Past Oakland County Bar Association president now serving State Bar

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It was an idea she championed as president of the Oakland County Bar Association in 2010.

It was bold, it was innovative, and it has gained traction over the span of the past five years for the benefit of those in legal need and for young attorneys trying to gain their professional footing.

Jennifer Grieco, who in 2010 became the youngest woman to serve as head of the OCBA since its founding in 1934, spearheaded the creation of the Pro Bono Mentor Match Program, which was designed to “engage new lawyers in pro bono work to benefit those less fortunate who don’t have the means to retain an attorney.”

At the time, Grieco urged her legal brethren to rally to the cause of the profession in a “time of need.” She said that the “number of new lawyers coming out of law school without jobs is one of the greatest challenges” facing the legal profession. The chance to “lend a hand,” she said, is most readily apparent in pro bono cases where the need continues to grow even as the economy slowly improves from the dark days of the recent recession.

“It has been heartening to see the program take hold as veteran bar members serve as ‘mentors’ to new lawyers while they become involved in pro bono activities,” Grieco said. “In this way we are helping fulfill a dual purpose of aiding the less fortunate in the community while also giving young members of the legal profession valuable experience under the guidance of a seasoned attorney.”

Grieco, a partner with the commercial litigation firm of Neuman Anderson in Birmingham, was gratified in 2011 when the Mentor Match Program claimed the LexisNexis Community Outreach Award at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in August and the State Bar of Michigan Kimberly M. Cahill Award for Bar Leadership in September 2012.  A year earlier, Grieco was saluted by the OCBA with its Pro Bono Service Award at its annual meeting.

“The honors have been nice, but it is more rewarding to see the sustainability of the program,” said Grieco, who in 1997 earned her degree from the University of Toledo College of Law, where she was a member of the law review.

Grieco’s leadership role with the program has attracted state and national attention over the past few years. In February 2014, she was one of the panelists at an American Bar Association meeting in Chicago on the topic of “Win-Win: Matching Unmet Legal Needs with Available Legal Talent.”

“I spoke about the OCBA Pro Bono Mentor Match – why and how we created the program, the mechanics, and current statistics and feedback on the program,” she said.
In 2011, Grieco won a contested seat on the State Bar Board of Commissioners in District 1, representing Oakland County. She was re-elected to the board in 2014 and was chosen to serve as treasurer for 2014-15, setting the stage for her ascension to the State Bar presidency in several years. The State Bar is a $9.7 million operation that is staffed annually by nearly 70 full and part-time employees, according to Grieco.

“The protocol is to serve as treasurer, secretary, vice president, and president-elect before becoming president of the State Bar,” Grieco explained. “It is a well-established formula for demonstrating the commitment and gaining the necessary knowledge and experience to lead the organization.”

As the daughter of an Army officer, Grieco gained a global view of life during her formative years, bouncing from base to base in Germany and the U.S.

“The longest we ever lived in one place was three years, while the shortest was 11 months,” Grieco said of her family, which included her parents, Linda and Ralph Grieco, and her brother, Kevin.

She graduated from high school in Heidelberg, Germany, opting to pursue her collegiate career at the University of Toledo, the Ohio city in which her grandmother lived. It was at Toledo where she met her future husband, Chad Burch, a finance major who later became an executive with American Equity Corp.

Following law school, Grieco landed her first job with Sommers Schwartz, a firm where she clerked during law school. During her 10-year stay there, Grieco established a reputation for expertise in handling black mold cases. It also was a time frame when she became involved in the activities of the OCBA, the Women’s Lawyers Associa-
tion of Michigan (WLAM), and the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, now known as the Michigan Association for Justice. She served as president of the Oakland County Region of the WLAM from 2003-04.

After spending three years with Maddin Hauser in Southfield, Grieco joined Neuman Anderson in March 2010, focusing her practice in complex commercial litigation.

“We can get involved in a wide range of business matters, including partner disputes, mergers, health care matters, and start-up companies,” Grieco said. “I’ve gained a lot of trial experience over the course of my career, and I’m always prepared for the prospect of going to court if the circumstances dictate it. Like most litigators, I want the opportunity to try those types of cases where the facts are at issue.”

In 2013, Grieco took a step back in time when she began studying for the bar exam – the Nevada version.

“At some point, we intend to establish a Nevada office, so I needed to be licensed there,” Grieco said of her reason for taking – and passing – the bar exam in the Silver State. “It was not a picnic studying for a bar exam again. It seemed worse than the first time, that is for sure.”

Of course, Grieco had other things on her mind this time around, namely keeping up with her almost 6-year-old daughter, Meadow, a fast-growing kindergartner in Pleasant Ridge.

“Let’s just say that it is ‘fun to be Meadow,’” Grieco said of her daughter, who learned to ski this winter. “She is full of energy, and my husband and I love watching the strides she is making as a young girl.”

Sadly, Meadow will never get to know her uncle, Grieco’s brother Kevin, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008 while serving in the armed services. It’s a loss that remains hard for Grieco and her family to fully comprehend.

“Even though nearly seven years has passed since his death, it’s still difficult to understand that I will never have the chance to see him again,” Grieco said of her beloved brother, who left behind a wife and two young children. “I can only take comfort in knowing that my brother was proud to be a soldier in service to his country, and he made the ultimate sacrifice in fulfilling that duty.”