who are both lawyers and veterans."

Founded in San Diego in 2009 by attorney and former Navy SEAL Walter Bean Scott of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, the Veterans Bar Association was created to provide networking, mentoring, and other opportunities for former and current military service members practicing law.

"Right now, the formation of the various chapters across the country is in a preliminary stage," says Dewey. "Not many are as far along as we are. I would imagine that, in the future, when more chapters have developed, then the national organization will be more involved and that will be helpful. But for now, we're kind of feeling our way along."

One of the first team building efforts of the new group was putting together a team to participate in the recent "Tough Mudder" event at Michigan International Speedway. A combination half marathon and brutal obstacle course, the event is somewhat reminiscent of the demanding basic training that military personnel undergo at the beginning of their service.

The new bar team also liked that veterans were helped by the proceeds from the event.

"The proceeds of 'Tough Mudder' benefit the Wounded Warriors Project," says Dunn. "That's something that all of us support."

Dewey, born in Petoskey and raised in Detroit, was an enlisted MP and then began the long trek to the law.

"I served as an enlisted man, then received money from the GI Bill for college and law school at Wayne State," he says. "I came straight here to Dickinson Wright from law school. We went through the application process the second year of law school. I came to work here the second year and was hired before I graduated."

Like many who enlist in the now all-volunteer military, Dewey had a family member who served as an inspiration.

"I had a grandfather who served in World War II, so I always had some interest in the military," he says. "That interest didn't become serious until I was in high school and trying to decide what to do with my life."

Dunn's inspiration was more stark and immediate.

"I was studying abroad at University College Cork in Ireland on September 11, 2001," he says. "I was 21 years old. No one knew what was going on and it was a traumatic experience for every American. I decided right then and there that I wanted to serve."

His father understood his reaction, but offered some wise counsel as well.

"My dad said, 'Well, you've always wanted to be a lawyer. I'd recommend you follow through with that and decide how to serve after law school.'"

Dunn followed that advice and eventually found himself juggling two legal careers one military and one civilian in addition to starting a family.

"When I finished law school I accepted a commission in the United States Army Reserve as a 1st Lieutenant and an appointment by then Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca to serve the people of Oakland County as an assistant prosecuting attorney," he says.

For Dewey, the face of the military has changed since his grandfather's day, with many more minorities and women in both the ranks and leadership. Both Dewey and Dunn hope that their organization will reflect those changes.

"We have several female attorneys who have joined," Dewey says. "One was actually deployed to Iraq with me. She was in my MP unit over there and became a lawyer in the Detroit area. I looked her up and asked if she was interested and she joined. We also have a female law student who has joined."

Dunn emphasizes that family is the most important support system for serving military and veterans.

"I don't know how I could've done it without the support and sacrifices of my wife."

Employers and their policies are also vitally important to making it possible to juggle the workplace and a military commitment.

"My law firm, Howard & Howard, and our CEO Mark Davis have been extremely supportive of my continued service," says Dunn, now a major in the JAG Corps. "It requires me to be away from the firm and our clients, just this year, for example, for a month. I appreciate the support of my law firm, our CEO and all of my partners. It's through their support that I'm able to continue my Army service."

Although he's now left the military, Dewey also cites family and employer as being instrumental in supporting his service and now the demands of the new organization.

"I could not be more grateful for the indispensable support of my family and friends during my military service," he says. "I also thank my colleagues at Dickinson Wright for providing me the opportunity to realize my professional goals and their support of the Veterans Bar Association."

As demanding as his active duty stints can be, Dunn admits there's a satisfying element of adventure, too.

"One of the things I did when I was on active duty recently in May and June was I jumped with my air assault unit to maintain my airborne status," he says. "At 5th Group, we jump C-130 tailgate. I did that both in May and in June and now have a total of seven jumps. It's awesome."

Among the challenges the new organization faces is getting the word out. Today this can mean digital tools as well as word of mouth.

"We have a website. I took the lead on creating it, although I know nothing about web development," says Dewey. "It's currently an 'under construction' placeholder that provides our basic contact information."

Dewey and Dunn have ambitious plans for the organization and hope to see it grow into an influential and positive force in the legal community.

"We want to be considered, like the Federal Bar Association, an important organization of lawyers in the state of Michigan," Dunn says. "We want to be a group that has members on the bench, in the legislature, in leadership positions in their law firms, corporations and communities." "We want to establish a Veterans Court at 44th District Court in Royal Oak," Dunn says. "I'd also like to see us double our membership. We want to increase our visibility statewide. We want to have well-attended quarterly meetings. We want to generate a meaningful dialogue about veterans issues. We want to develop a robust referral network."

Because of their roles as, respectively, an MP and an attorney in the military, Dewey and Dunn are very aware of the emotional stresses and painful memories that veterans endure during service and often bring home with them.

"Hopefully, we can help them, and each other," Dunn says.

"I'm currently assigned to an active duty unit as the group Judge Advocate for 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell in Kentucky," he continues. "I spent two weeks in May and two weeks in June on active duty and, during that time, our unit suffered the death of one of our soldiers by apparent suicide. In my seven years as a Judge Advocate in the Army, I have been the legal adviser to the investigating officer for 11 suicides."

But, perhaps thinking of Tough Mudder and war stories told over a cold beer, Dunn lightens up and mentions another purpose of the budding organization.

"We want to get together and have fun, too!"

The organization's website is at http://vbadetroit.org/ and membership information can be obtained by e-mailing fdewey@dickinsonwright.com.

By Steve Thorpe

 

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