Father and daughter add expertise to Dickinson Wright municipal practice



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though Ronald Bultje and Crystal Bultje both moved from Scholten Fant in Grand Haven to Dickinson Wright’s Grand Rapids office, it is not as if the father and daughter are a package deal.

It was Crystal who started talking with Dickinson Wright concerning the prospect of continuing her municipal practice elsewhere.

She explains, “I was very interested in working for a bigger firm. In law school I clerked for a number of them, but the idea of going home and working with my father was very exciting, and it was great for two years. But there was not a whole lot of diversity in Grand Haven and not as many professional women as maybe I would prefer, so my desire to be with a larger firm led me to explore what was possible.

“When I interviewed here, I said that if I could ever work with my father again I would – he’s a fantastic boss in addition to being a great lawyer. So they told me, ‘We’re wondering if he’d be open to a conversation.’”

Ronald Bultje loved his municipal work with clients in the Lakeshore area (the vast majority of which he will retain), with his focus on labor and employment law. But he was indeed open to discussing a move.

“The impetus for me was that Scholten Fant had historically been a very municipal-law-oriented firm, but as others retired or changed their practices, I was left with a largers and larger client load, and I didn’t have a whole lot of support. My goal  in servicing my clients was to surround myself with some people who could pick up the slack if I decide to slow down over the next several years,” he explains.

At Dickinson Wright, the two Bultjes  join a team of great excellence. Scott Smith, Roger Swets, Richard Wendt and others work out of the Grand Rapids office in a practice area that is strong firm-wide. (Dickinson Wright has offices in Troy, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Saginaw, and Detroit as well as in several states from Arizona to Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)

Dick Wendt, well-known for his work with the City of Grand Rapids and as bond counsel for a number of initiatives,  was named the Lawyer of the Year in Municipal Law for Grand Rapids in 2012, 2016 and again this year (2018).

The elder Bultje himself took that title in 2014.

Somewhat reluctant at first, he could not be happier about his choice. “I’ve known Dick, though not as well as Scott, for many years. They were so accommodating, and basically the attorneys here sold the firm to me.”

Ron grew up in Kalamazoo, then attended Calvin College and University of Michigan Law School, from which he graduated cum laude. As soon as he was admitted to the bar, he joined Scholten Fant in Grand Haven.

“My family had vacationed on the lake in Holland, so I knew what it was like here,” he says. “I enjoyed my time at Scholten Fant and I’m glad it brought me to West Michigan. I still love it here.”

He has been very active in the community, serving on the Grand Haven Christian School Board of Education and the Tri-Cities Family YMCA, including a stint as president of each; on the TCM Counseling Board of Directors, American Cancer Society, and giving annual presentations to the Ottawa County Planning Commission.

Crystal Bultje was of course born and raised in Grand Haven. She graduated from Hope College with a degree in Political Science, Psychology, and Women’s Studies. At Michigan State University College of Law, where she received her J.D. magna cum laude in 2015, she was articles editor for the law review, and national champion in the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition.

She too gives back to the Grand Haven community. She serves as Foundations Chair for the Grand Haven Rotary, membership chair for the Progressive Women’s Alliance, and a committee member for the capital campaign of the Center for Women in Transition, whose purpose is “strengthening West Michigan families by ending domestic and sexual violence.”

Ronald has handled two important cases in the higher courts — Ottawa County v. Jaklinski in the Michigan Supreme Court,  which established that discharge grievances which arise after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement are not subject to the grievance process in the expired agreement; and Miller v. Grand Haven Board of Education in the Court of Appeals in 1986, which held that a school board does not need to show detrimental effects on students in order to discipline a teacher for misconduct.

However, when asked if he does litigation, Ron answers, “Not on purpose,” with the understated humor characteristic of his conversation. This is in contrast with Crystal, who loves it, including at the appellate level.

Crystal says that she was not looking forward to telling her father she was intending to look for another firm. “It was very emotional for me, but he was absolutely great about it, which of course deep down I knew he would be,” she says.

“I knew Crystal would like some flexibility, and if she had succeeded me at the old firm, she wouldn’t have that,” Ronald adds.

“Millennials like our options,” Crystal comments, smiling.

One option she is considering is an eventual run for political office. That is certainly one thing she and her father have in common, but Ronald says he was only about one year into his municipal law career when he abandoned that desire because he enjoyed it so much.

Even if Crystal does throw her hat in the ring, it would be far off in the future. She recognizes that a prestigious firm like Dickinson Wright may offer her additional opportunities, such as working with legislators on policy. “There are so many opportunities here,” she says.

Both say the firm so far has exceeded expectations as a wonderful place to work. “I’m surrounded by great attorneys, and everyone has been so welcoming. I bet five to ten people have stopped by my office just to talk,” Crystal says.

Ron agrees. “It’s the most cooperative, collegial atmosphere here. It’s just a great  place to work.”