Distinguished service marks attorney Bill Farr's career


 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
Even though the jury foreperson on one of his first trials referred to the defendant as “the one who’s presumed guilty,” Bill  Farr  still has a lot of faith in jurors — and people in general.
“Even when I lost a case, I never had the feeling jurors were way off base — most of them seem to take it very seriously,” Farr says.
And when he reminisces over his nearly-50-year legal career, it is the “little guys” he has helped who stand out for him, the numbers mount-
ing over the years and continuing even now.
That is part of the reason William S. Farr was chosen as this year’s Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award.
The rest of the story is found in Farr’s illustrious career as an attorney, starting with his decision to locate in Grand Rapids in 1961. (He credits Ernie Mika with convincing him of the benefits of working in West Michigan.)
For years he was part of the Baxter and Hammond firm, but left  in 1984 when several others joined a large Detroit firm which had opened an office in Grand Rapids. At that time, he started a separate law firm, which grew to ten members, four of which are still together at Farr Oosterhouse and Krissoff.
Over the years, Farr has developed so much expertise on the law that he now has found a fascinating niche: he serves as an expert witness in legal malpractice cases. Based on that narrow specialty, he has started a separate firm under William S. Farr, Attorney at Law.
He builds on 25 years of focusing on legal malpractice, which narrowed down over the last four or five years to expert testimony. He represented both firms and individual lawyers who either had a claim made against them or were sued. The practice continue to grow over the years.
Farr is especially pleased  with the Distinguished Service Award because he and Worsfold were two of a dozen lawyers sworn in back in December of 1961, and Farr and  his wife Kay became close personal friends with the Worsfolds over the years.
Farr admired Worsfold greatly. “I had a lot of respect for him as a lawyer and as a person, so the award was particularly special to me. He was gone way too soon.”
These days it does not seem of much import to Farr that most of his time is donated as he continues the struggle to ensure justice is done even for those who lack in status or funds.
Farr goes to Dégagé Ministries every Friday morning and helps people with their legal problems free of charge, work he clearly finds interesting and rewarding.
He tells of a recent situation in which a formerly homeless person who now has a paying job was approached by the vice squad when he was sitting “shooting the breeze” in the area. Seeing that he had cash, the police assumed — despite his protests — that it was ill-gotten gain, and confiscated it. Farr attended a court appearance with the man, resulting in the return of his money. He commented that this sort of case would have been out of his area of expertise but he had an attorney friend he could contact for advice.
That is just one of many personally satisfying “little guy” stories that make up the fabric of a big career. When asked about his successes, it is the big settlement he got for a woman of “very modest means” due to the medical harm done her, or the group of West Siders who fought a bar’s loud rock’n’roll shows taking over their neighborhood, that come to mind.
It is only after many such stories that Farr reveals that he once took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, though he did not argue the case himself. Farr represented the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), and a shared time case went all the way to the highest court in the land. He refers to that as a “unique experience.”
He also was the attorney responsible for ushering through the separation of Grand Rapids Community College from the GRPS.
Farr moved around a lot when he was a kid, and eventually wound up calling St. Louis home. After he got out of the Army, he chose the University of Michigan Law School, because he wanted the best law education possible to optimize his opportunities, wherever he decided to settle.
He is very glad he decided on Grand Rapids, and happy he raised three children here.
Farr is a former GRBA president, and co-chaired the Crisis in the Courts Committee. He has served on the State Bar Judicial Qualifications Committee as well as on the attorney grievance commission hearing panel. He was on the state’s Representative Assembly, and is still on the Grand Rapids Bar’s Justice Foundation.
He has seen the number of lawyers in the GRBA increase dramatically over the years, but when push comes to shove he feels the biggest change over his years in practice has been the dramatic change in attitude about advertising. “When I got out of school, the thing that was impressed upon you is that trying to hustle or solicit is verboten.”  For Farr, that has changed the whole culture of legal practice. “There was a bond, and I don’t think it’s there anymore.”