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Santa Brings a Law Suit

Column: Dressing up the season with a holiday coating

The Grand Rapids Press

Byline: Mike Lloyd

Published: Sunday, December 14, 2008

©2008 The Grand Rapids Press. All right reserved. Used with permission of The Grand Rapids Press.


Asking a lawyer for a suit isn't news. Asking a lawyer for his suit is.

For a decade, Jason Schnelker and Andrew Rassi have done just that. No local attorneys rack up more suits than Jason and Andrew -- not at this time of the year, anyway. The two young partners in the downtown Grand Rapids law firm of Siebers Mohney PLC are as good at clothing arguments as closing ones, asking their peers in the legal community for the coats -- and shirts -- off their backs.

At Christmas, these two lawyers morph into men of the cloth.

Their "Santa Brings a Law Suit" program has resulted in the donation of hundreds of suits, sport coats and other professional clothing to Goodwill Industries. Most of the clothes are used in Goodwill's employment training and placement programs.

"One of the first things I learned in college was you should look like a professional if you hope to get a professional job," Jason said. "The hope is that, with interview training and coaching offered through Goodwill, a nice-looking suit will give job candidates the confidence and appearance to get work."

Jason, 36, and Andrew, 37, had only recently been through the job interview process themselves when they first proposed the holiday suit-collection idea.

"We were new lawyers. We hadn't developed thick skins," Andrew recalled. "I was a lot more sensitive to the jokes about lawyers in fancy suits. This program counteracts that a little, reaching out to those in the community who don't have the opportunities or education we do. They'll have a chance to look professional at a job interview."

Andrew, a South Bend native, graduated from Hope College and Vanderbilt University law school. Jason, from Auburn, Ind., went to Indiana University for undergrad and law school. They both earned their law degrees in 1997.

One of Jason's good friends at IU was the son of Jack Siebers, yes, as in Siebers Mohney. Jason joined the firm right out of law school. Andrew thought he, too, had a job with a Grand Rapids firm but the day after graduation, he was told the group was disbanding.

"They wished me good luck," he said. It must have worked. Andrew eventually interviewed at Siebers Mohney, by sheer coincidence with that firm's new hire -- Jason. Andrew's office now is in the suite formerly occupied by the firm that ditched him. "I don't know if that's luck or bad karma," he joked.

About the time they would have been completing their "rookie year" with the firm, Jason read an item in a lawyer's trade journal about a San Francisco attorney who'd cajoled other lawyers by-the-bay to donate gently used business suits to charity. "We asked if we could copy his idea, which was highly successful in a much bigger city. He was very supportive and even encouraged us to use the same name for the program," Andrew said.

Within the tapestry of the Grand Rapids legal community, Siebers is a pretty small thread count: Nine members today but only six when Jason and Andrew came on board. "We received enthusiastic support from the three partners," Jason said, "but in our enthusiasm to take on this project, I don't think we realized how much work this would be for the two of us."

They sent letters to every member of the local bar, signing each one individually, and they drove wherever they were asked to pick up the donated clothing. Every suit was dry cleaned, and men's clothing store owner F. David Barney put each one in a suit box.

"We had cardboard boxes stacked up everywhere in our offices. We were pretty naive that first year. I remember driving out to Caledonia on a slippery, snowy night just to pick up one suit," Andrew said.

They considered the program a success because neither ended up in a ditch, and they turned over a couple of hundred suits and sport coats to Goodwill.

"It's amazing what happens when we get a story in The Press -- even among the lawyers who are aware of the program. Somehow, a story in the paper prompts action. We'll see a real surge in suits," Jason said. "Some of the clothes are of extremely high quality. They look brand new. We're tempted to try them on! Others, well, we've all made those purchases. And then there are the gifts that you have to keep.....for awhile."

The Siebers Mohney office is Suite 900 on the 9th floor of the Campau Square Building, 99 Monroe Ave. NW. The firm's receptionist has donation forms for charitable contributions. Men's and women's suits, ties and dress shirts will be accepted through Thursday. If there are questions, the firm's number is 451-2121.

"You don't have to be a lawyer to donate professional men's or women's clothing. The aim is to provide clothes that will help individuals jump-start the process of obtaining jobs themselves.

"Publicity really helps," said Jason, in a plea obviously tailor-made to suit the season.


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