Like father, like son

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 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
 
Ronald Bahrie remembers the moment he decided to go to law school.
He was a juvenile parole officer in Detroit with a caseload of 10-to-15-year old murderers, rapists and school-skippers, all thrown together in a state training school. He met Detroit attorney Justin Ravitz while helping an accused ward, and realized the power of the law to do justice.
However, Bahrie took a detour and was teaching math at Beaubien Junior High School in Detroit when a bullet shot through the classroom window and ricocheted, sending a piece of glass into his eye.
As he was wheeled out on a stretcher worried about losing his eyesight, Bahrie realized it was time to switch careers.
That was 39 years ago.
Today, the Lansing attorney says that if he could find the shooter, he’d give him a big kiss and a lot of money.
“Can you imagine 35 years as a math teacher in a junior high school?” he asked with a smile. “I’d shoot myself! Law school was easier.”
For Bahrie, the switch was more than a route to a safer work site. As an attorney focusing on workers’ compensation, personal injury, criminal law, divorce law, probate, and veterans benefits, he continued to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
That good thing became even better in 2012 when his son Justin, now 28, joined the firm.
And if you don’t think Ron is proud of Justin—who was named for the attorney who inspired him—you haven’t spent more than 30 seconds with him.
“I’ve watched Justin prepare people for hearings the last couple of weeks and he’s just remarkable,” said Ron, 66. “He’s a social worker. He’s a psychologist. He’s their pal. But most importantly, he’s their lawyer”
Ron once represented a homeless woman who’d suffered all sorts of abuse on the streets of Lansing, and was trying to get Social Security Disability.
They lost the case.
Justin represented her in an appeal, and won.
A few weeks later, Ron got a call from the woman, who was thrilled to say she had found housing, was working with Community Mental Health, regularly taking her medication, and felt in control of her life.
“She said, ‘Your son is a hot pistol!’” he recalled with a laugh. “She said, ‘He walked into that courtroom and sucked all the air out of it.’”
Does Justin get tired of hearing his dad brag about him?
“Yup!” he said. “It happens every day, every client. He likes his stories.”
Ron says he gets his gift of gab from his father, a man who knew no stranger.
Added Justin:  “He’s slowly turning into his dad, even though he doesn’t want to admit it. And my girlfriend says the same thing about me.”
Although his mother’s formal education stopped after the eighth grade, Ron insists she had a PhD in common sense. She worked on assembly lines in Detroit for 30 years, and he spent a few summer vacations doing the same.
That experience, he said, has given him an insight and respect for workers, many of whom he’s represented in suits against corporations, insurance companies and law enforcement. 
“Our focus isn’t to get a client money. It’s to give them the help they need to go back to school; to get that GED, to go to Michigan Rehabilitation Services to try to get a job, to try to make it on their own,” said Ron, who grew up on the west side of Detroit and now lives in Okemos with his wife, Claudia, a former school social worker.
“We don’t want to be known as, ‘Here comes Bahrie Law with a couple of lazy liars,’” he said, noting that their Social Security disability clients must prove they’ve done everything they can to help themselves before going before a judge for assistance.
A Michigan State University undergrad, Justin graduated from the MSU College of Law in 2012.  He’d already been working for his dad, and simply stepped it up after passing the bar in July of 2012.
“I’ve been working here since middle school,” said Justin, whose older sister also worked in her dad’s office when she was younger, and now works in human resources. “His secretary would come pick me up from school, and I’d do the mail and filing. When I was in college, I’d work on appeals briefs, doing research. After I passed the bar, I started doing hearings.”
Justin is convinced that he chose the right career.
“It’s something different every day,” said Justin. “Even if we’re doing all Social Security cases in a week, every case is different. Every person we talk to has a different issue, a different story.”
How do father and son get along so well every day?
“I could not dig ditches with him,” said Justin, who lives in Lansing. “Manual labor, we’d bump heads. But legal work, we’re able to get along well. We’re good at talking things out. We’ll sit down, go over all the issues, and explain our reasoning behind it.”
In his free time, Ronald enjoys nothing better than heading to Leelanau Peninsula, where he has a 34-foot Airstream tucked into the cedars on the beach.
“I tell ya, when you’re in (the Jacuzzi) watching the sun set on North Manitou Island …” he said.
At 66, Ron has no plans to retire. He said he could relate to Willy Nelson, who replied to a question about retirement by asking:  “All I do is play music and golf — which one do you want me to give up?”
“Well, I do justice and beach patrol,” he said. “And it’s just so rewarding to help somebody who’s deserving and had a lot of tough things in life… Sometimes people have never had somebody say, ‘Hey, I care about you and I want to help you.’ So why would I retire and want to leave this?”