Second Act: Attorney leads effort to encourage 'encore


 Beverly Burns spent 30 years as an employment and labor lawyer at Miller Canfield before she became an Encore Innovation Fellow with the aim of raising the profile of the ‘encore career’ concept in Michigan.

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News
When Beverly Burns looks back at her long, distinguished legal career, she has plenty of reason to be proud. But when she turns 180 degrees and looks at her future, she has reason to be excited and enthusiastic.

Burns has been selected as one of only 15 Encore Innovation Fellows through, a national nonprofit that works to help people pursue “second act” careers that benefit their communities.

The program’s motto is “Second acts for the greater good.”

“I think that Encore’s mission is really cool,” Burns says. “It encourages people of my generation — the post World War II baby boomers — to think, when they come to the end of a primary career, about what’s next. We’re healthier than any other generation and more able to contribute to the greater good of the community.”

The opportunity to use a career’s worth of experience to help others appealed to Burns, a 30-year employment and labor lawyer at Miller Canfield’s Detroit office. 

She’ll work directly with business and civic leaders, policymakers and nonprofit organizations. Her task as a fellow will be to raise the profile of the “encore career” concept in Michigan.

“My focus is on raising the awareness of the people of Michigan on the potential of the Encore demographic,” she says.

According to statistics, the number of Americans 55 and over will grow to 112 million by 2030 from 76 million today.

Organization founder Marc Freedman says on the group’s website, “Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work — the encore years — between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement. We’re envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations.”

The national pilot program was launched in 2009. Encore now has fellowships in Arizona, California, New York, Oregon, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Washington, and Washington D.C. The fellowships, which typically last six to 12 months, are intended to match experienced professionals with social service organizations that can benefit from their skills.

Burns’ fellowship is unique among the 15 awarded this year because it builds on efforts underway in both southeastern and western Michigan. 

Her fellowship resulted from an application by several collaborators, including Corporation for a Skilled Work Force, Louella Hannan Memorial Foundation, Operation ABLE, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Techtown, AARP, Grand Rapids Community College and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. 

The unusual nature of Burns’ fellowship was the result of that rainbow of organizations realizing that they had a common goal.

“They were all aware of each other and knew that all the groups had an interest in the concept of encouraging work for the greater good,” she says. “They thought that if we could have a statewide initiative, somebody who would work on both sides of the state, that we might create a more prominent profile for the whole idea of ‘encore’ work. It’s a fairly diverse group of organizations, and yet they were compatible in terms of wanting to raise this profile.”

Although she’s best known for her decades-long legal career, Burns got her start in the work world practicing another of the dark arts … journalism. She says that, after all these years, she’s still grateful for the tools and skills she acquired during that period. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever not drawn on my journalism background,” she says. “Purely by accident, I fell into being a newspaper person. I had a crush on a person who was taking a journalism class at Michigan State. I thought, ‘Well, if he’s in that class, I’ll take it.’ He was also working at the (Lansing) State Journal, so I went to work at the State Journal. Having been a newspaper reporter and editor has informed all the work that I’ve done. Whether it relates to asking questions and gathering information, whether it relates to a lack of embarrassment at admitting that I don’t know something, whether it relates to writing to an audience, it’s all useful.”
Burns also says that the polished writing skills she acquired during that period helped differentiate her from other young attorneys. 

“I came to work at a law firm at a time when most lawyers didn’t think about that. They just thought about writing in the legal jargon of the era,” she says.

Speaking of lawyers, Burns also is grateful to Miller Canfield for providing the flexibility and support that allows her to ‘take the stage’ in this second act.

“The firm has been wonderful to me about undertaking this work as I reduce my commitment to my client-based legal practice,” she says.