Carl Ver Beek has had a more than 50-year career at Varnum, having joined it in 1962 as its 12th member and first non-U-M law grad. Photo by Michael Buck
On Sept. 17, the State Bar of Michigan will honor Varnum attorney Carl Ver Beek with the Roberts P. Hudson Award at its annual meeting being held in Grand Rapids.
Considered the highest award given by the State Bar of Michigan, it recognizes an attorney “for their unselfish rendering of outstanding and unique service to and on behalf of the State Bar of Michigan and the legal profession, which has been given generously, ungrudgingly, and in a spirit of self-sacrifice.”
Throughout his more than 50-year career at Varnum, Ver Beek has practiced labor and employment law and served in numerous capacities with the American Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan and Grand Rapids Bar Association.
His career includes collective bargaining for manufacturing, health care, education and religious employers in both the private and public sectors.
He has negotiated hundreds of union contracts, tried hundreds of arbitration cases under union contract procedures, and arranged numerous National Labor and Relations Board elections by agreements or through NLRB proceedings.
He said his practice and professional and personal connections are what led to his serving on numerous committees and boards during his extensive career.
Ver Beek served the State Bar of Michigan Committee on Character and Fitness for 10 years, from 1985 to 1995, chairing the committee for two years. The Michigan Supreme Court appointed him to the Attorney Grievance Commission from 1999 to 2005, where he served as chair from 2002 to 2005. He also served on the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board from 2008 to 2014.
All together he has served for 22 years in the professional ethics process for attorneys in Michigan.
At the national level, Ver Beek served on the Council of the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Section from 1998 to 2006, and the Council of the ABA Dispute Resolution Section from 2003 to 2008.
He also served as a chair of the Committee on the Law of Collective Bargaining and Arbitration of the ABA Labor and Employment Section. He served as one of two employer members of the ABA Task Force on due process protocol for alternative dispute resolution in the non-union sector in 1995-96.
He was a founding member of the Professionalism and Ethics Committee of the ABA Labor and Employment Section and as liaison to the ABA Committee on Professionalism and Ethics. He also served as liaison from the ABA Labor and Employment Law Section to the Dispute Resolution Section.
Ver Beek said finding out he would receive the Roberts P. Hudson award was a complete surprise. “It came out of the blue to me,” he said.
Bud Roegge, an attorney at Smith Haughey, nominated Ver Beek for the award.
“This award is, in my opinion, one of the best awards the state bar hands out, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Carl,” Roegge said.
“I don’t know of anyone who has done more volunteer work for the state bar. He’s been on the character and fitness committee, the grievance committee, and he’s been on a number of other things. He volunteers throughout the community, at his church, he’s been on the Hope College board. He’s done it all.
“He kind of flies under the radar but hopefully this gives him the accolades he deserves.”
Ver Beek joined Varnum in 1962 as its 12thmember and first non-University of Michigan law grad. He received his law degree from Indiana University and his undergraduate degree from Hope College. He was born and grew up in West Michigan.
“I got a summer job (at Varnum) in the summer of ’61; that’s how I got my foot in the door,” he said.
He discovered his passion for labor and employment law by happenstance after one of his colleagues became sick with cancer, and he was asked to work alongside him and help him during his treatment. His colleague eventually recovered, and Ver Beek began charting his own path in labor and employment law, building a strong West Michigan practice and earning national clients, as well.
He said his professional career led to the roles he took on with the State Bar of Michigan and the American Bar Association and came out of different professional and personal connections he had made.
“Varnum has been incredibly good to me. It has provided a platform where I was encouraged to do these things,” he said. “I have been so privileged because I’ve been able to spend time with great people doing things I really think are significant in the things I value: my religion, profession, undergraduate college, representing employers in an important part of their dilemma, health care — I’ve been able to weave all those things together with my practice.”
It’s no surprise that as Ver Beek began winding down his practice, he took on a mentorship role at Varnum and increased his involvement on boards and committees.
He said he currently sits on approximately 30 boards and committees.
“What I like to do is help pick people for boards,” he said. “Tomorrow I have to talk to a fellow about some names of people who I think would be good to be on a particular board. I love doing that. I’ve been around long enough and I know a lot of people. I’ve been on a number of different boards. I know what their interests are and I know what their aptitudes are. If you get them at the right spot, they are good at it and they enjoy it.”
One of his aptitudes is in the area of health care reform. As an attorney, Ver Beek saw firsthand how changes in health care were impacting employers and workers and, today, one of his strongest passions is Medicaid reform.
“The last 20 years, I had an active practice and was doing a lot of collective bargaining; the elephant in the room on all those negotiations was health care,” he said. “At the end of the ’80s, it dawned on me that every strike I was involved in or knew about was either caused by or prolonged by health care.
“Medicaid reform has become one of my hobbies for the past 20 years, with darn little to show for it,” he said.
But he continues to try.
Several of his committee and board positions have been related to the health care field. He is currently chair of the Holland Home board, for instance, and is proud of work he did with Faith Hospice, one of the largest hospice groups in the area. He said he was involved in a complicated land deal that led to the creation of Trillium Woods, a Faith Hospice residence.
“It took us a while to get the money and design that,” he said, noting he liked the challenge of that project.