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Hard as it may be to imagine Jewish Detroit without a Jewish Bar Association, that was the case in mid-February of 2014 when good friends and young Detroit attorneys Rachel Loebl and Ellie Mosko met for lunch. Over salads and a quick Google search, the idea sparked: Why not start a Jewish Bar Association of Michigan?
Where there’s a need, there’s a way.
Networking, Mosko and Loebl reached out to Keith Sirlin, a prominent attorney in the community and President of a small, but long-established division of B’nai B’rith – the B’nai B’rith Barristers Association. Sirlin introduced Mosko and Loebl to Andrew Cohen, a young attorney, eager to build the B’nai B’rith group into a more robust organization. At the first planning meeting, Jonathan H. Schwartz, another young local attorney who was excited about the prospect of a Jewish Bar Association, joined the effort. Long story short, Cohen, Loebl, Mosko and Schwartz, along with Sirlin and other longstanding members of the bar, gathered forces to create the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM).
Leading the charge
Loebl, Mosko, Cohen, and Schwartz are each full-time attorneys with busy practices and strong family ties to metro Detroit. A graduate of University Detroit-Mercy, Cohen, 35, specializes in family law at the Cohen Law Office and has been in practice for nine years (and far longer when he recounts “clerking” for his father, Charles Cohen, starting at the age of 16). Another graduate of Detroit-Mercy, Mosko, 31, is an immigration attorney with a strong interest in world culture and a past involvement with American Jewish World Service. She has been practicing immigration law for almost five years, and currently is working with her husband at the law firm of Ellis Porter, PLC. Loebl, 30, graduated from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago in 2011, and is licensed in both Michigan and Illinois. Loebl returned to her hometown of Detroit two years ago and has her own practice, specializing in criminal law. Schwartz, 31, attended Wayne State University Law School where he was vocal in combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campus as an officer of the Jewish Law Students Association, and is currently a Rising Star commercial and business litigator at the Southfield based law firm Seyburn Kahn.
From startup to launch in less than six months, the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan is now up and running. Recognized by the State Bar of Michigan, the new organization has filed for status as a non-profit with the mission “to promote and unify Jewish and other like-minded attorneys, judges, law students and paralegals in Michigan by providing social, educational and charitable activities.”
In July, JBAM named its Board of Directors, elected its officers, voted on its bylaws and set into motion a community agenda and calendar of activities, starting with its official launch, September 17, 2014.
“We have to applaud Ellie and Rachel in their effort and persistence to get our Association off the ground,” says Cohen. “Building an organization from the ground up is never an easy task. But we believe there’s a pent up need for a more active and sustaining organization of legal professionals than what we’ve had in the past.”
Schwartz adds that, “We have assembled a great core group of people. We look forward to the support and participation of Michigan’s large Jewish legal community as the organization ramps up and begins to carry out its mission. There is a need for JBAM, and we hope to do a lot of good and make a big impact.”
With Keith Sirlin as Head Advisor, the previous members of B’nai B’rith Barristers have been supportive in joining the Jewish Bar Association. According to Cohen, JBAM currently has a commitment from 100 legal professionals to join by the end of the year. Through word of mouth, NEXTGen social networking, synagogue connections, Jewish agency services and educational programming, the number of members are expected to easily increase into the hundreds.
The need: filling the gap
“We have a community where young people are graduating from our universities and leaving the state. We want to keep them here,” says Cohen. “One of our goals is to help match young people with potential jobs. Another significant aspect of our initiative is to provide avenues for networking and the resources needed to help those in the legal community at every stage of their career.”
“We want to become the hub for any and all legal needs in the Jewish community,” adds Mosko. “We envision that JBAM will become a trusted resource and facilitator for legal aid, volunteer programs, pro-bono work and internship opportunities.”
With its broad-scale goals and vision, the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan aims to be as inclusive and accessible as possible. Annual dues are currently set at a modest $15 for students, $50 for lawyers in practice for ten years or less and $75 for all others. And no, you don’t have to be Jewish to join. The organization already has connections to several church groups, as well as the Chaldean Bar Association and the Arab American Bar Association.
The timing couldn’t be better for JBAM’s start-up and collaboration with other Jewish organizations. Recently, Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit in partnership with JVS launched NEXTWork, an initiative focused on connecting job seekers with potential employers through networking events. Loebl, herself, has been a catalyst at Jewish Family Service in expanding the Legal Referral Program, matching mentors with mentees through the agency’s existing network of attorneys serving as volunteers.
As Loebl explains, she approached Julie Ohana, Supervisor of Volunteer Services at JFS, with the desire to volunteer with the Legal Referral Service, provided there was a seasoned attorney to work with her as a mentor in family law. There was no such mentor/mentee matching program in place at the time, but Ohana’s response was immediate: “Let’s make it happen.”
JFS is now working through the details of the mentoring component of their program with plans to launch the service in the fall. “One of the strengths of our community is the way our Jewish organizations collaborate. I love the idea of working with the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM), NEXTGen Detroit and JVS, as we step into the future to develop the skills and leadership of a new generation of legal professionals at JFS and in the community at large. ”
Given our symbiotic relationship with Federation’s NEXTGen and Jewish Family Service, as well as other Jewish professional groups and other legal associations that are not Jewish, our potential for networking, dialogue and education is endless.
At its first meeting of the Board of Directors, the Jewish Bar Association elected the following officers:
President, Rachel M. Loebl, Law Offices of Rachel M. Loebl
Vice President, Elisheva (Ellie) Mosko, Ellis Porter
Vice President of Finance/Treasurer, Andrew H. Cohen, Cohen Law Office
Vice President of Communications/Secretary, Jonathan H. Schwartz, Seyburn Kahn http://www.seyburn.com/
Head Advisor – Keith Sirlin, Keith Sirlin & Associates