Up to the task SBM president aims to keep Michigan a 'leader' in the delivery of legal services

By Linda Laderman

Legal News

Long before Tom Rombach was an attorney and president of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) he was a pre-law student and a journalist with a sense of history, a bent for oratory, and a penchant for public service. When he learned there was a possibility to win a scholarship to WMU Cooley Law School he seized the moment.

"While I was an undergraduate events like Watergate captured my imagination," Rombach said. "When I had the opportunity to compete for a scholarship to WMU Cooley Law School, I took the risk. My argument was 'Why Cameras Should Be Allowed in the Courtroom.' I lost the decision, but won the scholarship."

Only the third solo practitioner and third attorney from Macomb County to hold SBM's top office, Rombach "hit the ground running" when was sworn in as president of SBM in September. Since then he has worked to make legal services more readily available to a broader cross section of the public, promoted professionalism to law students, and launched a 21st century task force.

According to Rombach, the task force enlists legal leaders whose experience qualifies them to recommend how SBM can best serve the public and support lawyers' professional development in a rapidly changing legal marketplace. The task force will release a report on its findings in 2016, he said.

The task force includes SBM past presidents Bruce Courtade and Julie Fershtman. They will serve as co-chairs. Additional members are Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly; Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Kevin Cotter; the deans of all five Michigan law schools; former American Bar Association President Robert Hirshon; and former Judge James Redford, Governor Snyder's legal counsel.

"The willingness of such exceptional leaders to serve on the task force reflects the growing awareness in Michigan of how technology and globalization are profoundly changing the world in which lawyers practice," Rombach said. "The task force will focus on recommending concrete, practical steps to keep Michigan a leader in promoting improvements in the delivery of legal services."

Rombach sees the Internet as an effective tool for those who need legal assistance.

"We are trying to respond to the challenges as well as the opportunities the Internet poses to the legal profession, "Rombach said. "The Internet has presented lawyers with the right set of circumstances to develop an innovative strategy to help clients solve their legal problems."

Rombach believes unbundling legal services are an integral piece of that plan.

"Unbundling is a pragmatic step to increasing affordability of legal services. We see this most often in family law cases where a party may need an attorney for some aspects of the action but can file other issues on their own. We want to be sure the public is aware that the state has services like www.michiganlegalhelp.org. These organizations enable folks to help themselves," Rombach said.

Sharing his 27 years of legal experience with aspiring attorneys is another of Rombach's priorities. In January, he told an incoming group of WMU Cooley law students that "being prepared, honest, and civil makes the experience rewarding." Consistent with his own achievements, Rombach urged the group "to seek early and active involvement with local and state bar organizations to create networking opportunities and life-long friendships."

Rombach took his own advice soon after he was sworn into the Michigan Bar. He volunteered for the Macomb County Bar Association where his first job was to park cars for the annual picnic. Undeterred, Rombach continued his involvement locally and statewide, building a reputation as an energetic advocate for a myriad of legal issues. His efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

In 2004, Rombach received the Macomb County Outstanding Volunteer Award, the Macomb County Pro Bono Services for Senior Citizens Award in 2007, and the Macomb County Bar Association's first Distinguished Public Service Award in 2011. In 2012, he earned the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Alumni Distinguished Service Award and the Macomb County Resolution Center's Conflict Resolution Advocacy Award in 2014.

The State Bar President is committed to conflict resolution as an alternative to bringing a dispute to court.

"The majority of the practice of law is preventing people from going to court," Rombach said.

When Rombach received the Macomb County Resolution Center's Conflict Resolution Advocacy Award, Craig Pappas, director of the center, said Rombach 'has been a big supporter of the Resolution Center and its activities. He's always putting out a good word encouraging alternative dispute resolution and mediation."

Accolades notwithstanding, Rombach insists that he receives more from the legal profession than he gives.

"I wouldn't have been able to succeed if not for people showing me the ropes, Rombach said. "It is incumbent on me to give what I know to others."

Rombach remembers a football coach who was a mentor and a lawyer.

"He shared his love of the sport and his life lessons. How he identified as an attorney was important to me," Rombach said.

Contrary to those who say there are too many lawyers, Rombach believes the profession can always use another good attorney.

"Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are drawing those who might have gone to law school. We need to ask ourselves how we will replace the baby boomers who are retiring from the profession," Rombach said.

Despite his responsibilities as SBM president, Rombach maintains a vibrant civil and criminal legal practice.

"I am in court by day, and representing SBM by night," Rombach said. "I love advocating on behalf of my clients. The U.S. is a rule of law society, and to be an officer of the court is something I am particularly proud of."

Published: Mon, Mar 23, 2015

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