'Meaningful' mission: New State Bar chief goes out of way to help out


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Rob Buchanan, the new president of the State Bar of Michigan, is an adventurer, whether in his personal or professional life.

“Evidently it's in my DNA,” Buchanan said of his propensity for stepping out of the safe lane. “I like to explore, to experience what life has to offer.”

As a student at Kalamazoo College he spent six months in Spain, attending the Instituto Internacional in Madrid.

After returning stateside in 1984, Buchanan was an aviation intern at the Ionia airport, eventually obtaining his commercial glider’s license and private pilot certification for single engine planes.
Following law school, his love of flying led to part ownership of a 1940 L4 Piper Cub.

“There’s nothing quite like flying at 1,500 feet with the windows open – incredible views, invigorating airflow, and soothing purr of the motor,” said Buchanan.

After graduating from Wayne State University Law School, cum laude, in 1988, the Grand Rapids native’s first job was as a commercial litigation associate with Warner Norcross + Judd. He spent 6 years there, as a skilled AV-rated trial attorney and potentially a future leader of the firm.

He left in 1995 to start the Buchanan Firm with his family.

Why? The reason was a DNA quirk, he said.

 “I knew myself,” he explained.

“I wanted to help real people, solve real problems, doing meaningful legal work, and no longer serve big companies and wealthy executives in their squabbles over money. Today, I enjoy helping wonderful people every day resolve true injustice, and I’ve never regretted my decision.”

As a co-founder and managing member of Buchanan Firm, he limits his plaintiff practice to only large, catastrophic medical malpractice and vehicle crash claims.

“As a plaintiff attorney, I am always helping the little guy, the underdog to right wrongs,” he said. “I enjoy being their metaphoric David figure in single combat against powerful and moneyed Goliaths.
Giants are arrogant and terrifying bullies, and they try pummeling the little guy with their superior size, weapons, and brute strength. No one fights them unless it's a death wish.”

Which, to Buchanan’s way of thinking, is the reason to do legal battle.

“As attorneys for the little guy, we must be quicker, smarter, more resourceful, and spot how to win early because combat with giants is never fair,” he claimed. “I like the challenge of knocking out a giant.”

Buchanan has had more than his share of triumphs, earning recognition from The Best Lawyers in America for more than 16 years and Michigan Super Lawyers annually since 2006.

Despite his demanding legal work, Buchanan always has made time to volunteer for bar association services for more than 32 years, first for the Grand Rapids Bar Association. He became chair of the Young Lawyers Division in 1995 and then a trustee from 2007-10.

“Initially, I was interested in getting to know other young lawyers, protecting the public, and defending the legal profession against unfair attacks,” Buchanan said. “I quickly discovered how rewarding bar service is and it energized me to join brilliant teams of selfless attorneys.”

In 2003, Buchanan became a member of the State Bar Representative Assembly, and in 2010 West Michigan elected him as its commissioner to the Board of Commissioners.

“As a State Bar Commissioner, I’ve especially enjoyed working on public policy issues, helping educate lawmakers about bad or unjust legislation. I also enjoy the challenge of looking ahead as a legal profession over the horizon to determine how we should best respond to coming changes. It’s particularly important now during this pandemic, with seismic disruptions, delays, accelerated changes, and the swerve to remote communications and hearings. What we choose to do now will have long-lasting value and impact.”

Buchanan’s brother, Jack, is a commercial real estate developer. His sister, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane Beckering, practiced law in Chicago before returning to Grand Rapids to work with her legally talented family.

Rob and Jane learned from one of the finest trial attorneys in the state, Grand Rapids attorney John C. Buchanan, whose legal influence is now global as founder and CEO of the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.

“My father has had an amazing legal career and has been an excellent trial attorney for over 50 years,” said Buchanan. “He was not only gifted in the courtroom, but also passionate about protecting the integrity, reputation, and trust of the legal profession. That’s why he started Primerus, a global network of firms that ascribe to the precept: ‘Good People Who Happen to Be Good Lawyers.’”
Buchanan’s mother, Sheila, serves as the Events and Meetings Coordinator for Primerus.

Buchanan and his wife, Mary, have three daughters. Twenty-two-year-old Ellie graduated from the University of Michigan in May and now clerks for a defense law firm in Chicago.  She is applying to law school starting in the fall 2021. Her sisters, Brooke (20) and Sarah (18) are both undergraduates at Indiana University in Bloomington.


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