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Bank exec to head up Straker Bar Association

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When he was a student at Wayne Law, commercial law was not a traditional focus for most African-American law students, according to attorney Rasul M. Raheem. But this non-traditional focus has led to a long and successful career in the world of banking for Raheem, senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Bank of America in Troy.

“My career goal was to concentrate in commercial law, and being a bank lawyer was the best option for that goal,” says Raheem, who previously served as vice president and senior counsel at LaSalle Bank and Michigan National Bank. “At Michigan National Bank, where I really cut my teeth, we had a great team of commercial lawyers. We were a close group that sort of fed off each other and it was a great time.”

Raheem started his career with an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“I came to Michigan as a student-athlete playing football, running track and pursuing an education,” he remembers. “Early on I realized education was my ticket to success. If things didn’t work out in football, I knew I would have a degree from Michigan. My parents always stressed going to graduate school to get a master’s or a law degree.” Election to Michigan’s undergraduate student government put his focus on heading to law school.

Once in law school, “Wayne Law was empowering to me and the professors were tremendous,” Raheem says. In particular, he enjoyed Professor John Dolan’s class in Commercial Transactions, the Uniform Commercial Code and the Bankruptcy Code courses; and he served as one of Dolan’s research assistants for the professor’s treatise on the Law of Letters of Credit.

Despite clerking briefly in the Federal Defender’s Office, Raheem had no real interest in being a personal injury or criminal lawyer.

“I went into private practice with a great lawyer, Stanley R. Kirk, for four years and he trained me to be a commercial lawyer and to think like a lawyer,” he explains. “Commercial law, in turn, attracted me to banking and doing well in commercial transactions and other commercial courses made me attractive to the bank. I think the commercial courses give you critical analytical skills that help you in business.”

An LLM from Wayne Law was something that had always been part of his plan but family life and his career delayed pursuit of this goal.

“However, after going through a second bank merger and acquisition I realized that time marches on and either I was going to do it or not. I think it’s important to always strive to improve yourself.”

 So at age 45, Raheem returned to Wayne Law for a master’s degree in corporate and finance law. He took every possible finance class as well as finance classes in the business school and — fascinated with derivative securities — made that topic the focus of his master’s essay. The marquee course was a one-year 8-credit business planning class under professors Alan Schenk and Peter Sugar, combining corporate tax, and corporate governance and securities using a transactional problem solving approach.

Raheem now shares his expertise with law students by teaching a course in banking law and financial institutions at Cooley Law, with a primary focus on regulatory matters, the OCC, Federal Reserve, capital requirements and the FDIC.

“I enjoy the young students and developing the next generation of commercial lawyers; particularly African-American commercial lawyers,” he says. “The past four years in the Banking industry has been one of crisis and dramatic change in the laws. The change is so fast, the textbook can’t keep up — very exciting.”

For the past couple of years Raheem has been Bank of America’s relationship manager for the National Bar Association, working to be more involved with the NBA and to increase the Bank’s presence. 

“Bank of America’s Legal Department is very supportive of affinity bar groups through its Diversity & Inclusion Business Council,” he comments.

He was a speaker at the 26th Annual NBA-Commercial Law Section Corporate Counsel Conference in February, in Dana Point, Calif., where the panel, comprised of in-house counsel from Shell Oil, Mass Mutual Finance and SuperMedia, focused on substantive and practical challenges faced by in-house counsel.

In May, he served as a panelist at the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity’s 25th Anniversary of the Minority Counsel Program held in New Orleans. Chaired by Detroit lawyer Reginald Turner, the program works to improve the landscape in the legal profession and to continue efforts begun by past ABA presidents Dennis Archer Sr. and Robert Gray. Raheem has been invited to and looks forward to joining the NBA Commercial Law Section’s Executive Committee in the coming bar year.

Raheem is currently president-elect of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association - named for the pioneering African-American attorney, author and jurist, the first African-American attorney to appear before the Michigan Supreme Court, and a two-time Wayne County Circuit Court Commissioner. Joining the Straker board in 2010, he felt it was important to take a leadership role. The Trailblazer Awards and Scholarship Dinner on June 13 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham is the highlight event of the bar year, bringing supporters together to pay tribute to Straker’s memory and to honor contemporary legal trailblazers who continue his good works.

Since its founding in 1990 the Straker Bar has been successful in increasing the number of judges on the bench throughout Oakland County and in improving the number of people of color in positions of leadership, Raheem notes.

“We also work to increase the number of African-American members of the bar through our Bar Passage program and scholarships to law students.  Unfortunately, we are nowhere near where we want to be and the struggle continues.

“In the next bar year we hope to increase our membership, and our interaction with other bar affinity groups,” he adds. “I think it’s important to work together to increase diversity and make the legal profession truly inclusive. We would also like to develop a membership networking directory. In addition, plans are in place to bring back the annual charity golf outing scheduled for August 12 at Copper Ridge Golf Course.”

Raheem grew up in Ann Arbor where he attended Pioneer High School.

“It was a special time to be in Ann Arbor in the ‘70s and it’s a great sports town,” he says. “I still have good friends from high school and we stay in touch with each other.”

A decade ago, Raheem started training in the martial art of Isshinryu Karate at The Southfield Martial Arts Institute under Grand Master Hanchi Willie Adams, following in the footsteps of his children who all took karate at one time or another. In 2011, he obtained the rank of San-Dan or 3rd degree black belt.

“Isshinryu Karate helps with physical conditioning, mental focus, and spiritual development - the One Heart Method,” he explains. “In addition the self-defense learned from karate can save your life and your loved ones. As a sensi, I enjoy teaching and giving back to the dojo just as other black belts helped me as I was coming along.  It’s a constant learning tree.”

He and attorney Antoinette “Toni” Raheem, his wife of 31 years, make their home in Southfield.

“Toni is the real superstar in the family and is a past Trailblazer Award honoree,” he says. “In addition to being a first class Ivy League educated lawyer, Princeton and Columbia Law, with her own practice in
Alternative Dispute Resolution - and incoming chair of the State Bar’s ADR Section - Toni is very active in her church, volunteers weekly at Children’s Hospital, and works with a community group feeding the homeless.” 

The couple is very involved in the lives of their four children and for many years Raheem coached their youth sports teams, soccer, basketball and baseball. All four are now adults with the youngest a junior at U-M.

“When our youngest child went off to college I decided to get my golf game together,” he says. “So when I’m not at the bank working, engaged in bar activities, teaching, doing karate or with family, I’m working hard to lower my handicap. It doesn’t seem to leave enough time for golf.”

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