For Kalamazoo-based defense attorney Jeff Dufon, his job is not about wins or loses inside the courtroom.
“It’s not a game. We’re talking about people’s lives, and I don’t think it is a game,” Dufon said.
Contrary to the image many popular television shows portray about lawyers, Dufon believes his job, and the justice system are not about victories. To him, it is about making sure the system works properly and that people are fairly represented.
Dufon tries to be the legal shepherd who seeks to empower people through the basic rights that the law provides them, especially when they are unaware of their rights. Dufon is a family-man helping to uphold the integrity of the U.S. justice system by defending those who need help. Dufon tries to look beyond people as simply clients but as individuals with real problems that affect real lives.
“When you see these people come in, they’re afraid of the system, they’re really afraid of what’s going on. And to know that you can kind of shepherd them through this whole process…I think is pretty good.”
It may be no surprise that Dufon ended up practicing law. Dufon’s father worked as a conservation officer for the Department of Natural Resources, and has a brother who was once an FBI agent, which means that Dufon has long been surrounded by law.
Dufon has worked in virtually every area of the law on both the prosecution and defense side. From civil law, juvenile cases, and bankruptcy, to neglect and abuse cases, and even having been a prosecuting attorney for over five years before switching to defense in 1998.
Early in Dufon’s career as a defense attorney, he was working as a court-appointed attorney, a job that comes with some misconceptions by clients assigned to him.
“They sometimes feel that we are part of the system, and they don’t want to believe everything we say, or they sometimes feel like we’re not looking out for their best interest, which really is not true,” he said.
For Dufon, the most difficult type of law to practice is family law; maybe because Dufon is a family-man himself. Dufon and his wife of 32 years, Susan, have three kids of their own; Joshua, Jacqueline, and Thomas. Family disputes hit closer to home and are the most difficult to practice.
“It’s really personal for everybody, on both sides,” Dufon said. “Nothing’s worse than two people fighting over a kid.”
Dufon attended Michigan State University and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He then spent some time working for the state’s medical examiner as he and his wife started their family. After realizing he didn’t want to work for the medical examiner, like his father and brother before him, he grew interested in law and attended Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids.
Dufon works for Redmond, Redmond & Yokom, P.L.C., a 52-year-old family law firm located on Lovell Street in downtown Kalamazoo.
“We brought in Jeff cause he is such a super guy,” said attorney Todd Redmond, whose father founded the firm back in 1961. “Because it’s been a family firm since the sixties, we were looking to keep it that way and we were looking for people that fit that. This is where we want to take care of people and do the right thing for the right reasons.”
After working around Dufon in the local court system, and seeing how well he practiced law, Redmond approached Dufon and asked him to join the firm, specifically admiring the caring way Dufon handled his clients.
“There’s a certain type of person that does things for other people because it’s the right thing to do. They make really good attorneys,” Redmond said of Dufon.
Dufon further shows his passion for shepherding people through the legal system by providing help to students in trouble. Every Wednesday evening Dufon offers free confidential legal advice to students at Western Michigan University in the Student Organization Center (SOC) located inside the Bernhard Center on Western’s campus.
“He definitely seemed like he wanted to help us out,” said John, a WMU student seeking legal advice on a Wednesday in April said. The 23-year-old didn’t want to give his full name due to the situation that brought him so see Dufon. “He’s a good guy, he’s very nice. He wants to help us out, I can tell.”
Dufon has been providing WMU students with free legal advice since 2004, and said he plans on continuing it as long as the student association keeps asking him to.
“I think the kids need to be aware; they need somebody to go to when they have a problem,” Dufon said. “I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest to allow them to go into court, or to go fight the landlord/tenant without some knowledge. Just getting them information can solve a lot of their problems.”
After spending four years at Michigan State University, three more at Cooley, having kids go through college, including a son attending WMU; Dufon empathizes and relates to college students and the college experience.
“I feel the kids don’t really believe that they have rights, and they do, and I wish more students understood what their rights were,” Dufon said.
Redmond helped explain the value of the service that Dufon provides to Western students and said that, “It’s getting harder and harder to come by good information, especially information you can trust. For free, no less.”
“It’s just part of him doing what he does…it’s just a good dad being a good dad and helping out kids,” Redmond said.