Bidding adieu: Longtime director to retire from foundation

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Lorraine Weber, executive director of the Detroit Bar Association Foundation for the past 13 years, is proud to say that she leads a double life.

In fact, she has led many lives over the course of a 39-year legal career that reached a milestone in 2008 when she received the prestigious “Champion of Justice Award” from the State Bar of Michigan.

The honor, well deserved by all accounts, served as a fitting tribute for her “devotion to women and minorities seeking racial, ethnic, and gender fairness in the courts and the legal profession,” according to officials from the State Bar of Michigan.

This Thursday, Jan. 12, Weber will take another bow when she is saluted at a retirement celebration after guiding the Detroit Bar Association Foundation since 2003. The reception will take place at the law offices of Miller Canfield, 150 West Jefferson in Detroit, from 5:30-8 p.m.

Lisa DeMoss, co-chair of the Detroit Bar Foundation and a professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, is among Weber’s chief admirers.

“Lorraine’s career as a Michigan lawyer has been distinguished by her persistent quest for equality and fairness in the treatment of those who come before our judicial system,” says DeMoss, who is director of the Master of Laws Program in Insurance at Cooley. “In a number of diverse roles, she has influenced and inspired a generation of lawyers to serve the needs of the underprivileged and under-represented communities whose lives are affected by their interactions with the courts in our state. Whether disadvantaged by gender, race, age or circumstance, the citizens of our community are better represented through her persistent efforts to improve their access to justice.

“This week, we are honoring her significant contributions to our local justice system as she moves into her next role as a full time world traveler and advocate for underprivileged children whose lives are enriched through access to various personal services, such as dental care, that are not otherwise available to them but are so important to the fulfillment of their potential,” DeMoss adds. “The Detroit legal community has been privileged to have worked with Lorraine over the years in her capacity as executive director of the Detroit Bar Association and its Foundation.
She embodies the service aspect of the practice of law and we will miss her enthusiasm, infectious laughter and ability to encourage and recruit other members of the bar to dedicate their time and energy for the betterment of the judicial system. From a lawyer’s perspective, Lorraine has had a significant impact on the quality and enjoyment of the practice of law in the City of Detroit by providing creative opportunities for members of the bar to engage one another outside the courtroom and in service of the community.”

Weber, an alumna of the University of Michigan, has been on a distinguished legal path since she graduated from Boston College of Law in June 1977, serving as the class commencement speaker that red-letter day. She has held key administrative positions in the Wayne County probate and juvenile courts, led two Michigan Supreme Court task forces, chaired the State Bar’s Representative Assembly, and served as a special adviser to the State Bar Open Justice Commission before joining the Detroit Bar Association as its executive director 13 years ago.

In each judicial role and with every challenge she has faced, Weber has relied on a spirit that envelops her heart. It has led her to pursue a “dream that lives in her heart,” a quest that has been manifested in a “personal growth journey” with a destination stop in the ministerial ranks.

As an ordained minister since 1996, Weber professes to be as comfortable in that spiritual role as she is as head of the Detroit Bar Foundation, an organization that supports Access to Justice programs and provides legal aid funding for the under-served in the greater Detroit community.
“I have been on a personal growth journey for a number of years and it really took hold when I became involved in a church that focuses on educational and healing processes of integrating body, mind, and spirit,” says Weber, a longtime resident of Detroit with her husband, Mac Lister.

Her spiritual path intersected with that of Ellen Miller’s some 24 years ago, and the two quickly developed a kinship that led to their development of “Changing Woman and the Changing Woman Sisterhood.”

“My interest in the ministry really developed out of my feminism, and the opportunity to work with other women who are dedicated to their spiritual journey through life,” Weber says. “It’s been a fascinating experience to share with others.”

For the past two decades, Weber has been a minister in the Church of Tzaddi a “non-denominational and non-traditional organization” that takes its name from the 18th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its offshoot is the Earth Walk Spiritual Center that Weber and Miller formally created in 1997 with the express commitment “to offer healing, teaching spiritual guidance, inspiration, worship, counseling, and community service to individuals seeking personal transformation, healing, and growth,” according to its mission.

Weber, who was raised in the Downriver area, was appointed director of the Detroit Bar Association in August 2003, a dual post that also included heading the Detroit Bar Association Foundation. In 2009, Weber left her duties with the Bar Association to focus on guiding the Foundation.

“I’ve worked all over the legal landscape during my career and I brought experience as a private practitioner, court administrator, juvenile court referee, and legal consultant to this role,” Weber says of her professional resume. “I’m not a maintenance-type person. I believe in the value of change and the constant need to always be looking at ways to improve – as an individual and as an organization.”

Weber’s interest in the law was encouraged by her father, Lorne, a Detroit College of Law alum who built a successful private practice in Flat Rock, where he also was a justice of the peace.

“I was a clerk/typist at the Wayne County Probate Court in college and worked full time there for a couple of years before deciding to go to law school,” recalls Weber, whose paternal grandfather was a professor at the former Detroit College of Law.

Her law school days in Boston were punctuated by 12 different moves as she and her first husband managed a series of apartment complexes to help make ends meet.

“Our marriage didn’t survive law school, but I did graduate with a sense of purpose about what I wanted to do in the law,” says Weber, whose mother, Thelma, died at age 63, the year after her daughter earned a law degree.

After spending a year with her father in private practice, Weber found her calling in the public sector, joining the Wayne County Probate Court as an attorney, becoming its register in 1981. Two years later, she was promoted to court administrator, a post she held until late 1987.

“In my first real job with the Probate Court, I was, in effect, a law clerk for all of the judges,” she says. “It provided a great legal education in a hurry. One of the first cases we handled was the administration of the Dodge Estate, a case that involved virtually every major law firm in Detroit. It was like a law school exam all over again. I got to know a lot of the major players in Detroit through that one case.”

Her appointment as register of the Probate Court accelerated her advancement up the administrative ranks, leading to the court administrator’s role for the probate and juvenile divisions. In short order, she was responsible for a staff of 480 employees, the second largest court operation in the state.

In 1987, she left the Wayne County Probate Court to serve as project director for the Michigan Supreme Court Task Forces on Gender and Racial/Ethnic Issues in the Courts. The two-year assignment culminated with the release of two detailed reports addressing the findings and recommendations for improving the administration of justice.

“We were the first state in the nation to create task forces to address racial and gender issues facing courts,” says Weber, who has a sister, Lynn Ann.

Weber’s commitment to volunteerism is shared with her husband, who retired last year from his post with the Michigan Department of Transportation. The couple, who plan to celebrate her retirement with a trip to New Zealand this winter, met when they were members of the Rackham Symphony Choir in Detroit. She was the alto and he was the baritone. Now they confine their singing to get-togethers “around the campfire,” she says with a chuckle.

In addition to music, they enjoy art, camping, hiking, travel, and their dog and cat. Their daughter, Alison, and her husband, Christopher, have two children, ages 4 and 2, respectively. As their grandmother, Weber says she has “the best job in the world.”

Now, as Weber embarks upon retirement, she and her husband will call northern Michigan home. They own a house on a scenic wooded parcel in the Leelanau Peninsula, far from the hustle and bustle of metro Detroit.

“There are two lakes on the land and we have donated 100 acres of the property to the Nature Conservancy,” Weber says. “It’s a great place to hike, to enjoy the wilderness, and to just get away from it all.”