Jewish Bar Association grows, finds niche in its second year


by Linda Laderman
Legal News

From the South Asian Bar Association to the Italian Bar Association, special purpose bar associations have historically been affiliated with the State Bar of Michigan (SBM.)

As a matter of fact, more than 50 special purpose bar associations have met the criteria the SBM requires for recognition.

The standards outlined by SBM allows special purpose bar associations to express interest in particular racial or ethnic heritage, specifically noting that the groups cannot discriminate or exclude anyone based on race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, handicap or sexual orientation.

 So, when 2011 DePaul University College of Law School graduate, and criminal defense attorney Rachel Loebl, and her childhood friend, immigration lawyer and 2009 University of Detroit Mercy Law alum, Ellie Mosko, reconnected after Loebl returned to Michigan from Chicago, they talked about the lack of a professional legal association for Jewish lawyers.

“We sat and talked about establishing an organization for Jewish attorneys and quickly enlisted two or three other people,” Loebl said. “Now we have over 250 members, of all ages, who are an engaged and active group of attorneys, plus we are accredited by SBM as the Jewish Bar of Michigan (JBAM.)”

Before JBAM, Mosko could only recall one event for Jewish lawyers after she graduated from law school

“I wondered what happened to the group that sponsored the event,” Mosko said. “Then, I mentioned to Rachel that I knew Keith Sirlin, an attorney who was affiliated with the B’nai Brith Barristers. Rachel and I set up a meeting with him where we discussed making JBAM a separate entity. That was in the spring of 2014. By the fall we were officially up and running.”

To Loebl and Mosko’s benefit, the Barristers group had been largely inactive so many of its members were more than willing to help the two attorneys realize their goal of bringing a multi-generational group of lawyers, who support the Jewish community, together under one umbrella.

One of the former members of the Barristers, Frank Mamat, a labor law attorney with Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC, brought three decades of experience with him to the newly established JBAM.

As the self-described sole “old timer” on JBAM’s board of directors, Mamat said he was happy to help the new organization establish itself in the legal community.

“I’ve served as a sounding board for what you should and should not do to make this thing fly,” Mamat said. “It’s great. JBAM’s taken off like wildfire.

“The greatest satisfaction is to help provide a network or forum where Jewish judges and lawyers can get together and meet. It’s satisfying to help young lawyers have a platform to meet some of the judges and established lawyers in the community,” Mamat said.

Now that the group is in its second year, initial worries about attendance at the group’s events have receded, said Loebl, who will serve as president of JBAM until her term expires in 2017.

“At our first event we had hoped for 20 people to show up. Instead, there were 175, “Loebl said. “I think we are filling a need because I frequently have people who come to me asking about JBAM.”

Mosko shares Loebl’s optimistic outlook about JBAM.

“We are growing by leaps and bounds, with a new website to encourage membership, networking, and providing a place where ideas can be exchanged,” Mosko said. “It’s great having a place to foster interests and ideas from a mix of generations. And it’s nice to have more practitioners to turn to for referrals.”

JBAM’s events have included a program on anti-Semitism on college campuses that featured Yael Mazar, director of Legal Affairs for StandWithUs, a nonprofit group committed to fighting anti-Semitism and extremism. Andrew Moss, a junior at University of Michigan and StandWithUs University of Michigan Campus liaison, also spoke at the meeting.

Currently, JBAM is working with Jewish Family Services, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, to continue a mentoring program that Loebl was instrumental in establishing after she moved back to the Detroit area.

“We want to help the Jewish community and the community at-large, to encourage law students in Michigan to stay here after graduation.” Loebl said. “We want everyone to know what an amazing legal community this is.”