Stephen Sinas Named President of Ingham County Bar Association
In the legal world, ascending to the role of President within a bar association is an achievement that carries tremendous honor and responsibility. For Stephen Sinas, becoming the President of the Ingham County Bar Association (ICBA) marks not only a high point in his legal career but also a deeply humbling and gratifying experience. In this role, he is entrusted with leading a remarkable local bar association that has played a pivotal role in shaping the legal culture of the Greater Lansing area.
The Importance of the Ingham County Bar Association
ICBA, with its rich history, has been instrumental in defining, fostering, and nurturing the legal community in this region. Beyond the professional titles and courtroom battles, it provides a unique platform for lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, and law students to connect on a deeper level and appreciate the exceptional people who make up the local legal community. For that reason, Steve believes anyone apart of that community, should become a member of the Ingham County Bar Association.
During his time as a member of the Ingham County Bar Association, Stephen has additionally served as the ICBA Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Board Member. The role of president is an extra special experience for Stephen, as it is the first time in the bar’s history, that a former president’s grandson has also become president. Thomas G. Sinas served as ICBA President in 1970, and Stephen is proud to continue his family’s legacy within the legal community.
Stephen emphasized the importance of the Ingham County Bar Association and his plans to continue the good work already being done by those involved, in his recently published President’s Message:
President’s Message: Looking Back While Looking Ahead
By: Stephen Sinas
“Becoming President of the Ingham County Bar Association (ICBA) is one of the greatest honors of my legal career. I am deeply humbled and grateful to lead a local bar association as fantastic as ours. ICBA has a rich history of defining, fostering, and cultivating the culture of our legal community here in the Greater Lansing area. ICBA provides us with so many opportunities to get to know each other beyond who we are as lawyers and better appreciate who we really are as people. On that note, through my years serving within ICBA, I have gotten to know and appreciate so many great people within our legal community whom I likely would not have otherwise met. Getting to know these people has truly enhanced my professional and personal life. In addition to having the pleasure of recognizing and saying hello to more people around town, I now better appreciate how many thoughtful, compassionate, and unique individuals make up our legal community. Ultimately, the advice I received early on in my legal career to get involved with ICBA was some of the best advice I ever received. Based on this experience, one of my first objectives as President is to convince more local lawyers to becoming actively involved with ICBA.
Over the past several years, I have had the privilege to work under the guidance and wisdom of several great previous ICBA presidents, including Mark Kellogg, Jessica Fox, Mary Chartier, Chuck Barbieri, and Charley Lawler. Moreover, as I begin this year as President, our Immediate Past President, Pam Amato, continues to provide me invaluable support and direction for which I am immensely grateful. Another objective I have as President is to serve ICBA with the same dedication, effort, and thoughtfulness as these people have done.
In addition to these recent past presidents, as I step into the presidency this year, there is another past president who is at the
forefront of my mind. This person was President of ICBA in 1970. This person’s name was Thomas G. Sinas, and he happens to be my grandfather, or, as we say in Greek, my “Papou.” He died in 1985 when I was four years old. I only vaguely remember him as a person, but I have learned so much about him from others, including so many people in our legal community. Apparently, throughout the entire 122-year history of ICBA, I am the only President who also had a grandparent serve as President.
In the 1930’s, when my Papou was just a boy, he and his family moved from Chicago to the Lansing area. His parents, who were Greek immigrants, had just lost everything in the Great Depression. They were hoping for a better life in the Lansing area. His parents eventually opened a restaurant in Lansing called “The Crystal Lunch” which was located across the street from the former Oldsmobile factory. My Papou worked in the restaurant growing up and got to know the customers who regularly included Oldsmobile factory workers and a wide variety of other customers. Notably, the restaurant even had a younger customer by the name of Malcom Little, who would later become the famous Malcom X. My Papou’s younger years in the Lansing area helped him see that despite any of its shortcomings, the Greater Lansing area was a special and unique place.
