DMBA marks 175 years? Anniversary celebration to be held June 7

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

In the older days, all the attorneys in town would meet after work at a favorite watering hole and share stories.

Then the routine became: Work long hours. Go home. Crash.

That's one reason Detroit attorney Morley Witus enjoys being part of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, which at its annual meeting June 7 will celebrate 175 years.

"I appreciate getting to know other lawyers in town who are just good people," said Witus, outgoing DMBA president, "and I enjoy seeing them outside of professional settings where there's no time to do anything but business."

"I appreciate that it's a way to have camaraderie and fraternity and collegiality and fellowship with other lawyers in town who are in the same boat practicing in front of the same courts.

Founded in 1836, the Detroit Bar Association (later changed to the DMBA) is one of the oldest bar associations in the country.

The first Detroit attorney to graduate from a law school was Walter Roe, who arrived in 1789. Up through the mid 1830s, Detroit's 37 lawyers worked around what was then called the City and County Building, near the southeast corner of Bates and Jefferson. While there was no formal bar association, lawyers in the city held an annual meeting. Detroit lawyers finally incorporated in 1881 and established the Association of the Bar of the City of Detroit, which 10 years later was changed to the Detroit Bar Association.

The first president was Theodore Romeyn.

Because there were virtually no suburban law firms for many of those years, nearly every area lawyer once belonged to the Detroit Bar, said Witus. Though membership has waned with the population over the years, many luminaries -- or future luminaries -- were members of the DMBA, including Frank Murphy, who went on to become a US Supreme Court Justice, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, and Wallace Riley, who also became head of the American Bar Association.

A highlight of the annual meeting will be the presentation of the Frank Murphy Award to U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Cornelia Kennedy, who was the first woman to serve on the DMBA Board of Directors, the first woman appointed to the federal bench in Michigan and the first woman to become the Chief Judge of a United States District Court.

Witus is proud that the Detroit Bar Association in 1909 established the Legal Aid Bureau (now known as the Legal Aid and Defender Association) to provide free legal services to the city's poor. It was one of the first such agencies in the country, and the DMBA still continues this tradition of providing pro bono legal services.

Some perks included with a membership in the DMBA include:

* Continuing Legal Education seminars, such as the "Ask the Judges" Series, "Successful Rainmaking", "Preparing Your Case: From Retainer to Judgment," and "Plan to Succeed" workshops.

* Free after work "Drink 'n' Learn" informal evenings featuring noted judges and experts sharing their wisdom at local watering holes. It's a low-key friendly way to mingle and schmooze with other lawyers in town, Witus said, adding: "They're a lot of fun, and you learn something."

* Free and discounted services at the Attorney Resource Center.

* A Lawyer Referral Service matching members with potential pre-screened clients.

* Meeting rooms reserved free of charge in the Penobscot Building's SMART Detroit Business and Conference Center to conduct client or witness meetings or take depositions.

The DMBA sold its Law Center Building at 600 Woodward in 1982, and moved into its current location in the Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold.

The DMBA will celebrate its 175th anniversary on Tuesday, June 7 at the Greektown Casino Hotel, with the past president's reception at 5 p.m. and awards banquet at 6 p.m.

Published: Tue, May 31, 2011

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