State Bar of Michigan is coming to DeVos Place


The upcoming State Bar of Michigan annual meeting has a couple of interesting local angles. First, it will take place at DeVos Place from Sept. 19-21. Second, a local attorney who has been very active in the bar over the course of his successful career will be sworn in as the organization’s new president.

Bruce Courtade, a shareholder at Rhoades McKee PC, will take over the bar’s leadership post at the Inaugural Luncheon Sept. 20.

Courtade has a lengthy history with the state bar that goes back to 1994 when he was elected to a seat on its Representative Assembly. He also has been honored statewide for his pro-bono work, receiving the bar’s John W. Cummiskey Award in 1991.

“The more I got involved with the local, and especially the state bars, the more I was fascinated by the work that was being done, and I felt like I had an opportunity to give back. This allows me that opportunity that I otherwise would not have,” he told the Business Journal in March.

“The timing couldn’t be better. Sept. 19, when the annual meeting starts, is the first day of ArtPrize. So it’s a great time to show off the city, and, personally, it’s a great time for me to celebrate with a lot of my friends, colleagues and people I’ve worked with,” said Courtade. “So it’s great to have the opportunity to be sworn in at home.”

The state bar has met here on a somewhat regular basis since 1993, with the most recent meeting here taking place in 2010.

Experience Grand Rapids President Doug Small said about 1,000 bar members will attend this month’s meeting. The gathering will be worth about $398,000 to the local economy. Small said not all attendees will come from out of town, but 350 hotel rooms have been reserved for the three-day event.

“We like to say this a lot about conventions, and for this one it really holds true and that is: People come here for a conference and they leave here as fans of the city. Then they come back as a leisure visitor, and that’s our hope. Not only that, but they’re coming here when ArtPrize is going on,” said Small.

Small said his sales crew told him the noted art competition wasn’t the main reason the bar chose Grand Rapids for its conference this month, but it did play a role in that decision.

“One of the primary goals of any convention planner is to drive attendance, and the more activity that is going on that can complement a meeting schedule helps to drive that attendance. So we think that if 1,000 (attendees) is the number, we might be able to do a little better than that with ArtPrize’s presence,” he said.

“We continue to say that, in order for us to be a successful destination, we want to be home to the Michigan association market. In this case, the Michigan Bar Association is a prestigious group, a high-profile group, and I think that is a great meeting to have on our convention résumé,” he added.

Small also said he hopes the bar’s annual meeting will lead the American Bar Association, which is based in Chicago, to choose the city for some of its meetings.

“We’re hoping that we can convince the State Bar of Michigan to help us bring more conferences from the American Bar Association. So we hope to use this meeting as the leverage to do so,” he said.

The highlight of the meeting’s first day is the evening awards banquet, where 17 individuals will be cited for their leadership, professional integrity and community service contributions.

On the morning of the second day, State Bar of Michigan Executive Director Janet Welch will update members on the actions the bar has taken on behalf of solo and small-firm practitioners.

After Welch presents her report, Matthew Homann will make the day’s keynote presentation on how to deliver services in creative and innovative ways. Homann comes here from St. Louis and Lex Think LLC.

That evening the bar will hold its diversity reception at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The event is being hosted by the Justice Initiatives and begins at 6:30.

On Friday, Frank Sanitate, of Frank Sanitate Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif., has the 9 a.m. keynote on how lawyers can have more fun on the job and be more productive. At the noon luncheon, the state bar will recognize and honor those who have reached the 50-year milestone in their legal careers. The meeting will wrap up at 4 p.m. with a trio of 45-minute seminars. One, a Michigan business law update, will be given by Jeffrey Ammon of Miller Johnson’s Grand Rapids office.

Ammon isn’t the only local presenter at the meeting. Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy McMorrow will give an update on criminal law Thursday at 2 p.m. Kristen Ray, of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, will discuss the revised rules for jury trials on Friday at 9 a.m. Varnum’s Nyal Deems will untangle the state’s property-tax laws Friday at 11:10 a.m., and Kathleen Hogan Aquilar, of Miller Johnson, will explain the intricacies of elder law at 2:55 p.m. Friday.

Also on Friday, Stephanie Neal of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Tom Williams of McGarry Bair, GVSU’s Paul Wittenbraker and moderator Joseph Voss of Clark Hill PC will talk about the role public art plays in today’s economy. The panel discussion gets underway at 2 p.m.

A number of the meeting’s discussions and presentations are part of the Solo and Small Firm Institute, offering views on technology, marketing and practice management issues that can bring small law offices and solo practitioners up to speed on the latest changes in the industry.

A complete lineup of the events can be found at

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