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News | May 6, 2019
3 minute read

In Memory of Jim Breay

James H. Breay is remembered today as a beloved mentor who both encouraged and challenged young attorneys to do – and to be – their best. Our friend and longtime partner passed away on Friday, May 3, from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Breay spent his entire 44-year legal career at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP focused on business, banking, corporate and commercial law, with an emphasis on commercial finance, secured transactions and regulation of financial institutions. A recognized leader within the firm, he served for many years as Chair of our Financial Services Practice Group and Chair of the Professional Staff Committee. In this latter role, he led a team of partners focused on developing associates, ensuring they advanced in their careers and had the opportunities – and the skills – needed to become partners.
A great negotiator, Mr. Breay knew when to dig in – and when to call it quits. He was recognized by his peers and his clients as smart, demanding and exacting. He cared deeply for everyone at Warner throughout the organization, recognizing the importance of “family” within the firm.
Mr. Breay served as General Counsel to the Michigan Bankers Association from the early 1980s through his retirement from the law in 2012. During his three decades serving the MBA, Mr. Breay became valued for his counsel on crucial issues shaping community banks across the state.
Don Booth, a past President and CEO of the MBA, recalled Mr. Breay as a “rock of Gibraltar” for the organization, noting: “As long as I had any issues that needed to be dealt with – and these were numerous over the years – Jim did a wonderful job advising us. He was a ‘steady Eddie’ who was always calm, cool and reasonable. He was always very thoughtful about approaching every issue he handled.”
During his nearly five-decade legal career, Mr. Breay drafted and analyzed legislation of interest to Michigan banks. He provided counsel to many companies in negotiating, reviewing and drafting documents for major borrowing transactions. His extensive experience with state and federal bank regulators on a wide variety of issues made him invaluable to the MBA, his clients and our firm.
Mr. Breay received many honors and awards throughout his career, including recognition as one of the Best Lawyers in America. He was recognized as “Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers for banking and finance in 2011 and for financial services regulation in 2014. He was also recognized by Chambers USA as one of its Leading Lawyers for banking and as a Michigan Super Lawyer. In addition, Mr. Breay was a Life Member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and its Justice Foundation of West Michigan.
Outside of the office, Mr. Breay was a devoted father who coached all of his sons' Little League teams and achieved near perfect attendance at their high school sporting events. He loved children and delighted when members of the Warner team brought their sons and daughters into the office.
Mr. Breay made a defining mark on the culture of Warner and will be dearly missed.