Warner Norcross attorneys join two others as SBM section chairs



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Two Warner Norcross & Judd attorneys, both well-known throughout the state and even beyond, are taking the helm of State Bar of Michigan sections, continuing the firm’s long tradition of supplying leadership in the profession.

"Melissa N. Collar, who will chair the Real Property Law Section, and Richard A. Roane, who was recently elected chair of the newly-formed LGBTQA Section, join two others currently serving their terms —  Dennis J. Donohue as  Environmental Law Section Chair, and Gaëtan Gerville-Réache, Chair of the Appellate Practice Section."

That strong leadership showing stems to some degree from the firm’s culture encouraging state participation.

As Donohue puts it, the firm “has traditionally encouraged and supported their lawyers becoming involved with the Bar early in their careers as a way to support the profession,  foster collegiality in the legal community and develop a practice.”

“That’s something that’s been so wonderful about being at Warner Norcross,” says Collar. “ Our firm as a whole is very supportive of the State Bar and of ICLE [the Institute for Continuing Legal Education].”

That is just one of the reasons that the Troy native has stayed in West Michigan, which she now loves.

Collar  says she made the move to this side of the state because “I had this great interview with Warner.” That has resulted in a rewarding real estate career and variety of honors, including  membership in the elite American College of Real Estate Lawyers and being named Grand Rapids Real Estate Lawyer of the Year in 2015 by Best Lawyers.

It also means she can indulge her natural people skills to the betterment of the profession. For the Real Property Law Section, that takes four forms, Collar explains. The first is education — probably nearest and dearest to her heart, since her initial involvement with the section was co-chair the summer conference. In addition to that, the section holds a winter conference, has breakfast roundtables, partners with ICLE and other organizations on educational sessions and conferences, and  is starting a real estate boot camp.

“The boot camp is a really big initiative, and the inaugural one will be in West Michigan,” says Collar. “I’m really excited about it.”

The section’s other purposes are evaluation of proposed legislation, often involving testifying in Lansing; relationship building; and advocacy in terms of filing an amicus brief in cases which may have significance for real estate law in general. “We try to determine what is in the best interest of real property in Michigan. The attorneys in the section are diverse, including transactional lawyers and litigators, so we really don’t look at who it favors, but advocate for good real estate law. Primarily we want clear workable laws with clarity and consistency, because it’s hard for any of us to counsel if there’s ambiguity,” Collar says.

Collar claims modestly that her path to becoming chair “really was just a matter of being present,” but she put in her dues: prior to being asked to join the succession lineup, she chaired one of the Section’s ten subcommittees, clearly demonstrating her leadership capacity.

For Roane, that path started with the inception of the section. “It was really about this time last year at the first anniversary of [the Supreme Court of the U.S. decision in] Obergefell that brought about marriage equality,” he explains. (The ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges took place June 26, 2015.)

“A group of lawyers and judges who are either LGBT or allies talked about creating and forming a section, maybe half a dozen of us got together through telephone calls. We realized there were so many different practice specialty areas that are impacted by LGBT issues,” Roane continues.

“I’ve been working on the marriage equality movement since summer of 2012, lecturing, writing, speaking, and I can tell you it requires almost daily vigilance. Often by the time I meet a publication deadline, the article is outdated. So we saw a need to help judges and other attorneys out by having a public website as well as a private one where we can ask each other questions as law is developing.”

Roane says that he was elected chair by “default” as the group worked its way through the SBM organizational process. Wayne County Judge Richard Halloran shepherded the process and will be the chair starting in September, when Roane’s shortened term will end.

It has been more work than he anticipated, but, he says, “It’s been very exciting to be at the creation level of this section.” He also helped create the LGBT committee of The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

In addition to his lecturing, writing, and other activism, Roane has found the time to garner many accolades. In 1995, he won the Legal Aid Michael S. Barnes Pro Bono award, and he was named Best Lawyers’ 2012 Grand Rapids Family Law Lawyer of the Year as well as one of the Top 100 Michigan Super Lawyers in 2010.

“We started the section so we can provide the best possible service to our clients,” Roane says.

Dennis Donohue has been involved with the Environmental Law Section since he joined the legal profession 25 years ago. The purpose of the Section is to review laws and regulations dealing with the conservation and development of the natural resources of Michigan and its environment and to promote the fair and just administration of those laws,” Donohue says. To do so, the section sponsors institutes and conferences as well as publications.

While he has been in a leadership position, “We have modernized our bylaws to reflect the realities of the practice, including use of electronic communications and social media to conduct section business and get our message out,” he says.

For his part, Gerville-Réache explains, “When I decided to develop an appellate practice, it seemed to me that best way to learn how to be a great appellate attorney was to be in close contact with those who already were and learn from them.  Though I had a colleague in the office who I could emulate, not everyone has the same style or way of doing things, and no one person has all of the answers.  I wanted exposure to those different ways and ideas.  There is no better way to get that exposure than to become involved in the Appellate Practice Section.

“I now continue to be involved because I want to do what I can to improve the administration of justice in our appellate courts.  That is, after all, the mission...”

 This year, the section worked on changes and additions to proposed court rule amendments, and held a seminar to train attorneys how to be more efficient on appeal. During Gerville-Réache’s tenure, the section has begun what he calls “the humbling task” of completely revamping court rules on written advocacy to comply with current technology. “The old formats for briefs are not conducive to the new way of reading on tablets, and there are now technologies available that we should take advantage of,” he says.