Monday Profile: Bill Schlecte

Bill Schlecte's parents grew up in the Depression, met at the University of Michigan Medical School, married, and went on to have six children, all of whom graduated from U-M.

Schlecte graduated from Cranbrook Academy in 1965, along with 71 others, including Mitt Romney. Of the 72, 37 went on to become attorneys.

After graduating from U-M Law School in 1972, he started practice with what was then the firm of Conlin, Conlin, McKenney and Meader. From 1974 to 1986, he partnered with Bob Brimacombe. Since then, he has practiced under his own banner, Schlecte Law Firm, PC. a boutique firm with its principal office in Ann Arbor, and other offices in Jackson, Southfield, Petoskey, Tawas City, and Punta Gorda, Fla. For 22 years, Schlecte has been married to Laura Dwyer Schlecte, a Jackson City Council member. He has four children from a previous marriage, David, 37; Anna, 34; Emily, 31; and Adam, 27, as well as two stepchildren, Jacque, 33 and Ted, 32.

Residence: Laura and I have maintained residences in downtown Ann Arbor (above my office) and Jackson for the last ten years, but we are in the process of putting the Ann Arbor property on the market. I will soon be a full-time resident of Jackson.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Without intending to be cryptic, it is being able to live in the moment.

What is your greatest fear? That something bad will happen to my children or my wife.

Which living person do you most admire? My wife, Laura. She is beautiful, brilliant, good-hearted, and the most motivated person I have ever met in my life. She also possesses extraordinary common sense.

What is the trait you hate most in yourself? Lack of patience with others--I have worked hard over the years to restrain myself from telling someone off who I thought was being an idiot or an obstructionist. I am a lot better than I used to be, even from just a few years ago. I attribute the improvement to my wife who is not afraid to tell me when I am in the wrong. She is usually right.

What is the trait you hate most in others? Intolerance and ignorance. I agree with the adage that "One can forgive stupidity, but not ignorance. The first is genetic; the second is a choice."

If you suddenly had an extra room in your house, what would you do with it? We already have too many rooms. It would simply remain empty.

What was your most memorable meal? There are too many to count in too many places throughout the US and our travels elsewhere. Perhaps the one Laura and I had in Corsica at the top of a hill overlooking Porto Vecchio. It was nothing but a couple of picnic tables where a woman served up crepes cooked on a small Bunsen stove and lots of Corsican wine--nothing fancy, but extremely romantic.

If you could take back one thing you did ... Not sure. There are lots of things that I would have done differently, but there is nothing I look back on that I particularly rue. We have to accept what we have done and learn from our mistakes. Hopefully I have learned at least a little.

What is your most treasured material possession? Probably our cottage in Tawas City--it is a place that is serene and where I can truly relax.

If you could do one thing professionally ... This is an easy one: argue a case in the US Supreme Court.

What are your favorite websites? If by "favorite" you mean which ones do I visit most often: ICLE, LEXIS, weather. Sirius radio is always on, too.

Your proudest moment(s) as a lawyer? I have been at this for 40 years, so there are many highs and a few lows.

What would surprise people about your job? For non-lawyers, it would be the immense amount of time that we have to spend in order to do a good job. There is so much to know and technology makes it happen so fast. Ahhhhh --the good ole days before email, computers, faxes, and even copy machines. Yes--I have been at this so long that when I started with the Conlin firm, it had only the then-state-of-the-art 3M "wet" copier that took about two minutes for each poorly legible sheet to roll off. Carbon paper was the norm and legal secretaries ruled the office because, as a young attorney, the last thing I wanted to do was send a document back for typing. If it was not perfect the first time around, one suffered the wrath of the powerful.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Unwavering conviction that is based on prejudice or ignorance. We should be willing to admit when we are wrong.

What's your greatest achievement: Raising six children who are now self-supporting adults.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self? Study more and take greater advantage of the tremendous opportunities presented to you.

What would be your ideal job?

I enjoy being an attorney, but if I had to pick another career, it would be personal trainer/fitness instructor. I am a fitness nut.

What one habit do you wish you could break? Correcting someone else's grammar (other than associate attorneys who need to know how to write and speak).

What is something most people don't know about you? Many things, which I do not think is unusual because we lack the time or curiosity to find much out about others. Curiosity is a wonderful characteristic that keeps life fresh and interesting.

What do you wish more people understood? That we are all different people with different ideas, different beliefs, and different lives. We should have empathy and understanding for others, whether we agree with them or not.

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? The list is long, but if forced to choose, at the table would be: Terry Gross (NPR--she has conducted the most interesting interviews of absolutely everybody); Bill Clinton (what a fascinating and engaging personality riddled with enigma); and, Ernest Hemingway (William Faulkner, or any number of other writers of fiction).

Favorite word: There are many that just seem to roll off the tongue, but the best is "eleemosynary."

Favorite movie:

"The Great Santini."

What's one thing you can do now that you couldn't do 20 years ago? Relax.

Favorite place to spend money: Did you mean for my wife to spend money? French side of St. Martin.

How did your practice evolve into focusing almost entirely on real estate and environmental matters? A handball partner of mine who was the Associate Director of the Real Estate Program at the UM Business School asked me if I wanted to lecture for the program. I naively said "yes" and it started me down a 40-year path to a real estate and environmental law practice involving interesting, unusual, and challenging transactions and litigation.

What is your motto? The closest is probably the mantra of Henry Ford II: "Never complain; never explain." Whether I actually live this motto is an open question. You would need to ask my wife for the answer.

Where would you like to be when you're 90? Above ground of course, with three seasons in Michigan and winter in St. Martin; and still practicing law full-time and looking forward to at least 10 more years of practice after that. Retirement seems all too boring to me. Maybe my view on this will change, but I doubt it. I get to do pretty much what I want to do as it is.

Published: Mon, Nov 19, 2012

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