Ann Arbor lawyer keeps focus on environment

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

As a boy, Jim Roush loved spending time outdoors on his family's 1860s farm outside Ann Arbor. Whether he was climbing huge, old trees, exploring woods and ponds, watching wildlife or riding his bike on dirt roads, everywhere he went nature beckoned.

"I loved being outside as a kid, and I became very connected to the land," he says. "Now as an adult, I want to help preserve and protect the environment."

So it's not surprising that Roush, an attorney with Bodman PLC in Ann Arbor and a member of the Ann Arbor Society of Friends Meeting, specializes in environmental law and litigation; is Vice-Chair, Technology Committee, Environmental Law Section, of the State Bar of Michigan; and last year joined the Board of Directors for the Michigan Friends Center, a not-for-profit retreat on 92 lakefront acres in the woods north of Chelsea.

The center, available year round for conferences, workshops, retreats, trainings, educational programs and special events, was founded in 1961 by a group of families associated with the Friends Meeting in Ann Arbor. Friends Lake Cooperative Community made land available and a new nonprofit corporation was formed to work closely with Michigan area Quakers.

Michigan Friends Center was launched as a directorate that would own and operate the facility for educational, religious, and recreational purposes.

A board, appointed by Friends Lake Community and Green Pastures Quarterly Meeting, has oversight and a director manages day-to-day operations. Donations, programs and rental fees provide financial support.

The center hosts a number of programs offering meaningful and enriching experiences, such as one day meditation retreats, a "Living Lightly" series, and more.

"I've been going to MFC for years - my parents took us there for picnics and to swim," Roush says. "In my high school years my Quaker youth group had retreats at the center. Those experiences at MFC were very formative for me.

"When a board position opened up last year, I was interested in the opportunity to offer a potentially helpful skill set as a way to give back.

"Even though the board doesn't need legal help, I'm able to lend related skills such as drafting letters and writing position papers.

"This is my first board experience, and it's hard work - there are a lot of strategic decisions to be made. We're trying to keep the Michigan Friends Center as alive and vitalized as possible."

Roush's passion for the outdoors is also a guiding principle of the Quaker faith; members of the Society of Friends believe in fostering peace, social justice, simplicity, spiritual growth and healing, and protecting the environment.

The Religious Society of Friends grew out of the ministry of George Fox in England and America in the 17th century.

Rooted in Christianity, a basic tenet is that everyone has "that of God within," variously called the "Inner Light," the "inward teacher," or the "seed."

"What's inside a person is very important," says Roush, who is involved in the Young Adult Friends group.

"Quakers tend to have a very strong sense of empathy to suffering and the way people feel. We develop that skill.

"Quakers have an atypical view on war; when I was at Saline High School, my faith gave me a better comfort level of not agreeing with others, of thinking for myself."

Roush, an associate at Bodman PLC - a law firm that has represented the interests of members of the Ford family continuously since 1929, represents clients involved in commercial litigation, and environmental matters, and works in the firm's Ann Arbor office; there are also offices in Detroit, Troy, and Cheboygan, and an affiliate office in Dallas.

A graduate of Saline High School, Roush earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, with honors, from the University of Michigan, where he was a member of the Michigan Marching Band for three years.

"My psychology degree was helpful in teaching me about patterns of behavior," he says. "I'm very fascinated with how people think in terms of how they make group decisions, how we structure ourselves as a culture."

Roush earned his law degree, magna cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School, where he served as assistant editor of the Wayne Law Review, and as vice president and president of the Environmental Law Society. He was also a Dean's Scholar and a Lombard Fellow. Between his time at U-M and WSU, he worked as a paralegal at the U.S. Department of Justice.

"I went to law school specifically to practice environmental law," he says. "I really like how society structures itself; the law is a structure of our morals, what we think is right and wrong, in broad brush strokes. The more you look at the over-arcing structure of law, it reflects our values, and how they've been refined over time."

Roush also serves on the Leadership Team of Quest Martial Arts Dojo in Ann Arbor, where he is on the way to earning his Black Belt.

"It's a great way to keep fit, and I have tons of friends there," he says. "It's a physical skill, but is also useful from a legal perspective, in that it teaches me how to stay focused and disciplined, and resolve conflict. The basic ideas and philosophy cross over to my legal work."

Published: Mon, Feb 21, 2011