Paralegal Profile . . .


Husband-wife team provides legal support at Miller Canfield

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a teenager, John Gauthier once got busted for grabbing four quarts of oil. The event led to an apprenticeship with the Leelanau County Sherriff’s Department, which in turn eventually thrust him into a lawyer’s assistant job in the Army. 

“The ‘legal’ background and that I could type faster than 65 wpm, my first battalion commander said ‘You’re it,’” he says.

Now a legal assistant with Miller Canfield in Troy, Gauthier spent 10 years in the Army.

“I was everywhere,” he says.

One of his jobs was to visit military personnel confined in foreign prisons to ensure they were being treated in accordance with SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).  His specialties were Lawyer’s Assistant/Court Reporter and Airborne (Ranger) Infantry.

“I’m terrified of heights, but being greedy, the extra $50 per month was something I couldn’t resist,” says Gauthier, who was honored with a Soldiers’ Medal, Army Commendation Medal (3 OLC) and Achievement Medal.

Gauthier holds a degree from the University of Maryland, but mostly his legal knowledge and training comes from more than 35 years of experience in the field. 

At Miller Canfield, he specializes in discovery support and litigation management of labor and employment law matters. While he works for attorneys in Troy and Detroit, he works primarily in Detroit in the Labor Group.  Currently he works with a number of attorneys, but mostly Jerome Watson and Adam Forman in Detroit and Nancy Ponkowski in Troy. 

“I like the people I work with – when you enjoy the people you work with, it makes it a whole lot easier to come to work every day,” he says.  “I stress the word ‘with’ and not ‘for.’ You are part of a team here. “

While in the firm’s Labor Group, Gauthier was able to get involved in a few of the corruption cases in the City of Detroit.

“I like being able to see what’s happening on the inside, not just what you see on the news,” he says. “I enjoy the diversity of it all.  Nothing is ever the same.”

Prior to Miller Canfield, Gauthier worked for a national insurance company based in Southfield.

“The most enjoyable part of the work was take a case from A to Z,” he says.  “It was mostly talking to the clients and interviewing witnesses. It made me feel like Paul Drake, from the TV show ‘Perry Mason.’”

Born and raised on a farm in the outskirts of Cedar, near Traverse City, Gauthier enjoys camping with the family, hunting, fishing and pretty much anything out of doors. 
“My vacation is set in stone, November 15 through the 30, firearms hunting season,” he says.

He also enjoys doing volunteer work with the Accounting Aid Society assisting lower income people with their taxes every year.

Gauthier’s wife Joanna, who grew up in Ann Arbor and Plymouth, earned her B.S. degree, Paralegal/Legal Assistant, from Eastern Michigan University.

“I was less interested in obtaining a degree, and more interested in learning a profession or trade,” she says. 

Her aunt, then an attorney with Clark Klein & Beaumont, invited Joanna to spend the day shadowing her paralegal. 

“It seemed like exactly what I was looking for, both a degree and a profession, and a good fit with the office skills I was acquiring through my co-op job with the Board of Education. So I went for it,” she says.

She particularly enjoyed the diversity of the EMU instructors.

“The program had a fair number of adjunct professors who were able to bring their real-world experience into the classroom, to present a good picture of what the profession entailed,” she says.

Joanna got her start in family law work.

“I’ll always be eternally grateful to the sole practitioner that took a chance on me and hired me as a paralegal student,” she says. “It was an interesting experience to learn in the classroom about the very things I was tackling at my job. 

“Family law work for sole practitioners was ‘in the trenches’ and emotionally charged all the time,” she adds. “I was important to the client, the lifeline to the attorney and to what was happening with their case. But because of the type of work, and the relationships that developed with clients, it was also emotionally draining.  It was that aspect of the work that caused some burnout and led me to look into other types of paralegal work.”

Her current role at Miller Canfield is a discovery paralegal, which involves preparing discovery responses, document productions, coordinating corporate document sweeps, and assisting with governmental investigations, for corporate clients.

“I enjoy learning about the product we’re defending, working with product engineers, the creative writing aspects of preparing discovery responses, and even the organization required on the document side of things,” she says. “I also work with a great group of people, which is a definite bonus.”

At varying points, Joanna has worked with most of the attorneys in Miller Canfield’s Product Safety group but primarily works with attorneys Brian Westenberg, Alison Rodney, and Kristen Niemi. 

An avid reader, she also enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and geocaching.

“In prior years, I found great pleasure in coercing my three step-children to participate in volunteer activities with me, such as work days with the DNR,” she says. “Now I have a young daughter, and another on the way, so between family and full time work, my community involvement has dwindled.”

The Gauthiers enjoy working at the same firm.

“We’re co-workers at work and treat each other just like any other co-worker, except I don’t get in trouble for giving her the eye,” John says. “For the first few years after we got married, with the exception of those we actually worked with, a lot of people didn’t know we were husband and wife.

“The drawback is the fact she knows if I sneak out early to go relax before getting our daughter from daycare.  The joke is, ‘It’s 2:30, do you know where your husband is?’”