Get to Know: Bruce Courtade


by Jo Mathis
Legal News

An alumnus of the University of Michigan Law School, Bruce Courtade is a shareholder with Rhoades McKee, PC, in Grand Rapids. A past president of the State Bar of Michigan (2012-13), his practice emphasizes civil and commercial litigation, construction law, business disputes and general business counseling. He has been an arbitrator for construction disputes, and is on the approved list of United States District Court mediators.

Courtade has lectured extensively on issues related to construction law and litigation throughout West Michigan, for groups such as the Builders Exchange of West Michigan, the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Professional Estimators. He has also been a frequent guest lecturer to law school classes on ethics and professionalism, and a guest faculty member at Aquinas College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Courtade is an Attorney Discipline Board panelist, and has been appointed to many local nonprofit boards, including the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology and, most recently, the Board of Directors for Metropolitan Hospital and its parent company, Metropolitan Health Corporation. He is also a past recipient of the State Bar of Michigan John W. Cummiskey Award, honoring outstanding pro bono contributions to Michigan’s citizens.

The Legal News asked, and Courtade answered, the following questions:

Residence: Ada.

What would surprise people about your job? Most non-lawyers are surprised at how little time I actually spend in court, and how much time I spend on the phone and responding to e-mail. I suspect most lawyers know exactly what I am talking about.

What is your proudest moment as a lawyer? Hearing the jury award $7.9 million to my clients—two honest, hard-working and self-made men who had been cheated out of their investments in a local company by a wealthy Chicago man who thought he could bully them as he had so many others in the past.

What about your professional life today most excites you? The same thing that attracted me to the profession when I started: Every day, I am given the opportunity to help people make their lives better by ensuring that the law is applied equally to all.

What is your most treasured material possession?
That’s a tie between the watch my grandfather gave to my father for his high school graduation—which still keeps perfect time, as long as I remember to wind it—and a sculpture of Bo Schembechler that I was able to have autographed by both the artist (Tom Clark) and Coach Schembechler.

Favorite websites: - a site devoted to U-M sports by the people who publish The Wolverine magazine; for local and state news; for finding out what’s going on in the legal profession in Michigan.

What do you wish someone would invent?
A machine that would speed up time—and calorie consumption—when I am sitting at my desk in the office, and slow time—and reduce caloric content—when I am with family and friends.

Who is on your guest list for the ideal dinner party? 
Other than my wife and my “happiest hour” friends: Stephen Ambrose, Gerald Ford, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and Bruce Springsteen. And Kim Cahill—a dear friend of mine who passed away from cancer and whom I would make sure was sitting right next to me so that she could kick me under the table and whisper, “Can you freaking believe this? How did we get here?”

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be?
The kid in me says Springsteen; the adult in me says my friend Paul, who is battling cancer. I would never want cancer. But if I could give him one day of relative good health while I carried on that battle for him, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

What are the most awe-inspiring places you’ve been?
Holding an original edition of the Magna Carta at the National Archives, touching the “Go Blue” banner at the 50-yard line at Michigan Stadium, and walking through the Detroit Institute of Arts as a 53-year-old after last seeing it as a 13-year-old.

How did you earn your first dollar? When I was 13, a neighbor—a young engineer at Ford Motor Company—hired me to help him make automatic pilots for sailboats. I would sand the parts, assemble the hardware kits and put them in plastic bags for delivery to sporting goods and boating stores.

Who inspires you, and why? My wife, whom I met when we were in law school, one of the smartest, hardest working people I’ve ever met, who still maintains a fantastic sense of humor—all the while serving as my chief psychologist. And Janet Welch, executive director of the State Bar of Michigan. She is the complete package of wisdom, grace, honor, courage and intellect, as devoted to our profession as anyone I know, but even more so to her family.

What do you do to relax? I’m a huge University of Michigan sports fan, and watch those games whenever I can. I also love woodworking when I have the time.

What is one thing you would like to learn to do?
Play guitar.

What is something most people don't know about you? I am a cantor (song leader) at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and sing in the 11 a.m. choir.

What is the best advice you ever received? My father used to tell me, “Good enough is never good enough.”

If you can help it, where will you never return? Debt. As the fifth of six kids, all of whom earned advanced degrees, my parents could not afford to pay for college, let alone U-M Law School. Despite working at least one part-time job every semester of undergrad and law school, I was forced to take out massive student loans to pay for my education. Further complicating things was an emergency appendectomy my third year of law school. I finally finished paying off my student loans when my daughter was a sophomore in college. I never want to go through that again!

Favorite place to spend money? I tend to spend money on things to use around the house. My guilty pleasure is the money I spend for Michigan football season tickets and the tailgate I co-host with several friends. We rent the backyard of a house about 300 yards from the Stadium and have a great time with an eclectic group of friends and guests showing up for every home game.

What is your motto? “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill.