Grand Rapids Bar Association runs smoothly as Geary takes the helm


Patrick F. Geary sits in front of the conference room window which, he points out, is a curved glass original that was found in the portion of the Flat Iron Building Smith Haughey renovated in 2011.


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

As Pat Geary of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge takes over as President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association (GRBA), he is aware that he will be leading an efficient, highly-valued organization.

“My partners here have been very generous in allowing me the time to serve, and being the president will be my top priority. But the Executive Director [Kim Coleman] and staff are just excellent. I’ll place a tremendous amount of trust in their support.

“Kim is well-known among bar executives for her great work; people look to her for knowledge and advice. And the quality of people who volunteer their time and expertise will also make my job easier.”

That is not to imply that GRBA wants to rest on its laurels. Geary says that for the coming year the board and staff will be engaged in reviewing programs and possibly undertaking a revision of the strategic plan.

“We want to be sure we continue doing well all of the signature programs we’ve started. We plan to evaluate what we’ve achieved so far and change or expand to make sure the programs remain fresh,” Geary says.
He says that many of the programs like the GRABLaw promotions and the 3Rs have generated an interest in possible duplication from the Oakland County Bar and others across the state.

The four areas he says they intend to look at are:

—The Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative: The MPDC seeks to attract and retain attorneys of diverse backgrounds to the Kent County practice area, specifically Grand Rapids, and involved a process where the highest levels of firm management committed to the important task. It has received acclaim statewide and nationally.

“The concept is an excellent one, the cause is noble,” Geary says. “We want to assess what has worked well and see if new initiatives are needed.”

—The 3Rs Program, which — as detailed several times in these pages — offers civics and constitutional education at Ottawa Hills High School. “There has been some discussion of expanding to other Grand Rapids
Public Schools,” Geary says, “and we need to explore that. But whether we do or not, we think it’s vital to keep the 3Rs going strong.”

—A continuing focus on demonstrating the value of Grand Rapids Bar membership, with a particular emphasis on new lawyers. This includes working hard to be sure the benefits are pertinent to the needs of all
attorneys in Kent County.

The GRBA recently sent out a survey to all members and will base its direction over the next year in part on the results. Geary says that if indeed a new strategic planning process is undertaken, even if that does not
happen until next year, the survey responses will guide the effort.

—A renewed emphasis on providing opportunities for members to socialize with each other, whether at mixers and reception, or at topic-based events.

“Providing an opportunity for people to get to know each other will not only enhance civility and continue our bar’s tradition of respect for each other, but will also allow for exchanging best practices and help develop mentor/mentee relationships,” Geary says.

“It’s also important to develop a good level of trust so people can make referrals confidently. In these days of increased specialization, you can reach out beyond your firm, and it’s especially important for solo and small firm practice.”

He adds that it will fall to the Social Interaction Committee to move that forward.

About Smith Haughey, Geary says, “We’re lucky here because we’ve got a lot of very talented people here to fill in to the extent I might need them to.” He notes that a number of Smith Haughey attorneys have served in the GRBA presidency, specifically mentioning Bud Roegge and Bill Jack.

“When?I look back at the roster of past presidents, it’s humbling,” Geary says.

Smith Haughey also has a tradition of supplying leadership in statewide organizations, most particularly the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel, over which Mark Gilchrist currently presides. MDTC has recognized Smith Haughey as a firm for its contributions.

Geary himself is a former MDTC president. He is a trial attorney, representing a wide array of businesses with an emphasis on insurance companies, who both advises his clients and represents them in disputes. He has special expertise in disputes concerning insurance coverages and their scopes, and also helps companies set up liability protections and understand the laws that govern insurance and indemnification. He also chairs Smith Haughey’s Product Liability Department.

For that work he has merited widespread respect, earning the Michigan Super Lawyer designation in Business Litigation, Insurance Coverage, from 2006 to 2014; Best Lawyers Commercial Litigation inclusion in 2014-2015; Leading Lawyers listing (2014) in Commercial Litigation, Insurance, Insurance Coverage and Reinsurance Law; and the title of “Local Litigation Star” in Benchmark Litigation from 2010-2015.

In addition to such outside involvements as Catholic Charities of West Michigan, D.A. Blodgett St. John’s (of which he is a recent past president), and the Notre Dame Club of Grand Rapids, Geary is President and General Counsel of Smith Haughey and was its CEO from 2003 to 2009.

Geary is Grand Rapids born and bred, and currently lives in Grand Rapids with his wife Patricia; the couple has four adult children, one of whom is an attorney.

His wife being from Milwaukee was one factor that led Geary to start his career in the Chicago area, after attending Notre Dame for his B.A. (with high honors), and receiving his J.D. with honors from the University of Michigan.

“I wanted the challenge of being in the big city law practice as a young man, but after 15 years I returned here and really the quality of the practice here is just as high. Attorneys here are just as intelligent, just as imaginative, just as successful as in any major metro area, but we’ve just learned to have a lot more civility. I don’t think my career would’ve lasted this long if I hadn’t come back here,” he adds.

Promoting the attractiveness of the local bar, and helping ensure that it remains as collegial as it currently is, are key motivators for Geary as he assumes the GRBA presidency.