Courtade is gearing up now for 2012 State Bar presidency


State Bar of Michigan Vice President and Rhoades McKee shareholder Bruce A. Courtade stands beside a piece of art by West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology students composed out of WMCAT students’ photography. Each hand is made up of tiny photographic mosaics. Courtade is on the WMCAT board and the organization is one of his passions.

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Bruce Courtade of Rhoades McKee will not assume the presidency of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) until 2012, but he says with a wry smile, “That’s not quite as distant as it appears to be.”
Currently Vice President, Courtade met Wednesday with the SBM’s strategic planning group to set the course for the next three to five years. He plans to meet with SBM President-Elect Julie Fershtman, who will take the helm in September of this year for her one-year term, to discuss the next two years in more detail.
“The State Bar abolished the presidential agenda quite a while ago, because every president would come in and announce a new program that couldn’t be accomplished in one year,” says Courtade. Now the Bar decides as a group what will be important over the next period of time and officers work within that framework.
On-going research by SBM staff indicates enormous challenges ahead for the legal profession.That is why Courtade says about his upcoming presidency, “It’s exciting but it’s also daunting.”
Simply stated, trends indicate that the demand for attorneys’ services are shrinking while the number of attorneys has increased. However, that statement hides the complexity that, in reality, the amount of legal services demanded may have gone up. According to a report by William D. Henderson and Rachel M. Zahorsky, over the last 25 years government data indicate that legal services have increased slightly as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, and are even now holding steady at 2%.
The authors — and other analysts — conclude that is because those legal service needs are being met by other means: through increased self-representation; as a result of increasing technological fixes which narrow down personnel needs, such as the Internet facilitating legal research; through pro bono work; and by legal service vendors who will, for
example, work with clients on electronic discovery at least partially because it requires very specific expertise.
An underlying reason behind much of the change is that the average person can no longer afford  to hire a lawyer for wills, trusts, leases, closings, divorces, and criminal defense, which up until now were the bread and butter of the law profession.
“The legal profession has benefited from a thriving middle class,” Courtade says, “people who can afford legal help in buying and selling homes and such areas as getting divorced.
“The countervailing factor for the average lawyer is the huge amount of law school debt he or she carries. What law school graduate can
afford to go into something like public service?”
The SBM strategic planning committee reviewed the Henderson-Zahorsky report as well as statistical documents provided by SBM Director of Research and Development  Anne Vrooman, for whom Courtade has high praise.
Such statistical evidence indicates that, as one might suspect, Michigan is no exception to the trend.
Based on that, Courtade said he expects SBM programs which will receive more attention are those that make life easier for attorneys and law students: the newly-developed Career Center and the Practice Management Resource Center. He said he also anticipates that steps to address the Unauthorized Practice of Law will expand.
Courtade serves on the SBM Attorney Discipline Board and is a past chair of the Representative Assembly. He is a Fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation as well as a member of the Justice Foundation of West Michigan. Courtade has received the State Bar’s John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award. He loves to give back to the legal profession, saying he became a lawyer for the same reason most lawyers did, “I wanted to help
Courtade is passionate about many things, not least of which is his alma mater, the University of Michigan, from which he received his B.A. in History in 1984 and his Juris Doctor in 1988.
Courtade is on U of M’s Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics, advises its Admissions Department, and serves on the U of M Club Grand Rapids Scholarship Foundation. He was given the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from the U of M Alumni Association,  of which he also was a board member.
He is dedicated not only to the University of Michigan but also to the field of education, and in particular equal access for all to education.
Based on that Courtade was appointed earlier this week as an Honorary Advisor to The Imagine Fund, a statewide private scholarship program which “serves to advance diversity in Michigan higher education.” He says, “I had a sit-down with the Executive Director, and he invited me to be an advisor. I think the organization has a very valuable mission.”
Unfortunately that same Executive Director called him at about 5:00 yesterday to tell him the Imagine Fund’s board had decided to disband. “I was very disappointed,” Courtade says. “But I do have a lot on my plate.”
He is able to devote some of his “spare” time to being on the board of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, which offers specific training in high-demand jobs to challenged adults, and programs to at-risk high schoolers with the hope of keeping them in school. “One of my favorite places in the world,” Courtade comments.
Courtade has a thriving construction law and business litigation practice. He and Rhoades McKee associate Paul McCarthy recently won a case which many believe to have resulted in the highest damage award in Kent County history for their clients.
Courtade lives in East Grand Rapids with wife and former attorney Jennifer DeLessio, who founded and runs the American Education Group, which starts private schools across the U.S., and a daughter who just finished her freshman year at none other than the University of Michigan.