Team effort Bar association leader works diligently to 'bridge the gap'


By Melanie Deeds
Legal News

As the new president of the Macomb County Probate Bar Association, attorney Benjamin A. Schock brings a forward-thinking attitude to his new role as the legal world deals with the shifting sands of a pandemic.

It helps that he’s a man of humor, seems to take curve balls and challenges in stride — he’s the father of boys aged six and eight —  and appreciates the value of patience and perspective.

“It’s been an interesting year,” said Schock, a elder law attorney who recently took the reins as MCPBA president. “We’re all trying and working on this together. Whether this is your business or you’re involved in one of these associations, we’re just sort of making it up as we go.

“There’s no playbook; you can’t go to Google and ask what to I do during a pandemic.”

One of Schock’s goals is to resume as best he can the series of seminars the MCPBA has provided over the years, events he viewed as extremely valuable at the beginning of his legal career 14 years ago.

Robert Szalka, director of legal services at Macomb County Probate Court, started things off as the featured speaker at a seminar held by the MCPBA in late August.

The court has been closed to the public since mid-March. After working with a limited staff for nearly three months, most everyone is back on the job but there’s still a backlog, Szalka said.

At one point, staffers were more than a month behind in dealing with the mail and filings but, at the time of the seminar, Szalka said much progress had been made and they were just one week behind.

Schock, who is a co-founder of  Schock Solaiman Ramdayal, PLLC in Clinton Township, said Szalka has agreed to a monthly schedule of Zoom gatherings to answer questions and provide information on progress getting the court back to speed.

“I think the court as a whole has done a good job of trying to deal with this uncharted water,” said Schock, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Michigan State University and stayed at MSU for law school. “If you had told me in March that the court was going to close for 90 days, I would have laughed at you.”

At this point, he said, the court staff “is starting to realize what procedures are working, which ones aren’t. We’re all doing the best we can under the circumstances.”

Updating the policies and letting people know what going on is vital, Schock said.

The key from a practitioner’s point of view, according to Schock, “is to get somebody like Bob and hear about the problems the court is facing and the issues they are being challenged by. We all have to make the system work.”

Schock admitted virtual meetings attract a limited audience and “we’re still not reaching everyone.” Still, he said it’s a valuable tool in getting the word out and keeping members connected.

Schock said he’d like to see more attention paid to the court’s website but added he was aware that, “when you are digging out, it’s almost impossible to get to that stuff.”

Along with scheduling more seminars — in addition to the Szalka monthly update, an online seminar is planned next month focusing on updating Michigan’s power of attorney laws — Schock also hopes to set up some online social events.

“We’ve been bantering about a few things,” he said. “Once again, there’s a learning curve. The new normal involves meetings through Zoom. The reality is we just can’t do what we used to do right now.

“We have talked about a Zoom happy hour. We don’t know how successful that will be but we’ll likely try one. You still need the social aspect; that so important. We’re just trying to bridge the gap.”

Schock said he gathered a lot of information and gained confidence along with a sense of connection attending MCPBA seminars over the years.

“When I was a new attorney, I appreciated the opportunity to have other attorneys that you can bounce ideas off of,” he said. “There were people who have been through those battles. There are a lot of good people in this organization.”

Schock appreciated that he could approach the speaker and ask questions; he could confer with others in the audience.

“It was valuable to me to establish those contacts,” he said. “We face a new set of challenges, that’s for sure.”

The way Schock sees it, attorneys were able to weather some of the trauma of the pandemic because so many of them practiced to some extent from home.

“So it’s not like we really ever completely shut down,” he said. “There were still matters that had to be worked on. There were things in the pipeline that still had to be taken care of.”

April was a difficult month, Schock acknowledged, “because that pipeline of work had dissolved” and the financial worries started to build.

“Certainly that was a very challenging month,”?he said, “but, once things started opening back up by the end of May, we really hit the ground running and figured out how we want to attack.”

Along with the ups and downs that came with their professional lives, Schock and his wife Julie — a nurse practitioner — faced the challenges of working out of their homes while handling the round-the-clock demands and responsibilities of parents of young children.

“Sometimes that was more challenging,” Schock said. “We worked hard at their education. Luckily they both had very responsive teachers.”

Prior to the pandemic, Schock had been familiar with Zoom  but, through his work and his children’s schooling, he has become quite comfortable with it as a means of communication. He shares his expertise with clients and, on occasion, other attorneys.

“I had done Zoom prior to the pandemic but it certainly wasn’t an everyday thing like it is now,”?Schock noted. “And it looks like it’s here to stay and going to be a permanent presence in our lives”

Bottom line in all this, according to Schock: “You’ve got to keep up with the technology, be patient and work with everybody.”

“You can’t let this be a nightmare. We’re all going to have to adapt to this reality,”? he said. “In some ways, it’s a blessing and a curse.

“It’s a blessing that we’re able to learn these things and see how they work. But the curse is there’s going to be a curve. You’re going to have to figure it all out, be patient and go through and figure out what works and doesn’t work.”


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