On Nov. 14, East Lansing attorney Michael Stephenson was given the Ingham County Bar Association’s Leo A. Farhat Outstanding Attorney Award named after legendary Lansing-area attorney Leo A. Farhat, founder of the Farhat Story Law Firm. Stephenson is a partner at Willingham Coté, P.C., and specializes in medical malpractice defense.
The Farhat Award is given to a member of ICBA who has “distinguished himself or herself by manifesting exemplary character, integrity, judgement and legal scholarship while adhering to and advancing the highest principals and traditions of the legal profession.” The Association also seeks nominees extraordinarily committed to bench and/or bar activities at the local, state and national level, possess an exemplary reputation in the legal community, and “revel in maintaining a life that balances a passion for excellence with the joy of family and friends.” Nominees should show openness and humility, and a sincere concern for the interests of others including the professional development of newer practitioners.
Stephenson was nominated for the award by fellow Willingham Coté, P.C., partner Torree J. Breen. In her application Breen noted that she is not aware of another attorney more respected in the field of medical malpractice defense than Stephenson. Breen described his quick rise in the legal world following his admission to the bar in 1993, beginning with a position at Legal Aid before moving to a Detroit firm where he tried several cases and taught himself how to be successful in court. He joined Willingham Coté in 1999, and became a partner shortly after.
Medical Malpractice is, Breen notes, a legal specialty requiring not only legal but medical knowledge. Stephenson is so popular with clients that when their malpractice insurance carriers changed they insisted that their new carriers approve of, and send work to him. Kim Martinis aClaims Director, at The Doctors Company, a carrier working with many of the health care providers for whom Stephenson provides counsel. After working with Stephenson for many years, she says that he is “an attorney who we know we can always count on to aggressively defend our insured members and support our mission to advance, protect and reward the practice of good medicine. His strong litigation skills and legal acumen have resulted in many defense verdicts and dismissals. We consider our partnership with him as integral to our continued success.”
Veteran of 75 trials, Stephenson has an “AV” rating with Martindale Hubbell and has been voted a “Super Lawyer” every year since 2011. Not content to put all of his energy into his own significant caseload, he actively mentors fledgling attorneys. According to Breen, in addition to being Past President of the Young Lawyers Association of ICBA, Stephenson is known to bring new attorneys up to speed on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of working with the many other partners at Willingham Coté. He invites all attorneys, from the newest to the most senior, to lunch most days that he’s in the office to promote collegiality and discuss the practice of law. Breen adds that Stephenson makes himself available to answer questions, and is quick to encourage new attorneys to push themselves and trust their own intelligence.
The Farhat Award looks for an attorney who is not only exemplary in his or her practice and work with the legal community, but who balances legal excellence with the joy of family and friends. Stephenson lives in Okemos with his wife, Amy and his daughter Jane; son Andrew is currently attending the University of Michigan. He served on the Board of Directors of his children’s’ school, Radmoor Montessori, from 2005-2018, and has served as a Boy Scout Troop Leader for his son’s troop and also volunteered with his daughter’s Girl Scout. He has also pitched in as a soccer coach for both boys’ and girls’ teams in Okemos, and was a familiar figure during the years wife Amy co-founded and developed the local non-profit Helping Women Period.
Respected and beloved as he is by colleagues, clients, family and friends, Stephenson is not known for self-promotion. Asked for a comment on winning the Farhat Award, he would say only that “It is humbling to win an award that has been received by many prior talented attorneys.”