New leader aims to 'sharpen' bar association's focus

By Linda Laderman
Legal News
Art O’Reilly, the newly installed president of the Detroit Bar Association, came to Detroit because he saw the city as a place where he could make a significant contribution to the legal community.
“The DBA is the second oldest bar association in the country,” said O’Reilly, a partner in the Detroit office of Jones Day. “It serves an important role for junior lawyers to find a way to interact with their more senior colleagues.”

Early in his career, it looked like O’Reilly’s professional and personal life would be centered in Washington, D.C. But a decision to move to the Detroit area, where his wife, attorney Rebecca D’Arcy O’Reilly grew up, turned out to be a good choice.

Calling Detroit “a special place with tremendous opportunities for motivated and talented people,” O’Reilly said he and his wife knew that Detroit was the right choice because they “could have a well-rounded professional career and, at the same time, play a meaningful role in building our community.”

D’Arcy O’Reilly is the chair of Bodman’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Practice Group.

Active first with the Oakland County Bar Association’s Inn of Court, and in the DBA for the better part of the last decade, O’Reilly said organizations like the Detroit Bar serve an important role for lawyers who are looking for ways to network with other attorneys who, due to the focus of their practice, might not otherwise meet.

“It is often an attorney’s first opportunity to learn in a non-adversarial situation. It gives them a chance to get out from behind their computers.” O’Reilly said. “It’s a great way for junior lawyers to connect with attorneys who are not part of your chain, who can share their experiences and act as mentors.”

Even as social media takes the place of more traditional forums, the 43-year-old O’Reilly said bar associations remain a necessary and relevant element for members of the legal profession.

“As a member of the DBA, I’ve derived satisfaction and learned a lot along the way. From my perspective a healthy bar association is critical to having a healthy law practice,” O’Reilly said. “And as president of the DBA, I would like to go deeper into the question of what does a modern bar association do to make itself relevant.”

O’Reilly said the stress that accompanies his handling of “bet the company” cases that sometimes carry stakes “north of a half a billion dollars” is lessened a bit by his interactions with the attorneys he’s met though his involvement with the DBA.

“Regardless of the complexity of the case, you’re still in court, you’re still before a jury,” O’Reilly noted. “But when you are a member of a bar association, you interact with judges on a different level.”

O’Reilly began his career in the nation’s capital working for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where he spent three years as an intelligence officer and an economic analyst. 

“While with the DIA, I routinely analyzed large amounts of complex data and summarized that data for civilian and military leadership.  In many respects, this is what we must do as trial attorneys – digest and summarize information for judges and juries,” O’Reilly said.

Following his work with the DIA, O’Reilly, who earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, found his niche while attending the University of Notre Dame Law School, and later, after two clerkships, landed at Jones Day’s D.C. office, where the skills he’d honed at the DIA proved to be a valuable asset in his law practice.

Now firmly established in the Detroit legal community, O’Reilly said he wants “to sharpen the Detroit Bar’s focus on the services to be provided to our membership increase our commitment to the at-large community,” by emphasizing the DBA Foundation’s educational initiatives and the DBA’s Barristers’ program.
“Led by Chief Judge (Robert) Columbo of the Wayne County Circuit Court and Ray Carey of Foley & Lardner, the Foundation continues to raise funds for worthwhile causes and to otherwise ensure that the Detroit Bar remains an important supporting organization in our community,” O’Reilly said. “And the Detroit

Bar Association Barristers’ program continues to grow the ranks of the association through networking and educational programs.”

Of his forthcoming year at the helm of the DBA, O’Reilly said is proud of how the group “helps to hold the legal community together. I’m pleased to do it.”