Leadership Award

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Former OCBA president to be saluted by State Bar

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

When Mike Sullivan took office as president of the Oakland County Bar Association in the summer of 2007, Kimberly Cahill was in the final few months of her year as the leader of the State Bar of Michigan, a time when she championed the organization’s Access to Justice program.

Her exemplary leadership of the State Bar during that 2006-07 presidential year dovetailed neatly with Sullivan’s role at the helm of the OCBA, which he deftly guided while highlighting the efforts of lawyers who “devoted their ‘spare time’ to giving back to the community through participation in charitable organizations.”

Fittingly, Sullivan will step into the State Bar spotlight himself on Thursday, Sept. 26, when he receives the Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award, one of the most coveted honors the organization annually presents.

The award, named in memory of the late State Bar president who died of cancer in January 2008 at the age of 47, recognizes a legal “leader for excellence in promoting the ideal of professionalism and equal justice for all.” The honor will be presented to Sullivan at the State Bar’s Inauguration & Awards Luncheon on September 26 in Novi.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” said Sullivan, who for the past decade served as the president of Collins, Einhorn, Farrell in Southfield. “I have enjoyed every minute of my bar service and am convinced that it has rewarded me with friendships and experiences I never would have had without it.”

Throughout his 35-year career in the law, Sullivan has “epitomized the ideal of professionalism,” according to Theresa Asoklis and Daniel Collins, the co-managing partners of Collins Einhorn.

In nominating Sullivan for the award, Asoklis, Collins, and David Anderson saluted their colleague for “his unwavering and dedicated service to multiple bar associations, his representation of his fellow lawyers in professional liability claims, and his leadership as managing partner of the law firm where he has spent his entire career.”

During his time as president of the OCBA from 2007-08, Sullivan “took on the challenge of attempting to change the public’s perception of lawyers, as well as lawyers’ perceptions of themselves,” Asoklis and Collins wrote in their nomination letter. In addition, they noted, “Mike was equally dedicated to the charitable goals of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, serving on its Board of Directors for several years, and ultimately serving as OCBF President in 2009-10.”

Sullivan, an alumnus of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, also has been active with the State Bar for many years, most recently chairing the Council of its Negligence Section.

“So he has not only actively participated in these bar associations, he has led each one, and has done so with the highest degree of professionalism,” Asoklis and Collins wrote.
One of seven children, Sullivan has excelled at challenges since childhood.

“Hey, I was raised in a household with six sisters,” he said with a smile. “I know all about challenges.”

It was his mother, Marion, who gave him the nudge to pursue a career in the law. Actually, it was more like a shove.

“My mom decided early on that I was going to be a lawyer, and she had the only vote that counted,” Sullivan wrote in a column that appeared during his year as president of the OCBA.

Sullivan titled the column, “My Mother Made Me Do It.” Indeed, she did.

“She was inspired, no doubt, by her older brother, Thomas More Burns: lawyer, legislator, and judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals,” Sullivan wrote of his mother’s fascination with the law. “Her ‘baby’ brother, Jerome E. Burns, was also a lawyer, one of the most well-regarded trial lawyers in Saginaw County. So, there was no shortage of inspiration within her immediate family who felt that way. When we all got together for a family reunion of the ‘Burns’ branch of the family many years ago in Bay City, we had to use a wide-angle lens to take a picture of all the lawyers in the family.”

Sullivan said his mother, who passed away in 2002 at age 80, certainly had the smarts to be a lawyer if she had been afforded the opportunity, “but instead went to work out of high school for The Saginaw News, where she ended up covering the ‘church beat’ and met and married a fellow reporter named Jerry Sullivan.”

His father, who died at age 80 in the fall of 2002, grew up in the town of Gladwin in mid-Michigan, attending St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids and then Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he obtained a master’s degree in philosophy. During a stint with The Detroit News, where he became editor of its Sunday magazine, he gained popularity with a series of articles on his travels around Michigan.

“Upon reflection, I’m amazed that my parents were able to do all that they did in life while raising seven kids,” Sullivan said. “They were always there at my cross country and track meets throughout high school. I don’t believe they missed a one.”

Their only son gave them good reason to attend. His Royal Oak Shrine team was a two-time state champion with the lanky Sullivan serving as captain his senior year. He has continued his love of running through adulthood, regularly participating in races from the 5-kilometer to marathon distance.

Sullivan and his wife, Mary Jo, met in law school at the U of D, and will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary in October. Mary Jo, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, practiced corporate and probate law in Southfield for several years before the couple began raising a family. She later became a junior high teacher at Holy Name School in Birmingham after earning her master’s degree in education from Oakland University.

The couple’s two children include Maureen, who graduated from U-M with a degree in English and art history, and Kathleen, an alumna of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Maureen, 31, wrote for The Michigan Daily while pursuing her bachelor’s degree and currently is the manager of internal communications for Cartier in New York. Twenty-nine-year-old Kathleen, a graduate of Birmingham Groves High School along with her sister, was a club volleyball player at Miami, and now works in design and sales for Kohler in Birmingham.

Their father was appointed to the board of the Oakland County Bar Foundation in 1999 after years of involvement with the OCBA.

“I got involved with the Bar Association shortly after I was sworn in as a lawyer,” Sullivan said. “The rewards of being involved have far outweighed the time and effort I’ve invested. I have made more pals through it than I can name, and it truly has been a pleasure to be involved in promoting good causes and advancing the legal profession.”

During his year as president of the OCBA, Sullivan did his best to trumpet the good works of those in the legal community, regularly spotlighting “Lawyers Giving Back” for those who donate their “time, talent, and resources to their communities.” He continues to take pride in spreading the word about lawyers “who are in the trenches doing the kind of work that doesn’t show up on a billing sheet or a balance sheet.”

His longtime colleague David Anderson, who served as OCBA president from 2016-17, is indebted to Sullivan for serving as a legal role model.

“It has been a privilege over the last 20 years to be mentored by Mike, learning how to best serve our clients while striving to achieve a high degree of professionalism.”

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