Finding his niche: Area attorney's storied career spans almost five decades

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Bob Grover, an attorney and of counsel with Abbott, Thomson & Beer in Jackson, originally planned on a career in civil engineering.

Instead he became a lawyer, and has enjoyed a legal career that stretches back almost five decades.

Grover had enjoyed math and science in high school, but a physics course in his freshman college year at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., made him rethink an engineering idea. In his sophomore year he took courses in almost every department and most enjoyed political science classes.

"I didn't think about law school until my junior or senior year when I took a constitutional law class that was taught much like a law school course - read and brief actual cases," he says. "I was hooked."

A Depression-era baby and an only child, the Chicago native was the first in his family to attend college, and had no family law tradition. One of the most memorable days in his life was receiving an acceptance letter from the University of Michigan Law School.

"I think my acceptance had more to do with the recommendation from the political department chair at Knox who was a U of M grad, and the fact I would pay out-of-state tuition, than it did with my grades or my LSAT score, which frankly weren't that great," he says.

After attending Knox with about 800 students, Grover found Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, and the law school with more than 1,200 students, very intimidating.

"Many of my classmates were from very prestigious Ivy league and similar schools," he says. "I also had to learn how to study for maybe the first time.

"One advantage I had was my roommate at the law club who was an old friend from the 'hood' in Chicago. He was an excellent student -- law review -- and a grind. He set a good example and kept me focused. Anyway, I made it - no law review but probably the upper third of my class."

His old friend also introduced Grover to his first wife, a Jackson High School grad. Grover had been in the ROTC program at Knox and received a deferment to go to law school. After passing the Illinois bar exam in August 1962, he got married in Jackson in September and reported for duty in October at Fort Sill (artillery branch) for basic officer's training.

Stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana, he was assigned to the Judge Advocate's office when they found out he was a lawyer.

"Because of all the AWOLs from that place they needed all the lawyers they could get their hands on," he says. "One of my duties was to prosecute all the traffic offenses on the post before a federal magistrate and just before I was discharged in 1964, I had to prepare a review of all the Louisiana laws that could arguably conflict the newly enacted Civil Rights Act of 1964. There were lots!"

Although Grover had not necessarily intended to make the law his career, he decided he should try to make the most of his efforts in law school.

His then-father-in-law, W. K. "Sam" McInally, a Jackson lawyer and banker and a member of the U-M Board of Regents, had three young lawyers in his practice. When one of them left the firm in 1964, he asked Grover to fill the vacancy.

"Tragically, Sam died suddenly on August 22, 1964, less than two months before I was due to be discharged in October," Grover says. "It wasn't more than day or so later when the two remaining members of the firm, Dick Rosenfeld and Dick Firestone, called to say I still had a job with them if I wanted it. I will always be grateful for that call because I'm sure they had no idea what the future of the firm would be without Sam."

Grover began representing school districts in the early '70s, when the firm merged with another that represented the Jackson Public Schools and Michigan Center.

"The school district practice grew considerably in the late '70s or early '80s when Jerry Kratz, the new Jackson County ISD Superintendent, approached us," he says. "We worked out an annual retainer arrangement to do certain things for $500 a year. Almost all of the other Jackson County districts eventually signed on."

In 1981, Grover formed a new firm with Dick Rosenfeld and Jim Frang that continued for 25 years.

"Dick, who I describe as a lawyer's lawyer, was a wonderful mentor and partner. He retired in about 2002. And Jim, who was also a brilliant lawyer and a joy to be associated with, retired in 2006," he says. "Not wanting to practice alone I was fortunate to be taken in by Abbott, Thomson, & Beer PLC, as 'of counsel,' whatever that means."

It means being only accountable to his clients and himself, not being responsible for personnel or administrative matters and working as little or as much as he wants to, subject only to the needs of his clients, he says.

"I should have become 'of counsel' long before 2006. I strongly recommend it to my more senior colleagues. But not everyone will be as fortunate as me to practice with people like Dick, Jim, Bill Abbott, Kevin Thomson and Brendon Beer. Significantly, I've never had even a mild argument or disagreement with any of them. That may be somewhat unusual considering the business we're in."

Grover enjoys the intellectual stimulation of the law, and the satisfaction of being able to solve clients' problems, whether it's settling a labor contract or closing a real estate or other business transaction.

"It's certainly never boring. I still enjoy going to the office every morning to find out what questions I will be asked to resolve that day," he says. "I describe myself as a general practitioner with concentrations in school, labor, municipal and business law and some estate planning who doesn't do any criminal, divorce or personal injury work.

"My so-called 'niche' school law practice runs the gamut from teacher and other labor negotiations to student discipline, real estate and construction contract issues. We can handle almost any legal matter a school district may have except serving as bond counsel."

A member of the American Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan and Jackson County Bar Association, where he served as President in 1978, Grover was a founding director of the Michigan Council of School Attorneys and served as its president in 1995-96. He is also a member of the National Council of School Attorneys.

Grover has been involved with many community groups since coming to Jackson in 1964, including the Jackson County Legal Aid Society when it was separate organization, the Boy Scout Troop at Helmer School, the Jackson County TB and Respiratory Disease Association before it closed, United Way, Goodwill Industries, Jackson-Hillsdale Mental Health Board (now Lifeways) and the Jackson Area Dental Clinic where he first met the dentist who has been his wife for the last 12 years.

His current focus is The Dahlem Conservancy, where he now serves as president. He also serves on the Board of the Jackson Symphony and chairs the Board of the Jackson Public Schools Promise Zone Authority.

His wife Jane is Dental Director at the Center for Family Health in Jackson, and is active in organized dentistry and community organizations. She has been a Vice-President of the American Dental Association and Board Chair of the Ella Sharp Museum and last year ran for state representative, losing in the Republican primary to Earl Poleski.

The couple loves to travel, with Italy a favorite place and an upcoming trip to Greece in the cards.

He and his wife are "foodies" and love to cook. He also enjoys golf, skiing, fly-fishing, and gardening, and has a plot at the Dahlem Ecology Farm community garden.

"And as someone who grew up in Chicago in the '50s, I'm a jazz buff and collector," he says.

Every few years, Grover partially subsidizes a family get-together referred to as the "Bob Train," that has been to Jamaica twice and to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. His family includes four children by his first marriage: Jane and Michael - both lawyers - and Martha and Tom, and his stepson, Ryan. The couple's eight grandchildren range in age from 3 to 16 years.

Grover enjoys the small-town atmosphere and big-city attributes of Jackson, and not having a long or congested commute.

"I come home for lunch almost every day to let the dog out," he says.

He also cites such Jackson treasures as The Dahlem Conservancy nature center, Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson Symphony, local golf courses, good schools (public and private), and relative low cost of living.

"And it's only a 40-minute easy drive to either Ann Arbor or East Lansing depending on your loyalties. Since Jane and I are both U of M grads we have season football and basketball tickets and attend many University Musical Society concerts at Hill Auditorium and other venues."

Grover, who in high school was a golf caddy for pros Gene Littler, Doug Ford and Dow Finsterwald, at the Tam O'Shanter Country Club in suburban Chicago, then the site of the richest golf tournament in the world, says one of his lifetime goals "is to live long enough to attend a World Series game at Wrigley Field to watch my beloved Cubs win the championship."

Published: Mon, May 9, 2011

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