Giving back: 'Law Day' event features celebrities, free bike helmets


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In 1987, attorneys Scott Goodwin and Jim Scieszka set out 15 bridge chairs in their office and offered a pro bono “Law Day” to clients.

What a difference a quarter century makes. Last year’s “Law Day” celebrated the 25th anniversary of this free event, attracting 500 people, about half of whom received a free confidential legal consultation.

This year’s event – rain or shine – is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 8, outside the Goodwin & Scieszka office at 999 Haynes in Birmingham. Twenty-five attorneys will give free legal advice on all areas of the law.

“Every year, the best lawyers in the area donate their time – it’s a great chance to give back to the community and help area families and individuals,” says Goodwin, who hopes this year’s event will attract upward of 1,000 people. “It’s absolutely essential that lawyers reach out to the community and be a part of the community.

“When you give your time for free, you allow the average person to meet a lawyer, to touch and feel, the community understands that we’re not scary. We’re human beings. We care and we’re here to listen and solve problems.” 

The outdoor fun will include giant inflatables, prizes, and free hot dogs, ice cream and beverages. Local radio personalities will broadcast live along with live music from local musicians, and there will be a visit from PAWS the Tigers mascot, and prize drawings to win Tiger tickets and three free BMX bikes. 

There will also be a giveaway of children’s bike safety helmets, in conjunction with Kohl’s Injury Prevention Program at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Since the inception of Law Day, the firm has donated 10,000 bicycle safety helmets.

As a member of the Michigan Association for Justice (formerly the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association), Goodwin began a bike helmet giveaway program two decades ago.

“The moment I got involved in a bike helmet event with MTLA, I knew I could add helmets to my yearly event,” Goodwin says. “We’d outgrown our hallway and with the addition of bike helmets, we shifted the event out into full throttle out into the parking lot of our Birmingham office building. It was a perfect fit. Free legal advice,
protecting kids by providing them with expertly fitted helmets and reflective stickers, this was a way of giving back and saving lives.”

In his personal injury law practice, Goodwin sees daily the effects of not wearing bike helmets and became even more aware when his daughter and stepdaughters began riding bikes. 

“As a parent and P.I. lawyer, I would want any child who needed a helmet to have one and if parents couldn’t afford a helmet, I would buy it for their child. You’d be
surprised at how many folks can’t afford a bike safety helmet. Also, if I could prompt a parent to show up for legal advice and get an expertly fitted helmet and even save
one life or prevent one traumatic brain injury, all the efforts would be worth it.” 

Over the years, Goodwin has received numerous phone calls and letters thanking him for the helmets and for saving children from serious head injury.

According to Goodwin, the idea for Law Day – his local version of National Law Day on May 1 – grew after spending an hour on a small FM radio talk show providing free legal advice.

“I couldn’t believe the response to the show and realized – after fielding so many different calls on the radio – that people couldn’t afford legal services and needed help.”

Goodwin and Scieszka invited radio show callers to the firm’s inaugural Law Day event, to meet a radio show personality and get free legal advice.

“Year after year 15 chairs turned into 30 then 60 until we had people lining the entire floor of our building,” Goodwin says. “We went from a few chairs and a few attorneys to my recruiting more than 35 attorneys, 500 helmets, 600 ice cream bars, 1,200 hot dogs, music, live radio broadcast, games for the kids, PAWS, the official Tiger mascot, bikes and prizes given away at each Law Day.  More than 300 people receive answers to their specific legal questions from auto accident, family law, bankruptcy, criminal law, real estate, all for free.”

In one memorable Law Day, the firm brought in a dunk tank, and attendees took turns trying to dunk the main radio host. 

“We told the host that the water would be warm. Well, the water was ice cold! When he fell in, I thought he was going to have a heart attack,” Goodwin says.

Another time, a guest fainted; fortunately, a firefighter that had brought his fire truck for the kids to play on came to the rescue.

Co-founder of the Goodwin & Scieszka Law Center in 1986, Goodwin earned his law degree from Detroit College of Law – now Michigan State University College of Law – where he enjoyed the city and being near the courts.

“It gave me an opportunity to intern and work around the courts that I practice in every day,” he says. “I knew the courts because I filed documents.  It no longer was fear of the unknown when I started practicing law 26 years ago.”

Always interested in law and politics, Goodwin had set his sights on the legal field from childhood.

“I always wanted to have a voice, argue, debate, and gather evidence for my position that supports my side of the argument,” he says. “I enjoy working for the underdog, stopping bullies, like big insurance companies or corporations who take advantage of the little guy.

“I’ve been extremely successful in my legal career because at the end of the day, it’s about relationships and referrals from people that I met one-on-one in the past or clients that were treated fairly and with open communication, transparency and making these folks feel like they’re a member of my family, that I will treat them just as I would my mom, dad, brother or sister.”

Many people seek advice during the worst moment in their lives, he notes, such as when a child is seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver.

“Somehow I have to keep these folks together, both financially or emotionally – they never expected it to happen to their family, to their loved one. They don’t know where to turn. There are practical matters that need to be taken care of, like who pays the bills and funeral expense. I tell couples that lost a child that they have a choice – the situation can either drive them apart or bring them together. It’s their choice. I will do my best to protect their rights, make sure they get justice and, hopefully, prevent what happened to them from happening to anyone else.”

This year, Goodwin will be president-elect of the Michigan Association for Justice, representing 1,500 trial lawyers. 

“Many have different views and the organization is made up of people from different cultures, races and ethnicity; however, we all share a common goal of protecting people and assisting consumers to obtain justice and promoting the right to a jury trial,” he says. “It’s an honor to work with so many talented trial lawyers making sure the legislature and Governor don’t railroad legislation that will ultimately take away the rights of individuals and consumers in Michigan.”

Lawyer’s Weekly recently selected Goodwin as “Lawyer of the Year,” and DBusiness included the firm in their 2013 “Top Lawyers” list. Honors also include Michigan “Super Lawyer” and the “AV Preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbell.

A native of Las Vegas, Goodwin moved to Michigan at the age of 4, and grew up in Bloomfield Hills, where he currently makes his home beside a small, quiet lake.

“I enjoy decompressing after fighting with claims adjusters and defense attorneys by coming home and relaxing by the lake and taking nightly walks with my wife,” he says.

Frequent trips to Chicago are on the agenda, where his daughter is a freshman in college.

“I used to coach softball for my daughter and was basically the ‘team mom’ for years as she was a varsity softball pitcher for Cranbrook,” he says. “This summer, she’ll be interning in L.A., and my stepdaughter will be in New York, so I’ll be visiting both coasts.”