Dunn's expertise augments that of others on 21st Century Practice Task Force



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Over the 51 years of his legal career, all of it spent at Clark Hill PLC, William Dunn has acquired a great deal of in-depth knowledge.

His expertise covers not only his own practice area of real estate, development law, and commercial financing, but also professional ethics and responsibility, attorney discipline and the legal profession’s self-regulation.

A past chair of the Center for Professional Responsibility and of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Dunn has also previously served the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) as Chair of its Professional Ethics Committee.

So it is no surprise that SBM appointed him to one of three committees of its cutting-edge 21st Century Practice Task Force called Modernizing the Regulatory Machinery.

Dunn comments, “ I think it’s very exciting to bring all the ideas together about what the profession could change into — not just what its challenges are, but what can it do to meet them.”

The task force itself is co-chaired by former SBM presidents Bruce A. Courtade of Rhoades McKee and Julie I. Fershtman of Foster Swift Collins and Smith. The full task force’s impressive roster includes Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, the deans of all five Michigan law schools, speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin Cotter, and James Redford, former Kent County judge and now legal counsel to Governor Snyder. They are joined by judges, including Timothy Hicks of Muskegon County; representatives from bodies such as the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission; individuals involved with the American Bar Association (ABA) including its former president Robert Hirshorn; attorneys including other past presidents of SBM.

The genesis of the task force is not simple, but in part can be traced back to the Judicial Crossroads Task Force. The report of that task force, also convened by SBM, stated, “We can no longer afford our current system. The tools exist to change it, rapidly and intelligently. The Task Force’s recommendations tell us what should replace it and how to make it happen.”

While the recommendations in that report were primarily about the courts, they touched on such issues as indigent defense, rapidly-changing technology, globalization, and in pro per representation that will also be concerns of the 21st Century Practice Task Force.

Another contributing factor to the creation of the task force is that the ABA is undertaking a similar exploration, its Future Commission. In November of last year, SBM and the Michigan Supreme Court convened a summit called “The Future of Legal Services.” ABA President William Hubbard addressed the distinguished attendees regarding the challenges he and the ABA see, and then  the state participants prioritized those challenges.

The priorities designated constitute the work of the 21st Century Practice Task Force. The group’s charge is to make recommendations by March 2016.

Bruce Courtade says, “It’s an aggressive schedule but it’s an exciting opportunity. I think that we’ve got a lot of very intelligent and also very competitive people, and they’ll tend to challenge and inspire each other.”

When originally addressing the task force members, Courtade said he referred to a quote from Edward deBono given by Jeffrey Cufaude at The Future of Legal Services gathering: “We enter school as question marks and end as periods. When we begin to learn we are given a box of 64 crayons … when we graduate we have one blue pen.”
Courtade asked the members of the task force and its committees, “How many beautiful pictures can you draw with a single blue pen?” and challenged them to “break open our box of 64 crayons and come up with ideas, even if means coloring outside the lines.”

There are three committees:

—Building a 21st Century Practice, co-chaired by former Judge Barry L. Howard and past SBM President Edward Pappas of Dickinson Wright;
—Access/Affordability of Legal Services, co-chaired by Judge Elizabeth Hines of Ann Arbor and Linda K. Rexer, Executive Director of the Michigan State Bar Foundation; and

—Modernizing the Regulatory Machinery, on which Dunn will serve. Co-chairing are Hon. Mary Beth Kelly and Renee Newman Knake of Michigan State University College of Law, who,  Courtade notes, is also the reporter for the ABA’s Future Commission.

“There are a lot of issues that transcend any one of the committees, and silos are something that we’re trying very hard to avoid,” Courtade notes. “So the co-chairs of the three committees and the task force, along with State Bar staff and some State Bar officers, teleconference every couple of weeks. We want to encourage open lines of communication so these things don’t get pigeonholed.”

The Grand Rapids area is well-represented on the Regulatory Machinery subcommittee. In addition to Dunn, two seasoned Varnum attorneys will serve.

The different, yet nuanced, perspectives these attorneys bring to the work should make for interesting discussions as the committee starts meeting July 13.

Carl Ver Beek of Varnum stated, “As a senior lawyer I am pleased to reflect on the significant changes in the practice of law during my career. The technology revolution for a law office is a profound factor. Globalization of the economy  obligates a fresh look at what clients need and how they will access answers to their legal issues. It is up to the State Bar of Michigan  to help lawyers, and therefore their clients, get up to date. I am particularly interested in Alternative Dispute Resolution as we craft processes which help avoid the expense and delay of a court trial. The global economy wants to avoid a courtroom, particularly one in a foreign country.  We need to help develop ways for lawyers to function in that environment. Some of the Court rules and other legal regulations need to be revised to accommodate the current reality. I am pleased that the State Bar is undertaking this.”

And Varnum’s John Allen adds: “Rapid change brings new challenges.  For example, increased electronic access to court and government records brings increased privacy concerns, and challenges in how to protect both individual privacy and the public's right to know. We do not want courts running Star Chamber proceedings. But we also do not want every 9-year old with an iPad reading her parents' divorce file, and all her classmates doing it, too. This task force will provide a forum to discuss such problems and look for solutions.”

Dunn has already begun investigating innovative ideas from other states and countries. He has been named chair of a working group that will, primarily, “make
recommendations concerning legal preparation, law school admission, education, standards, testing of candidates for admission to the bar, and successful entry to the practice of law in Michigan.”

From that research, Dunn has come up with a number of ideas, but he acknowledges, as does Courtade, that he does not go into the discussion with pre-conceived outcomes and is there to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

He says he finds the notion of Limited Legal License Technicians, or L3Ts, worth contemplating. Washington state has authorized these professionals, though Dunn feels a lot of attention must be paid to their qualifications and training.

“And we talk about unbundling legal services,” he adds. “Right now, if you want to buy a house and you want me to review your contract, I’d say, I’ll also need to look at the title work and go over the closing, all the things a lawyer would do in assisting you. But with unbundling, I’ll look at your contract, but you would have to watch out for all the other things. Right now most lawyers don’t feel comfortable with that, but we may have to change.”

Dunn relates these concepts to the medical field certifying Physician Assistants and other supervised professionals to lighten the load on doctors and provide more affordable health care.

He also expects to explore the future operations of legal education. “How do you offer a broader range of services and how do you provide the practical training for that?” he asks. He envisions the possibility of a change in approach to attorney training, mentoring and discipline that amounts to a paradigm shift, conceptualizing it as a spectrum.

“Our state has a complaint-based hearing process for attorney discipline. In New South Wales, the bar has developed a proactive approach to prevent and mitigate causes of misconduct, having regulators work with law practices to reduce the chance of future violations,” he says.

In addition to his professional ethics leadership, Dunn has chaired the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law and the SBM Real Property Law Section. He is a fellow and past president of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers. He has also received every professional accolade imaginable in the real estate law arena.

Dunn graduated from University of Michigan School of Law in 1964, after attending Muskingum University in Ohio for his undergraduate work, and started working immediately for Clark Hill. He spent most of his career commuting between Troy and Detroit, so after assuming Of Counsel status five years ago, he sought a different location to allow him to change his focus as well as spend more time to with wife Judy.

“But I still come in to the office every day,” he says. “There are still so many fascinating things to do in this profession. I’m preparing a report for real estate transactional lawyers, I’ve just lectured to the American College of Real Estate Lawyers  on multijurisdictional practice, and now I’m looking forward to working on this committee.”