Lawyerly roots run deep:Three Navarre generations have practiced law in Jackson

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By Brett DeGroff
Legal News

Looking around Philip Navarre’s office is like looking into Michigan’s past.  Of course, the office is filled with the trappings of his busy solo practice.  But the office also contains some of the tokens accumulated by his family over the many decades it has been in Michigan.

Leaning against a shelf behind Navarre’s desk is a cane that was given to Navarre’s grandfather, Joseph A. Navarre Sr. upon his graduation from the University of Michigan Law School in 1930.  It is striped ebony, with a silver inlay depicting scales of justice and a block “M.”  A “3” and a “0” rest on the scales to signify the year of his graduation.  Joseph A Navarre Sr. came to Jackson in 1942 to work with a local firm.  In the 1950s he was called on by Governor Gerhard Mennen “Soapy” Williams to act as Michigan’s Insurance Commissioner. 

“He basically rewrote the insurance code,” Navarre said of his grandfather.  “And a lot of what he did is still in place today.”

In the early 1960s, Joseph A Navarre Sr. went into business with Russell E. Noble, and the two of them built their own practice.  They continued until 1974 when Noble was appointed to the Circuit Court bench.  Navarre says one of his grandfather’s memorable cases was an employment law matter which he took on pro bono.

“My grandfather represented a man who was upset he had been demoted at work,” Navarre said.  “The client was a street cleaner on Mackinac Island.  He was demoted from cleaning the main street to cleaning a side street.  My grandfather thought that anybody who takes that much pride in his work deserves some help.”
Eventually Joseph A. Navarre Sr. was joined in the practice by his sons, Joseph A. Navarre III and William F. Navarre Sr. William later struck out on his own in Brooklyn, Michigan. Joseph continued in the practice and was joined by his son, Philip, in 1988.  The firm still has some clients who were represented by Joseph A. Navarre Sr.

“My father never steered me in this direction,” Navarre said.  “But I think he was very happy and proud to practice with me for 15 years.”

The bigger influence in Navarre’s decision to go into law was Judge Noble.  The judge encouraged Navarre into law and hired him on as his law clerk and bailiff after graduation from the University of Michigan.  Navarre worked for Noble from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and took classes at Thomas M. Cooley Law School from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“I got to see how things played out in the real world, and not just in some book,” Navarre said.

Obviously books are also integral to the practice of law, and Navarre’s family has had influence in this regard as well.  On a credenza behind Navarre’s desk rests an original copy of “Negotiable Instruments.”  Published in 1905, it was authored by Navarre’s great-grandfather, University of Michigan law professor Robert E. Bunker. 

Navarre’s present practice tends toward the technical.  With an LL.M. in taxation from Boston University School of Law, Navarre is qualified and confident in complex estate planning matters as well as formation of limited liability companies.  As a general practitioner, he handles a lot of family law matters having served as a council member of the Family Law Section of the State Bar for eight years.  He also handles occasional misdemeanor criminal defense. One of the highlights of Navarre’s career is marked by a framed certificate which signifies his admission to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.

But across the office, on a writing desk, is maybe the most fascinating, and oldest of the Navarre clan relics—a copy of a deed signed on June 3, 1785.  The document, written in French, deeded land from the principle chiefs of Potawatomi Indians to Navarre’s ancestors, Francis Navarre and James Navarre. 
And more Navarres are being raised in the Jackson area.  Navarre and his wife Elizabeth have five children and two grandchildren.  Navarre doesn’t know if his practice will continue to another generation.  Like his father, Navarre isn’t steering anyone toward law.

“He always told me to be good at what you do, and enjoy what you do,” Navarre said “Because you are going to be doing it for the rest of your life.”

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