MCPBA at '25' Plans to celebrate milestone placed on back burner

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Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Carl Marlinga (third from right) was the featured speaker at the last in-person seminar sponsored by the MCPBA this year. Among those on hand to welcome Marlinga to the event back in March were (from left): Alan Polack; Dave Forest, MCPBA vice president; Elizabeth Stubbs; Wayne Wilson; and Ryan Reck, MCPBA director.
– Photo by John Meiu

By Melanie Deeds
Legal News

Turns out the vision Alan Polack and a handful of other Macomb County attorneys shared in 1995 was one with some staying power.

They wanted to create an organization for area attorneys specializing in probate matters. The group would organize seminars on changes in the law and various other subjects, provide a support and networking system and — on occasion — offer some social gatherings.

“We just wanted to do it,” said Polack. “Wayne County had such a group and we wanted to have our own.”

Twenty-five years later, the Macomb County Probate Bar Association is going strong. Celebrating that milestone, understandably, will have to wait a bit.

“We had been thinking about ways to mark the occasion when the world got weird,” said fellow attorney Elizabeth Stubbs, a past president of the organization as she recalled those days in March as the pandemic forced almost everything to a halt.

Stubbs was just beginning her law career in 1995, working as a law clerk at an area attorney’s office, “making copies and getting drinks,” she recalled.

Polack said he met Stubbs “on the day we did this,” formally filing with the State Bar of Michigan as a specialty bar association. Stubbs said she knew then she wanted to be a part of the fledgling organization.

“I was a member immediately and I put my time in so I could qualify to be a board member,” she said. “I just thought it was such an interesting concept and I wanted to be a part of all of the organizing and gathering and I loved it.”

Being involved with the organization over the years “has enabled me to meet a lot of attorneys to help me establish my practice,” Stubbs added. “I now have colleagues I can call or  can make referrals to. To me, it has been invaluable.”

Though the founding members thought forming the specialty bar association was a great idea, they were uncertain how many others would share their enthusiasm.

It became clear, in good fashion, that fellow attorneys in the area found it invaluable as well.

Membership mushroomed to 250, including a good number of legal assistants.

These days, membership is down — standing at just over 150 — but the downturn is understandable in light of the current coronavirus crisis.

“Membership fluctuates and COVID has definitely had an adverse effect,” said Stubbs.  “Everyone right now is still trying to adjust.”

Stubbs and Polack, who operate their practices out of the same Shelby Township building, recently spent time sharing MCPBA memories and looking toward the future of the organization.

Most attorneys practicing in Macomb County are sole practitioners, Polack noted, a situation that existed 25 years ago.

“You don’t see the big firms here or, if you do, it’s a branch office,” he said. “The big firms have their own support system. We don’t have those in-house resources.”

For much of this past year, courts and attorneys have been focusing on finding ways to operate with a variety of restrictions and adaptions forced upon them by the pandemic.

To help disseminate information and to retain the continuity of the group, MCPBA leaders organized a couple of virtual seminars featuring probate court judges and court officials.

Another online seminar is planned later this month regarding pending legislation to amend probate law regarding power of attorney matters. Featured speaker will be State Rep. Douglas Wozniak, a Macomb County attorney and member of the MCPBA who specializes in elder law.

Discussing important changes in the law has always been a priority for the MCPBA, said Polack, who recalled the organization’s response to the Estates and Protected Individual Code (EPIC) that was enacted into law in 1998 and took effect in 2000.

The delay in the law taking effect was purposeful — to allow everyone to educate themselves on the changes — and the MCPBA didn’t hesitate to get moving.

“It was a big deal for us,” Polack said of the planning involved in preparing a series of seminars the MCPBA sponsored for its members. “We put together three sessions on that and about 200 people turned out per session.”

As for the future, Polack is encouraged that the organization is attracting younger members, many of whom are anxious to serve in leadership roles and keep the group vibrant and growing.

“They are all younger than me, very comfortable with all of this technology,” he said. “They are getting into it, figuring out how to hold seminars online. They are more computer literate and that will help us a lot in the future.”

Both he and Stubbs regret the disappearance of face-to-face social activities, which included holiday events and annual boat excursions.

The MCPBA did manage to join with the Wayne County Probate Bar Association this past summer to stage their annual Pryder Cup golf competition, but that was it for social activities in 2020.

“It’s sad that we can’t keep doing these,” Polack said.

The social component was a big part of the many seminars the MCPBA presented as well, Stubbs noted.

“Although they were educational, they were social events too,” she said. “You had a chance to see colleagues, talk about cases you worked on together and run ideas off of each other.”

Both Stubbs and Polack made mention of the widely popular Mystery Trips as they reminisced about particularly memorable occasions.

“Those were among my favorites,” Stubbs said of the adventuresome outings that were the brainchild of Julie Strawn, an attorney with Macomb County Probate Court who was among the founding members. “A lot of work went into those; they were pretty big undertakings and always phenomenal.

“We all got onto a bus and nobody knew where it was headed,” said Stubbs. “It was all so much fun that it became an annual event.”

Destinations included Greenfield Village, the Detroit Zoo and the Metamora Hunt Club.

“We all got together and got to see each other in a social setting,” Polack noted. “Sometimes a smaller group works better and you really get to know people.”

He recalled, with a chuckle, one occasion when the group “was abandoned.” In truth, the bus was two hours late to retrieve everyone for the return home.
Though some in attendance that night might have disagreed, Polack recalled:  “Those were the best times.”

Polack and Stubbs look forward to the resumption of the social events as well as the seminars. They remain confident about the health and continued vibrancy of the MCPBA.

“There’s still a lot of interest in what we’re doing and a lot of people are on board in supporting the organization,” Stubbs said. “Those who have joined us
along the way are all very interested in continuing to be involved.

“This too shall pass,” said Stubbs, who has two high schoolers and a sixth-grader “all at home sitting in front of a laptop. The socializing has to be face-to-face again. We’re supposed to be social.”

Polack wholeheartedly agrees.

“I’ll be so happy when we have our next in-person meeting,” he said.

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