Michigan attorney spearheads Michigan Humane Society

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Beverly Hall Burns set her sights on becoming a lawyer from the age of 12. But her career dream almost got smashed by – of all people – a Sunday school teacher
“My teacher – who was a lawyer and trustworthy, after all, since he was my Sunday School teacher! – told me that girls couldn’t be lawyers,” she says. “So I believed him and became a newspaper reporter and editor instead.”

Burns worked 8 years for The Lansing State Journal.

“During that time I had the opportunity to write wedding stories – which is what girl reporters had to do in 1967 – and then after I made enough noise I became a police, city hall and education reporter; then I was the editor of the daily feature section  – my all-time favorite job – and finally, the city editor, which prepared me very nicely for the pressures of being a lawyer!

“Years later I had the chance to revisit that question – whether I could be a lawyer. I decided I could probably do that, went off to the University of Michigan, and here I am.” 
Burns, an attorney with Miller Canfield, has made the “Best Lawyers in America, Labor and Employment Law” and “Michigan Super Lawyers, Labor & Employment Law” annual lists since 2006, and this year was named by DBusiness Magazine among the “Top Lawyers, Labor and Employment.” In 2008 Inforum named her one of Southeast Michigan’s Most Influential Women Leaders, and in 1997 Crain’s Detroit Business one of Detroit’s Most Influential Women.

Small wonder that Burns became a co-founder, with two friends, of a women’s organization called the Eleanor League, that existed in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and was named for little-known baseball player, Eleanor Engle, a secretary in Pennsylvania.

“Eleanor wanted to play professional baseball – I think she played second base. Anyway, she was signed by the Harrisburg Senators in 1952 and played in one practice only,” Burns says.  “Her big league career was cut short because the manager objected to having a woman on the team and Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball at the time, canceled her contract.   

“I found out about Eleanor from my sons, who were avid baseball card collectors and came across her card. My two friends and I wanted to start a professional women’s networking group, made up of women who wanted to ‘play in the big leagues’ in their professions – so we thought Eleanor Engle was the right person to honor.”

The Eleanor League is only one of a dizzying array of activities Burns has been involved in over the years. She serves on the Professional Advisory Board of the Junior League of Detroit; on the advisory board for CREW, a networking group of professionals in commercial real estate; on the Public Policy Committee of the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce; and on the board of the Michigan State University National Alumni Association.

Burns also is working with several nonprofit organizations and Detroit’s “Boom!  The New Economy!” on a grant-funded, collaborative project to engage seniors in southeast Michigan’s business community through entrepreneurism, mentoring  and knowledge transfer.

She has served on the Superintendent’s advisory board of Grosse Pointe Public Schools; and on the boards of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society; The Greening of Detroit, and Grosse Pointe War Memorial.

“I think we all have a responsibility to the communities in which we live and work, to contribute to them,” she says.  “But I also think that doing community and charitable work completes us as people...

“Jane Goodall probably said it best, when she said, ‘We have a choice to use the gift of our lives to make the world a better place.’”

In June, she became chair of the Michigan Humane Society where she has served on the board since 2007.

“I became involved several years ago because I believe in its purpose – protecting animals and positively affecting society’s views in order to be more considerate, respectful and compassionate toward all living things,” she says. “I enjoy my work with the Humane Society because, while we’ve achieved great success in improving animals’ lives, we recognize we must always work to get better.

“The Detroit Shelter is more than 80 years old — just last year we received a very generous gift to cover purchase of property to build a new Detroit facility.”

In June, the MHS held a Mutt March in Grosse Pointe Shores, raising money for lifesaving programs that include adoption, cruelty investigation, emergency rescue, reuniting lost animals with their guardians, humane education and legislative advocacy. Regular adoption opportunities are available at the society’s three shelters and certain PetSmart stores in the area. Details are available at www.michiganhumane.org.

Burns and her team are gearing up Mega March for Animals to be held Sunday, Oct. 2 at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

“You’ll see me with my dog Mac,” she says. She and her family are passionate advocates of rescuing animals.

Burns now has more than 30 years’ experience representing and advocating for employers at the negotiating table, in hearings, in board rooms or community gatherings.

She was drawn to Miller Canfield as a second-year law school student when she interviewed for and accepted a position as a summer associate. 

“I thought then, and still believe, that Miller Canfield is a place that welcomes people with different interests and different backgrounds. I, for example, was an ex-newspaper reporter and editor and 33 years old . . . and female. By mid-‘70s standards, that was pretty diverse,” she says.

She has acquired a niche specialty in special education and has represented schools from the Individual Educational Program meetings to litigation in federal court. She helps school districts create cost-saving student-teacher ratios in labor agreements, has assisted them in resolving special education disputes and thorny challenges related to sex offenders, sex scandals, employee theft and threats to safety.

Burns enjoys fitness, reading, cooking, travel, and gardening. “I have an amazing family, I work for a great law firm and for first-rate clients, and I do that in a city that is both gritty and gorgeous.

“What’s not to like?”o