My Papou eventually began dating Martha Gikas, who would become my paternal grandmother, or “Yia-Yia”, as we say in Greek. Her parents immigrated from Greece to Lansing in the early 1900’s. Her family owned a restaurant and candy store known as the “Sugar Bowl,” which was originally located at 106 South Washington Avenue. She grew up on Ionia Street, just a few blocks from where the legendary Lansing lawyer, Leo Farhat, grew up.
Her family also recognized that the Lansing area was a special place to live and raise a family. Eventually, my Papou and Yia-Yia got married, and after he completed his law degree at Detroit College of Law, they moved back to Lansing, where they would raise their family. Shortly upon their return, in 1951, my Papou started the Sinas Dramis Law Firm with his best friend, Lee Dramis, who also believed in the Lansing area.
While My Papou worked hard as a lawyer over the years, he also worked hard to serve our community. He actively participated in Lansing civic matters and politics. He ran for the Lansing City Council. He served as the Chairman for the Michigan Library Board. He served on the Lansing City Planning Board. He even hired Leo Farhat to file a lawsuit against the City of Lansing because he objected to the City’s decisions to sell downtown properties and allow them to be developed into parking lots and government buildings. He thought those decisions would degrade the tax-base, as well as the culture and nightlife of the downtown Lansing area that he loved. The dispute resulted in a Michigan Supreme Court decision,
Thomas G. Sinas v City of Lansing, 382 Mich 407, which was decided in 1969 against my Papou based on technical legal grounds. The following year, in 1970, my Papou became president of ICBA, which he believed to be yet another opportunity to serve our community.
I hope I can also use my presidency to serve this community. One basic way I hope to advance that goal is to help our legal community feel as positive and proud as possible about working and living here, just as My Papou felt. When my wife, Heidi, and I were finishing graduate school in 2007, she was exploring employment opportunities at Michigan State University, and I was looking into working at Sinas Dramis. At that time, one of my mentors and now former law partner, Bernie Finn, told me that I should keep in mind that Ingham County is a great place to live and practice law. I questioned whether that was true and assumed that the other communities where I had attended school, such as Ann Arbor and Detroit, were somehow better. I have since realized that Bernie was absolutely right. This is a great place to live and practice law. We have so many great lawyers in this area. We have a thoughtful judiciary that works with lawyers and their clients, so their cases are handled in an appropriate, civil, thoughtful, and practical manner. We have nice courthouses that have welcoming atmospheres and typically operate smoothly. We have a Big Ten University in town that provides us with various professional, educational, and cultural opportunities. We have two law schools that allow us to easily connect with young inspiring law students. Our legal community is further benefited by being in Michigan’s capital city where Michigan’s Supreme Court is located and where Michigan’s Legislature debates and enacts our laws. There are also many great schools in the Greater Lansing area that provide the children of local attorneys with a good education. We enjoy a relatively good quality of life with ready access to various grocery and retail stores, health care resources, recreational activities, and outdoor spaces. We also do not waste too much of our lives dealing with heavy traffic and overly congested roads. Like most communities, ours is not without its imperfections, shortcomings, and controversies. And, yes, we could use a few more good restaurants and cool nighttime attractions. But, all things considered, I honestly cannot think of another legal community in Michigan where I would rather practice law. This year, I hope I can somehow convince more people of the same.
Moreover, I hope that over the next year, our great Board of Directors and I can further advance the culture of ICBA itself. I am fortunate to lead an association that already has such a friendly and congenial culture within its membership. However, this year, we plan to make ICBA’s culture even more welcoming and understanding of the needs of our members. In this regard, we have plans to advance the causes of diversity, equity, and inclusion within our association, as well as plans to advance and promote lawyer wellness initiatives. Ultimately, we hope that through
these efforts, ICBA can further advance a supportive and healthy culture within this great association.
In closing, thank you for the opportunity to lead ICBA this year. I look forward to working together with our Board of Directors to do all we can to help make sure the Greater Lansing area remains a special place to work as lawyers and live as people – just as it always has been.”