From courtroom to campus Lawyer enjoys transition from law office, politics to EMU

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Leigh Greden was an attorney with Ann Arbor's Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone two years ago when a Eastern Michigan University search committee asked if he was interested in applying for the position of executive director of government & community relations.

"My first reaction was that I was happy where I was at Miller Canfield doing a lot of work for Eastern Michigan University," said Greden, 38, who had been doing employment and constitutional litigation. "But I said I'd look into it."

The lifelong Ann Arborite showed the job description to his father, Dr. John Greden, a University of Michigan professor and the executive director of U-M's Depression Center.

"This job was made for you," Dr. Greden said.

Greden had to agree. The job involves public policy and local government in a university setting.

After spending six years as one of the Ann Arbor City Council's most active members, and serving as campaign manager for District Court Judge Chris Easthope as well as fighting for his own seat, Greden has extensive experience with local government.

So it was no surprise when Greden landed the job in March of 2010. Though he misses working with his former colleagues, he loves his role at EMU.

"It's totally different every day, and throughout the day, it's totally different," said Greden. "I love working with students in a variety of capacities, and I love the policy side of it. That's probably my favorite part of the job."

Because of Michigan's budget crisis, it's also a challenging time to fill such a role. In the current fiscal year, the state cut funds to EMU by 15 percent - or $11 million. That means part of his job is cheerleader.

"We spend a lot of time talking to legislators about the positive things we're doing at Eastern," he said, noting EMU's strengths in innovative programs and tuition restraint and belt-tightening.

He still does some legal work --legislation review, craft proposed amendments, contract review, and works with EMU's general counsel.

But he doesn't long for the drama of litigation because he's now a registered state lobbyist.

"And that can give you the same rush," he said with a laugh. "It's the same advocacy- on-the-fly environment."

Geoff Larcom, EMU's executive director of media relations, noted that the energetic, friendly Greden has a natural way of moving well among a wide variety of groups.

"He's very good at cultivating relationships with the ultimate goal of bringing further understanding of EMU's reality, and benefitting us," said Larcom. "He's very good at what he does."

Greden's work takes him to all levels of government, from city, township and county, to state and federal. He's also among the dozen of senior administrators on the President's Executive Council, which means he's usually chairing an event or committee.

His office recently started Live Ypsi, which gives EMU employees a financial incentive to buy a home in Ypsilanti. He's the chair of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority, the co-chair of the Eastern Leaders Group, and is on the SPARK executive committee. For starters.

He says his 10 years as an attorney consumed with billable hours made him extremely efficient with his time.

"I do not miss billing hours," he said with a smile. "It's a pain! It's day after day accounting for every minute of your time. You live your life in six-minute increments. Point two--write email to client regarding so-and-so. One-point-two, draft brief in support of motion. That's the way defense law firms work. And most attorneys hate it."

But that was his professional life for 10 years.

"I had a job out of (Albion) college working for a member of Congress, but that was for a very short time," he said. "Then I went to (Case Western Reserve) law school. And then I was a lawyer for 10 years. So this is the first time in my professional career that I haven't billed hours. And I don't miss it."

It had one advantage, however. It taught him to use his time wisely.

"I don't waste time," he said. "It's just not in my nature ... That's the great training of being a corporate lawyer. You learn to be efficient. Because if you're not efficient, your clients won't hire you."

Greden served six years on the Ann Arbor City Council, losing by six votes in a primary election in 2009. Though Greden had been one of the most gung-ho, active members of Council, some residents said they voted against him because the press had discovered he'd been sending "snarky" emails during council meetings.

Greden publicly apologized at his last council meeting, insisting that he's an "equal opportunity teaser," and that he'd learned his lesson.

He now says he doesn't miss campaigning for office or holding office.

And he's come to enjoy spending his days in Ypsilanti. He loves walking across campus, exploring Ypsilanti's unique restaurants, and serving on community boards.

"EMU is a great place to work," he said. "I am grateful everyday for how fortunate I am to have this opportunity."

Published: Tue, May 29, 2012