New president focuses on next 'chapter' of bar

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

At 30 years old, Aaron Burrell is the youngest attorney, in recent memory, to be elected to lead the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association. Burrell, an associate at Dickinson Wright, began his term as president of the Straker Bar in July.

“Having the opportunity to continue to advance the work of so many individuals before me; individuals who are true trailblazers and who have set the path for those that have followed inspires me,” Burrell said. “Straker has a very important and vibrant role in the legal community in the Detroit area, and being able to write a small chapter in the organization’s history is an overwhelming honor.”

From law school to law practice, Burrell’s record reflects the Straker Bar’s objectives to encourage more minority representation in the legal profession through mentoring programs and by providing legal services for underserved members of the community.

“As a law student at WMU Cooley, I was involved with the Black Law Students Association, mentoring younger students at Pontiac Northern High School. In turn, I took advantage of mentoring programs offered by members of the Straker Bar,” Burrell said. “I had an excellent experience with my mentor and learned a great deal about the rigors and rewards of the practice of law.”

The young lawyer credits much of his success to the support he received while a student at Cooley Law School.

“The administration at Cooley gave me so much support by encouraging me to get involved in so many legal organizations. I had a great legal education,” Burrell said.

In 2010, Burrell graduated magna cum laude from Cooley. He had a clerkship with the Hon. Leo Bowman of Oakland County’s Sixth Judicial Circuit in 2010 and an earlier internship with the Hon. Arthur Tarnow of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 2008.

“My clerkship experiences assisted me greatly in preparing for my life as a commercial and employment litigator here at Dickinson Wright. My work with Judge Tarnow was exceptionally rewarding, affording me an excellent opportunity to hone my analytical skills,” Burrell said.

“And my time as Judge Leo Bowman’s clerk was life changing, as he had extraordinary confidence in me to take on the challenge of handling an extremely busy docket. Judge Bowman, who I consider a mentor and friend, assisted me in not only in the development of my legal skills, but also in teaching me critical lessons necessary to achieve success both in the legal profession, as well as in life. He is a true inspiration,” Burrell said.

Burrell draws on his experiences as a minority law student in his legal practice. In addition to his work for minority business enterprises, he is Co-Chair of the State Bar of Michigan’s Equal Access Initiative and sits on Dickinson Wright’s recruitment committee.

“We have more to do to bring people of color into the legal community, but I think law schools in this area are making a concerted effort to add diversity to their ranks,” Burrell said. “And Dickinson Wright remains committed to increasing diversity among its ranks.”

Just five years into his practice with Dickinson-Wright, Burrell was named a Michigan Super Lawyers Rising Star, 2015.  Super Lawyers describes itself as “a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.”

The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

“I was honored,” Burrell said. “I don’t know what it takes to get this award, but I know less than three percent of eligible attorneys in Michigan are named Super Lawyers.”

Burrell sees a more active role for the Straker Bar in the community at-large this year, with a continued emphasis on “Know Your Rights” style seminars.  

“We will enhance our community partnerships and our involvement with a variety of noteworthy organizations around the community,” Burrell said.

Another signature Straker program is a bar passage course given before every February bar exam.

“The program is open to everyone and offers individualized teaching for the purpose of developing writing skills. We bring in guest lecturers from the legal community. At the end of the class we have a full mock exam, with local judges and attorneys as graders,” Burrell said.

Straker further underwrites the MLK Drum Major for Justice Oral Advocacy Competition that invites juniors and seniors from selected Detroit high schools to participate. Continued involvement in pipeline programs is also at the top of the group’s agenda.

Pipeline curriculums are designed to increase diversity in the legal profession through outreach to high school students and graduates by involving them in targeted initiatives.
For that purpose, the Straker Bar co-sponsors the pipeline initiative presented by the Chicago-based Just the Beginning Foundation (JTBF.)  JTBF’s program is a summer legal institute comprised of classroom lectures on topics involving logic writing and oral advocacy.

“We want to make sure that we continue to reach high school kids through participation in pipeline programs like JTBF’s summer session,” Burrell said.

For now, Burrell plans on continuing to do the best he can for his clients, while moving forward with his work to make the legal profession more inclusive.

“While an undergrad at University of Michigan, I originally thought I would pursue a career in business,” Burrell said. “That changed when I realized that becoming a member of the legal profession gave me a platform to make substantive changes for people of color. “
 

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