Barry Gates lives what he believes offering free one-year MAJ memberships for new attorneys

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By Frank Weir

Legal News

Ann Arbor attorney Barry Gates has put his money where his mouth is for years.

A specialist in malpractice and serious personal injury cases, Gates just completed a year as president of the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ).

He is the first Washtenaw County practitioner to head up the MAJ, previously known as the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association (MTLA).

But since 2006, Gates has been a regular fixture at the attorney admissions ceremonies in Ann Arbor with a unique offer for new attorneys.

He picks up the first year dues for the MAJ for any newly admitted attorney. He even brings pre-stamped envelopes for those who want to take him up on the offer.

Gates first became familiar with the MTLA when he served as treasurer for Judge Donald Shelton's campaign for the Michigan Supreme Court in 1994.

''After that, I was more involved in making political contributions to the MTLA and finally in 2000, I joined its executive board,'' he said.

He notes that his MTLA involvement naturally led to helping revive the Washtenaw branch, the Washtenaw Trial Lawyers Association, now the Washtenaw Association for Justice.

''I was president of the WTLA from 2005 to 2007 and passed on heading up the MTLA until 2007 when I was sure that I could be both a solo practitioner and MAJ officer without neglecting either my clients or the organization.

''I think I've attended all the admissions ceremonies since 2006 except maybe for one. Trial lawyers have a point of view and I found that many new lawyers share that point of view and want to be involved in trial lawyer educational and political activities.''

But Gates could see that membership dues were not the first order of financial business for most recent graduates of law school these days.

''To not have the benefits that new lawyers gain from membership in the MAJ didn't make any sense to me and I knew they often cannot afford to join so I decided to offer new lawyers a chance to be on the inside of the organization for a year at my expense.''

In return, Gates only asks that they make use of the membership and consider renewing if they saw the benefits from it.

And obviously he thinks those benefits are substantial after completing his presidency.

''I think the MAJ made some strides in many areas during my year as president. We communicate better with our members and even our executive board members in the upper peninsula can now participate in our board meetings by phone hook-up.

''While the results of the 2010 elections were generally not good for trial lawyers, their clients and progressive groups, the MAJ as an organization was better organized, involved more members and their friends, and raised more money.''

Gates therefore believes the foundation of the political function of the MAJ in future elections is better than before last fall's elections.

''Trial lawyers and their clients ask only for a fair opportunity to present their case to a jury and that the rules be administered fairly. We will always work to ensure that the three branches of government provide a level playing field.''

And, though his tenure as president of the MAJ is over, Gates loved the experience.

''It was an interesting year for me especially since we were establishing relationships with new legislators and a new governor. And the MAJ has a small but tremendous staff of seven. They are the ones who keep the organization running efficiently.''

Gates has come a long way since he was a star-struck six year old who loved the U of M football games his dad took him to driving over from the family home in Coldwater.

''I loved Ann Arbor from those days on. After serving for 11 years as a Washtenaw County assistant public defender, I had a choice of jobs but chose the firm of Bishop and Shelton because I wanted to stay here in Ann Arbor, rather than Detroit. Ann Arbor offers just a wonderful selection of things to do.''

Gates' experience as a public defender cemented his love of litigation.

''I loved practicing criminal law and had a fair amount of success in doing it for the public defender. But eventually I wanted to be able to determine who I chose to represent so I moved on to Bishop and Shelton.

''Tom Blaske also worked there when I joined the firm and he and I did all the firm's legal malpractice cases. The firm believed that if we were going to sue doctors, we needed to be willing to sue lawyers for their errors.''

When Blaske left to begin practice with his brother Robert Blaske, Gates took over all of the firm's legal malpractice work. And when Shelton became a judge, Gates took over his medical malpractice cases as well.

The firm eventually became Bishop, Gates and Salter, which ended in 1995. Gates then rented offices from Andy Muth and now Court of Appeals Judge Douglas Shapiro in Ypsilanti. He moved back to Ann Arbor in 2002.

Gates notes many changes in the legal profession over his 35 years of practice.

''Some changes are for the better and many are not. I have always tried to treat people as I would want to be treated. When I was a public defender, I had good relationships with police officers and prosecutors even though we would have to go to war regularly.

''I try to treat doctors, other medical personnel and the lawyers whom I sue all respectfully. I understand that good doctors and lawyers sometimes make mistakes that result in someone getting hurt.''

Gates wastes no time in assuring that ''retirement is a dirty word to me.

''I will continue to maintain my very active practice. I am happy with where my practice is now and I find I am doing lots of failure to diagnose cancer cases, especially breast cancer cases. And I plan to remain very active in political and trial lawyer activities.''

Gates' wife, Joyce Krantz, is a registered nurse who specializes in the administration of chemotherapy. They like to travel, get together with friends, attend sporting events, and cook.

You often will find Joyce in the couple's garden, Gates added.

And you also will still find Gates himself at the next lawyer's admissions ceremonies, spring and fall, with his stamped envelopes in hand and offer still open.

Published: Thu, Jul 21, 2011

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