Joy Fossel wraps up her successful year as Grand Rapids Bar president


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

“People ask me if I’m happy that my year as president is ending, but to be honest, it was such a wonderful experience that I’m going to miss doing it,” says Joy Fossel of her tenure as president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association (GRBA).

“It was a great year, and I attribute that to the professional staff there,” she adds. “They run things so smoothly that they made my job much easier.”

Fossel, whose practice at Varnum focuses on business and commercial litigation, has recently moved to Of Counsel status. She continues to chair the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, but has stepped back a bit in order to pursue other interests.

Those interests including spending   more time with family, including her husband Michael Fossel, a medical and Ph.D. doctor who founded the company Telocyte to work on eliminating Alzheimer’s disease. (The company’s tag line is “A future beyond Alzheimer’s.”)

Over her legal career, Fossel has racked up an amazing list of honors, starting with receiving the Distinguished Student Award from Thomas M. Cooley Law School (now Western Michigan University Cooley Law School). After receiving her B.A. in English from Stanford University and establishing a career as a teacher, Fossel returned to school for her J.D., which she earned magna cum laude.

She has also been named a Diversity Business Leader by Corp! magazine, one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal, and won both the Legal Aid of Western Michigan Michael S. Barnes Award and the State Bar of Michigan John W. Cummiskey Award for her pro bono work.

Fossel has been a Michigan Super Lawyer® since 2013, and was designated one of the top 20 women lawyers by Michigan Lawyers Weekly in 2011.

She has served on numerous task forces and commissions, including the State of Michigan Risk Reduction and AIDS?Policy Commission and the Grand Rapids Drug Task Force in the mid-1990s. Her community contributions are too lengthy to list, and range from chairing the AIDS Resource Center to serving on the board of Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Ballet, and  the Gerontology Network, among others, to being a hands-on certified volunteer tax preparer in the government’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program.

That has included a long run of leadership in the GRBA – she won the  President's Award in 2013 – culminating in her year as president, with yet another year as immediate past president to come.

What she counts among the greatest successes of her presidency is something that will come to fruition under a future president, and will get underway in the term of her successor, Randy Velzen. That is the lawyer’s space in the Kent County Courthouse, which was actually begun when Judge Christopher Yates was GRBA President.

Judge Yates continues to spearhead the plans to carve out a place where attorneys can spend time and get work done when they have gaps between court activities. It has been difficult to arrange because it requires occupying physical space in the building.

But, Fossel says, “Before the end of the summer I expect we will have a deal in place with the county. Then we’ll look at a capital campaign.”

Fossel has agreed to co-chair that campaign with Scott Melton of Gruel Mills Nims and Pylman.

“We’re hoping to use it for CLE activities, and allow people to take depositions there. One of the things that I’ve really noticed is  the increasing number of solo practitioners who are not going to be brick and mortar anymore,” Fossel says. “We’ll have to determine what kind of technology we want to have in there to help them and others succeed.”

Technology is another area where Fossel feels the GRBA has made strides in the last year, with its Technology in the Courtroom series. “It’s a half day, and we hope to have it take place quarterly,” says Fossel. “Something some don’t realize is that people can bring one of their active cases to work on, so it’s a really great hands-on experience.”

The next session will be Sept. 8, held at the 62-B District Court at 4740 Walma Ave. S.E. in Kentwood. Presiding Judge William Kelly has always been a strong proponent of state-of-the-art technology, and the equipment there is the same as that used in Federal Court. Dan Helmer of the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office will join him for the training.

Fossel also praises the recent decision to amend the GRBA bylaws to reflect a different way of electing officers. As detailed in the Grand Rapids Legal News interview of incoming President Velzen in the July 4th issue, a nominating committee will now authorize a single slate of officers for an up or down vote. “We’re really excited about this,” Fossel says. “It gives greater opportunity to younger lawyers; we can nurture their talent and bring them up through the ranks. It also allows us to include people, for example, in-house counsel, who may not have as much name recognition so they lose the contested elections after all their work.”

Fossel adds that she has also been delighted with the increase in social activities evidenced by the many sections of GRBA, especially the Young Lawyers Section.

“I feel lucky I get to stay on the board for one more year, but I’ll continue to be involved even after that,” Fossel comments. “It was wonderful for me, and I hope Randy Velzen has as great a year.”