Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with Michigan attorney Bertram Marks…
If the career combination of Baptist minister and attorney sounds like an oxymoron, don’t bother to mention it to Bertram Marks. “Oh yes, I have heard that one before,” says Marks with a gentle laugh.
Marks is the lead partner in a full-service law practice in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where he combines his ecclesiastical and legal training to the maximum. “It is not really as dichotomous as one might think,” he says. “If you have an interest in community justice and integrity, the two just go hand in hand.”
Marks, who is also Pastor at the First Community Baptist Church, says he “can’t think of a time there weren’t at least 3 or 4 pro bono cases” on his docket. “A lot my work is in the area of economic justice, civil rights labor,” says Marks, “So I bundle all that up to deliver real help to people.”
And people in Michigan have some very real problems these days. Many people have been rocked back on their heels by industry shutdowns, lost jobs and sinking house prices.
“There is a huge wave of pain out there,” says Marks.
Just keeping the heat on during a long Detroit winter is a challenge for thousands of people. Financial assistance is available but many people either don’t know to access it or are simply too proud to admit they need it. Aware that it would be in the uncomfortable position of cutting of service to thousands of families, DTE Energy executives came to Marks in 2007 and asked for his help.“
“We found people were so turned off by the utility company when they got a shut-off notice they just kind of shut off, too,” says Marks. “There’s a feeling of hopelessness and going into a utility service office was the last thing they wanted to do.”
“I was able to convince the utility if we could base these support centers in faith-based institutions, in community centers, there would be less resistance to going in and you would see that more people would avail themselves of these services,” says Marks.
The plan worked. There are four churches in the area where people arrange to get help with their heating bills.
On his current pro bono docket is an elderly woman whose drug-addicted, alcoholic son racked huge debts on her credit card—and now she’s being pursued by a credit card company. And there’s a young woman who can’t get a job because of a mistake she made when she was very young.
“The young lady had some trouble early in life,” says Marks. “But she got herself into a nursing program and she’s trying to get a job. Unfortunately, a criminal conviction from a long time ago is holding her back. We are trying to get it expunged.”
“The elderly lady,” says Marks, “is worried sick about the credit card company, but I am sure we can help here. We don’t think that is justice. It is not fair.”
Marks speaks in a quiet voice and seems to carry the burdens of others with ease—both as a Baptist minister and an attorney in the state of Michigan.
“When you think about ministers, they advocate for a set of moral principles that should allow others to govern their lives,” says Marks. “And when you are a legal advocate you are advocating a set of legal principles to judges, juries and asking them to adopt that principle to make a decision.”
Bertram Marks is the principal attorney at Litigation Associates in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and he is Pastor at the First Community Baptist Church. He has served as lead trial attorney on cases as diverse as copyright infringement to wrongful terminations. His experience ranges from conducting trials at the Federal, State and District Court levels. In his specialty, ecclesiastical corporate law, he is widely recognized as the foremost expert on church law, policy, and governance. He currently serves as General Legal Counsel to the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity.