Brent Geers stays in the community to meet goal of serving community

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Brent Geers, solo practitioner at Geers Law and 2012 graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, is doing what so many people want him and other gifted people of his age group to do: he’s staying in Grand Rapids.

Committed to his community, whether that be construed as a geographic place, as those he grew up with, or as the veterans whose ranks he joined when he went into the military, Geers decided to open his
own solo practice and wants to serve those who may have some comfort issues with contacting legal professionals.

He is also the first African-American to be educated locally who has opened up his own solo firm.

Entering into his decision to stay is the sense that, as he puts it, “There’s still a large segment of the community who are people who, when problems come up, they just don’t know where to turn. A lot of them may not know anyone in the legal community, but they still need legal services.”

Geers recalls that, growing up in the East Hills neighborhood, he never gave a thought to being an attorney, at last in part because he was unfamiliar with what attorneys do. He was part of a lower-income community that, while hardly the worst of the worst, had very few professionals to serve as inspiration. He observes, “It‘s just I think, mainly, that I wasn’t being exposed to those kinds of opportunities. I mean, I never knew any lawyers, my family didn’t know any lawyers, there weren’t really lawyers around in the neighborhood.”

He well remembers the gas station that preceded the empty lot that in turn preceded the artistic sign renaming the corner of Diamond and Lake Drive “East Hills Center of the Universe.” Now the revitalized corner has plenty of restaurants and businesses to offer.

“We used to play on that lot. It was empty for a long time,” Geers comments, adding that he attended Congress Elementary right nearby.

After he participated in a Grand Valley State University summer program during his years at Creston High School, where he excelled academically, Geers became interested in engineering. However, by the time of his graduation from the University of Michigan in 2001, he had turned his major concentration to American Culture, “a mixture of history and English, which other universities often call American Studies,” he explains.

Geers thought about law school then, but the time was not yet right. He spent the next five years in the Army as part of the 92nd Military Police Company, stationed in Baumholder, Germany, near the French border.

From there he says he was able to travel most of Europe — “In Europe it seems like almost everything’s a train ride  away,” he says — which expanded his view of the world. And it was there that his role in the military police spurred further interest in becoming an attorney.

“I was exposed more to the law, although still not so much to lawyers. But I did work with Army JAGs, and kept coming back to thinking about going to law school.”

He was subsequently deployed to Iran and Afghanistan. When his Army career ended, he felt that he had built the kind of character needed to succeed in law school, but it was not until he found out how well Cooley suited his “non-traditional student” needs that he committed to going there.

Weighing his options after his January 2012 graduation, Geers decided he could best meet his goal of serving the community by starting his own solo firm. In doing so, he joined a class of exactly one.

Comments Cooley Grand Rapids Campus Associate Dean Nelson Miller, “The Grand Rapids campus has had 60 African-American graduates, several of whom were interested in staying but who eventually took jobs in other cities and states. Developing networks and connections is an important step toward creating local opportunities. Brent has broken new ground locally, the bounty from which other new minority lawyers will soon enjoy. In the meantime, his effective law services will benefit this community greatly.”

On his firm’s simple but informative website (www.geerslaw.com), which also includes a blog called “There Oughta Be a Law,” Geers advertises a broad range of services. These include landlord/tenant issues, estate planning, and a variety of small-business-oriented consulting including lease agreements, business startup, and contract drafting. He clearly wants to help veterans, and he is familiar with the challenges veterans may face. The site refers to a couple of key federal statutes that concern veterans by their acronyms (SCRA or Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and USERRA or Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act). He has just received certification to represent veterans before the board of appeals.

That is a lot to have on one’s plate, but Geers has no interest yet in narrowing that down. “I like all of it; I enjoy criminal defense and working with veterans in particular,” he says.

Criminal defense is part of what Geers does, on a contractual basis, for the law firm of Hendricks and Watkins. Teresa M. Hendricks and Daniel C. Watkins specialize in drunk driving, criminal defense, personal injury, immigration and bankruptcy, as well as family law. He also rents space there for his own firm.

Geers says the way he markets his services is by word of mouth, and by joining community groups that dovetail with his interests, though he emphasizes that his sole purpose in doing so is not to gain clients.
He sees his role eventually as a facilitator of connections that help other businesses succeed. “I like the idea of bringing people together with resources and especially with other people. I don’t want to just focus on a law practice. I want helping people make connections to be the main thing I do.”

Through research, he discovered a passion for something that Cooley Grand Rapids leadership now has under discussion: starting a law firm incubator. Geers, along with a local non-profit, is participating in that discussion with Cooley, and he hopes to see it come to fruition sometime in the near future.

Meanwhile, Geers is happy to think that his life may be inspiring to someone else starting out with challenges. “People I knew in high school ended up in all kinds of places, good and bad. And I know  that contributed positively to my outlook on life, being exposed to people from that entire spectrum,” he says. “But it’s a good feeling now, being a lawyer and being able to share that with the community where I grew up.”