HANCOCK - The State Bar of Michigan president visited the Copper Country Bar Association at the Ramada Waterfront Inn in Hancock Wednesday to preview the upcoming year and get feedback from local members.
This year's president is Bruce Courtade, a lawyer with Rhoades McKee in Grand Rapids, where he focuses on commercial litigation and construction law. Courtade's top priority will be civic education.
The current state of civic knowledge alarmed Courtade: In recent surveys he cited, two-thirds of the public were unable to name a U.S. Supreme Court justice or explain the three branches of American government. In recent Michigan Merit Exam testing, only 40 percent of Michigan high school juniors were judged to be proficient in social studies.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Bruce Courtade, president of the State Bar of Michigan, talks to the Copper Country Bar Association in Hancock Wednesday. Courtade came to the Ramada Waterfront Inn as part of the state bar’s annual tour of the Upper Peninsula.
"When you have 60 percent of the people who can't understand how our government works, how will they understand that sometimes the judge has to make a decision that's unpopular, but that's right? And that when the judge makes that decision, he's not just letting some criminal off the hook, he's protecting all of our Constitutional rights?" he said.
Courtade also passed out pocket Constitutions to the group. For the past 11 years, he's carried one in all of his suitcoats, "to remind me why we lawyers do what we do." He encouraged the members to share them with others in the community.
The state bar also offers materials online the members can use for public outreach programs. Each year on Constitution Day, Courtade talks to fifth-grade students.
"I've never come out of that fifth-grade class without being more energized than I was coming in," he said.
Courtade was in the middle of an Upper Peninsula tour including stops in Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Menominee, Iron Mountain, Ironwood and Marquette. So far on his trip, Courtade's heard positive things from bar members. They like the state bar's electronic communications and programs such as its online library, where people can check out books on topics such as new legal developments for 14 days, as well as the Continuing Legal Education courses.
"Some of the programs that we've developed have been directly as a result of interactions like this," he said. "In fact, the online digital library has helped lawyers who are more remote have access to the latest publications."
The state bar also received an award in April from the American Bar Association for grassroots advocacy in areas such as legal aid funding. Courtade said the bar continues to be in very good shape.
"We're offering more programs than we've ever offered before, we're offering them to more attorneys than we've ever had before, and we're doing it more economically than we've ever done before," he said.