Buchanan continues years of SBM work as he moves up the leadership line

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Rob Buchanan had put in many years of hard work for the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) when he was sworn in as its secretary on Sept. 18 at the NEXT Conference in Detroit.

According to the SBM’s succession policy, that means he will cap off his nearly 20 years in various leadership positions by serving as the SBM president in 2020-2021.

Buchanan started out on the SBM Representative Assembly, where he served from 2003 to 2010. “I enjoyed it, and it did it for quite a while. But then Judge Murphy was on the Board of Commissioners and had completed the maximum number of terms, and it was suggested that, hey, maybe I would want to run for that. It sounded very interesting to me, less of the 30,000-foot policy issues and more the running and the mechanics of the State Bar, so I said yes,” Buchanan explains.

The Board of Commissioners election was contested, but Buchanan won; and that has taken up a lot of his time ever since.

“My personality is such that if I’m going to spend the time on a board, I want to make sure that I’m very involved and using the time productively,” he says. “I like to serve actively on the committees.”

And that he has. The chair of several Representative assembly committees (Drafting, Assembly Review, and Special Issues), Buchanan has followed up at the Board of Commissioners with a variety of committee involvements:  Programs and Services; Finance; Public Policy, Image, and Identity; and the Advisory Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. He has been Board liaison to the Law Practice Management & Legal Administrators Section (2015–2016), the Negligence Section, the Litigation Section, and the Consumer Law Section.

As if all of that were not enough, he was also on the Work Group that considered the role of the State Bar in 2014, the Judicial Campaign Work Group in 2013, and, perhaps most important to his current position, served on the Strategic Planning Work Group from 2015 to the present.

Buchanan is excited about the resulting strategic plan. “We spent a lot of effort. The bar wants to make sure we stay relevant to the profession. The new plan is not just a revision, it’s a complete, ground-up redo.” he says.

As he worked on these critical issues, Buchanan also ran for treasurer —“That job requires a lot of oversight, a lot of time, but [Director of Finance and Administration] Jim Horsch just does a terrific job,” he says — and now, secretary.

Buchanan explains that the secretarial job consists primarily of working with committees, and in particular those dealing with “the professional regulatory side ot the bar.”

In addition, he is convening a steering committee that came out of the 21st Century Task Force to align the outcomes of that work with the mission of SBM, particularly in a structural sense. Each officer is responsible for a different task force steering committee, and, Buchanan says, “I think this is a very productive restructure of the Bar.”

Buchanan continues to be zealous in pursuit of his personal injury practice, where he is a plaintiff’s attorney in medical malpractice cases.

He graduated cum laude from Kalamazoo College with a B.A. in economics and international business, also attending the Instituto Internacional in Madrid from 1983-1984. He then received his J.D., also cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School.

“I started my career at Warner Norcross & Judd in 1988. I was a litigation associate; I did mostly commercial litigation with some personal injury work, some product liability at the time,” he says.

Then, in 1995, he and his father, the well-known John C. “Jack” Buchanan, and sister Jane Beckering (now a Court of Appeals Judge) started their own firm.

Transitioning from primarily a commercial litigation firm to one where  “the bulk of our work has been patient advocacy,” Buchanan & Buchanan innovatively added a physician just before 2000 to help clients get the most out of their legal experience. The team still includes a nurse advisor.

Since 2003, Jack Buchanan has been Of Counsel at the firm, but runs a “society of the world’s finest independent, boutique law firms” (as it says on the website) called Primerus. Primerus has nearly 200 member firms in 40 countries and, as detailed in a previous Grand Rapids Legal News article, assists clients with finding an experienced attorney around the globe.

Rob Buchanan continues to serve on the board of Primerus, as he does for the Michigan Association for Justice, where he has cut back his involvement due to the SBM work.

In addition, he finds time to lecture widely on medical malpractice, including such topics as the use of video in personal injury litigation and courtroom technology. He has also been an adjunct professor in medical malpractice law at WMU-Cooley Law School since 2012.

Buchanan was formerly a trustee for the Grand Rapids Bar Association, and a regional representative for the Federal Bar Association.

Through all of that he has maintained the highest standards in his practice. He has been named one of the Best Lawyers in America since 2004, in such areas as medical malpractice law, personal injury litigation, and commercial litigation, including being named the Plaintiff’s “Lawyer of the Year: Grand Rapids Personal Injury Litigation by Best Lawyers in 2014 and 2015. He has also been a Michigan Super Lawyer since 2006.

Nor does all of his SBM work eliminate time for personal pursuits. The father of three daughters, the oldest of whom is a sophomore at University of Michigan, Buchanan lives with his wife in Ada.

He has a particular interest in fitness and says, “I do something called Fit Body Boot Camp. It means getting there by 5:35 in the morning, but it’s made a tremendous difference as far as my energy and enthusiasm,” Buchanan says. “And my sister Jane [Judge Beckering] does it too. She’s still one of my closest friends, and it’s great to see her every morning and know what’s she’s up to.”

A runner, Buchanan also talks about being a finisher in the 2013 Tough Mudder Run and Obstacle Challenge. He served on a ten-person Wayne State Law alumni team, along with Jefferson Law Center attorney Albert Dib, and former Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson, who has recently announced a 2018 run for Michigan Secretary of State. “It was a lot of fun,” Buchanan says of the grueling 10-12 mile race through the mud.

Buchanan also finds time to be a pilot and manage two businesses, Legal Video Solutions and Cascade Classics.

But he will set aside as many of these other interests as necessary to do a good job as he moves toward the SBM presidency.

“Each president doesn’t come in with a new agenda. We’re all agreed on a commission mission to make it as effective as we possibly can,” he explains. “So it’s no longer someone’s personal ‘pet project,’ it’s actually making sure we take the profession where it needs to go.”

It is certain that Buchanan’s tenure as an officer will contribute to that goal. “My passion is my day job,” he says, “but the bar I do because I think it’s the right thing to do. To me, it’s very important that Michigan lawyers are as well-prepared as any in the country to be the best they can be.”
 

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