A rocky childhood spurs his desire to 'give back'

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Contributing his legal expertise to the Community Action Center in his hometown of Saginaw means more than just fulfilling a desire to meet pro bono service standards expected of the managing partner of one of Detroit’s leading law firms.

For Phil Phillips, helping the Community Action Center has become a “deeply personal” experience that reverberates to his childhood days in the mid-Michigan city that has been rocked by automobile plant closings and corresponding hardships.

Phillips, head of the Detroit office of Foley & Lardner for the past 3-1/2 years, grew up in Saginaw, the youngest of nine children. His was a hardscrabble life, sharing a small three-bedroom, one-bathroom home with 10 other family members.

His father was a teacher and para-professional, while his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Money was tight and times were tough, said Phillips, whose parents divorced when he was in second grade, compounding the family’s financial woes.

“Our house was no more than 700 or 800 square feet, so imagine having a family that large living in a home that size,” said Phillips. “Let’s just say it was difficult.”

Which also describes how hard it was to adequately feed such a family on a single income.

Which, in turn, explains why Phillips has such a “soft spot in my heart” for the Saginaw County CAC.

“They fed us when I was young,” Phillips said of the agency that for decades has served as a lifeline for low income and elderly residents in the Saginaw community.

“I vividly remember my mom pulling up to the center to get food for us – peanut butter, cheese, bread, and milk. Powdered milk,” Phillips said with special point of emphasis. “For years, they kept food on our table and in our cupboards.”

Those memories remain fresh today as Phillips donates his time to help the agency with various legal matters that can range from labor and employment law to other pressing operational concerns.

“Years ago, when I was looking for opportunities to help out on a pro bono basis, coincidentally the Saginaw CAC came across my radar screen,” Phillips said. “It was the perfect fit for me and has helped me stay connected to and to give back to Saginaw.”

Brenda Moore, chair of the Saginaw County CAC for the past four years, is among those especially grateful for such legal support.

“He deserves ‘three’ thumbs-up for all that he has done to help out,” said Moore of Phillips. “Phil is always ready and willing to lend a hand, to make sure that we have all our ‘t’s’ crossed and all our ‘i’s’ dotted. We don’t have to worry about anything on the legal front because of him. He’s on my speed dial whenever I have a question, and always gets back to me with an answer or advice. I can’t praise him enough for all that he has done for Saginaw. He’s the man.”




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