Senior Section changes leaders, gives recognition, celebrates together



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Incoming Senior Section chair Mike Kelly and outgoing chair Bruce  Barnhart, a four-year “interim” leader of the section, had just finished reminiscing about the early days of the Grand Rapids Bar when Kelly surprised Barnhart with a congratulatory plaque.

The presentation came just before dinner during a relaxed gathering of the section at Cascade Country Club last Wednesday.

Approximately 25 section members and spouses chatted in the beautifully-appointed fireplace room of the club before adjourning to a dining area; most of them are still hard at work, so the conversations were not entirely reminiscences. The wealth of legal and practice knowledge concentrated in the illustrious attendees was no barrier to their interacting comfortably and enjoying the evening.

Barnhart transitioned from chair of Varnum’s Family Law Group to being Of Counsel at the firm in 2000. When he started chairing the Senior Section in late 2007, he told the Grand Rapids Legal News that he had not committed to continuing as the chair, but he wound up giving of his time and effort until this month, when Kelly agreed to step in. Barnhart’s extended service was the reason for the section giving him the plaque, which reads, “In appreciation for your service and dedication as Senior Section Chairman, 2007-2011.”

Interestingly, Barnhart had also served the Grand Rapids Bar Association as chair of the Young Lawyers Section, back in 1969.

In the April 2008 Grand Rapids Legal News interview, Barnhart said that when he started out, most attorneys in this area were generalists. But, he stated,  “Attorneys started having to specialize because there got to be so many more laws — generalists couldn’t feel assured they were giving their clients the best legal advice.” Barnhart’s specialty is
family law.

Barnhart was active in the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section and on the Representative Assembly.

Mike Kelly, the senior member of Kelly Law Offices P.C., followed a different professional route, but has also been highly active in the legal community.

His practice is in personal injury, drunk driving and related defense, with additional expertise in estate planning and wills. He is well-known as a presenter for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, focusing on drunk driving defense, and has written “How to Protect Your Rights Under the New Michigan Drunk Driving Laws” and “How to Protect Your Rights Under the Michigan No Fault Laws.”

Kelly has served in many professional organization capacities over the years since his graduation from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. (His undergraduate years were spent at Aquinas College, resulting in  a degree in 1962.) These include the Grand Rapids Bar, the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan Association for Justice, the Kent County Criminal Defense Bar,  and as an Advocate of the National College of Advocacy. Kelly is a member of the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, which is limited to only the most distinguished lawyers who have achieved highest ratings from Martindale-Hubbell.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association Senior Section meets primarily on a social basis, and Kelly plans to continue that tradition, with at least one evening and  two luncheon meetings annually. The luncheon meetings have often featured speakers such as U.S. Attorney Don Davis, who talked about his most memorable cases, and Judge Donald Johnston. Kelly recalls that Barnhart also asked members at one meeting to tell everyone what they remembered from their first day of practicing law in Grand Rapids, and “it was pretty interesting, everyone remembered something different.”

Kelly continues, “As my tenure begins, I’d like to have a luncheon in April, when everybody is back from Florida or Arizona, and I’m looking now for a good speaker.”

The GRBA web site notes that the section’s by-laws are not specific about what age qualifies an attorney to attend, adding, “So, you are eligible when you think you are.”