Varnum attorney Kimberly Clarke named a statewide Leader in the Law

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

There are a number of ways to achieve recognition as a Leader in the Law. Michigan Lawyers Weekly lists significant accomplishments in individual practice or important contributions to the general practice of law, leadership in improving the justice system, improvements to the legal community or to an attorney’s local community, and setting an example for others as some of the factors they review.

But with only 30 chosen each year, whatever the reason, being named a Leader in the Law is a great honor.

Kimberly A. Clarke of Varnum, an immigration attorney, qualifies in several of those categories, so it comes as no surprise that her nomination ­ – by some of her Varnum colleagues – was successful.

As an immigration attorney who focuses on labor and employment especially in the agricultural sector, Clarke goes above and beyond to help her clients remain in compliance with the rapidly changing laws that govern non-resident workers.

One clear indication of that dedication is her collaboration with the Michigan Farm Bureau on the Agricultural Employment Compliance Guide. “I’ve been giving seminars on these topics for years, but this online employers’ guide is new and different. They have ready access to information that’s kept updated, so it’s always right at their fingertips,” Clarke says.

Subscribers can get current legal information on such topics as the Migrant and Seasonal Agriculture Worker Protection Act, wage and hour law including overtime, child labor regulations, OSHA requirements, managing on-site audits and filling out appropriate forms, Affordable Care Act, and recordkeeping. There is a section on Good Agricultural Practices.

The yearly subscription fee includes free admission to the annual agricultural employment seminar which Clarke says focuses on a hot new topic but also reviews older information, access to Clarke herself for brief no-cost consultations by phone or email, and alerts on law changes and court decisions.

In addition to giving counsel on such employment immigration matters as the H-1B visa program and managing the defense of employers under USICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and other compliance proceedings, Clarke also helps with permanent residence applications, including employment- and family-based.

Clarke herself grew up on a farm, in nearby Coopersville. She was first intrigued by a career in the law by the fact that her family’s operation was charged with violations. After 10 years, as Clarke attended high school and college, the case was settled for about $2000, based on a dismissal of all of the charges but one.

“There are unique laws that apply, and having lived through that case is probably the best training I could have had. That has always been a part of my practice,” she says.

In the meantime, Clarke graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A., and the  University of Michigan Law School for her J.D.

She says she loves having grown up in the small-town atmosphere of Coopersville. She and her husband now reside in the heart of downtown; their two daughters, aged 19 and 22, are preparing to strike out on their own.

Based in part on her history in Coopersville, where, she says, most people she knew were born at St. Mary’s Hospital (now part of Trinity Health), Clarke serves as secretary of the board of the St. Mary’s Foundation.

Another strong area of interest is Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), which provides support for the immigrant and refugee communities including limited legal representation through on-staff attorneys.

Clarke has served with dedication on the local board for 15 years, and is also proud of her work with the National JFON. As she explains it, the 17 local and state JFON organizations have different focuses and different abilities, and there was a need for national coordination to help each realize its potential. As a national board member, Clarke and colleagues hired an excellent executive director to work towards that.

“Rob Rutland Brown was the perfect choice to really help us bring all the sites along. We needed someone creative like Rob to figure out how the sites should go about building their customization, and to work on their sustainability,” she says.

Clarke says that her association with a strong local site helped her serve nationally. “The West Michigan site really is well-functioning, although that doesn’t mean they’re flush with money,” she adds, smiling. For more information visit jfonmi.org.

Before that, Clarke served on the Board of Directors for Bethany Christian Services for several years, as well as on the highly successful Membership Committee of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.

Other professional affiliations include the American Agricultural Law Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association including the state chapter, the Grand Rapids Bar Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, the state Bar of Michigan Agricultural Law Section (of which she is treasurer) and International Law Section,  and the National Council of Agricultural Employers. She served on the board of the NCAE, which focuses exclusively on agricultural labor issues from the agricultural employer's viewpoint.

The Leader in the Law luncheon was held at the Detroit Marriott in Troy on April 5. Each year, the cohort of 30 chooses one individual to claim the title of Michigan Leader in the Law; this year Judge Dorene S. Allen of the Midland County Probate & Juvenile Court was the choice. Clarke comments, “It was very exciting to be honored, and an interesting process.

“I also thank the attorneys here who nominated me,” she says, adding with a smile, “They both said very nice things about me.”

Other West Michigan attorneys named as Leaders in the Law include the broadly-experienced trial attorney W. Thomas McCarthy Jr. of  Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, and the Hon. Kathleen A. Feeney of the Kent County Circuit Court Family Division. Both have been profiled in past issues of the Grand Rapids Legal News.