Select Company: Grosse Pointe attorney ranks among the nation's 'Fellows'

An attorney with Butzel Long, Louis Theros earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. A Vanderbilt Law School grad, Louis Theros is a past president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association

Photos by Robert Chase

By Beth Anne Eckerle
Legal News

 
Twenty-four years of dedication to labor and employment law have earned Louis Theros a designation reserved for only one-half of 1 percent of the nation’s attorneys — to be named a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.
 
But it’s more than a prestigious award for Theros. It represents a career spent striving for excellence, mentoring junior lawyers, service to others, and a commitment to integrity in the courtroom and in the community.

“I feel humbled to be in this group,” said Theros, 49, a Grosse Pointe Farms resident. “It shows a culmination of my 24 years of practice, and I feel very privileged to be selected for this recognition.”

Theros, an attorney with Butzel Long the past four years, is a shareholder, vice president and serves on the firm’s Board of Directors. He concentrates his legal practice in the areas of employment litigation, labor, advising and counseling clients on statutory employment compliance and gaming law.  

With Theros’ designation, the firm of 140 now boasts six Fellows who have met the rigorous qualifications of the college. The selection process is predicated on nomination by a current fellow; for Theros, that was respected Michigan arbitrator George Roumell.

“Louie is an excellent labor and employment lawyer - that’s the first criteria,” said Roumell. “He’s well-respected by his peers in the field and, additionally, he has made contributions to his community. He’s on the city council with Grosse Pointe Farms and he’s also very active in his church. He’s truly a person of all seasons.”

Roumell, who has known Theros personally for more than 10 years and who knew his father, Spero, for more than 40 years, said the family is respected in the region and that the younger Theros indeed followed in his father’s footsteps in the community.
“Louie is a person of integrity, diligence and he knows the law in his field of expertise,” said Roumell. “He does excellent work.”
 
An early influence
Theros’ interest in labor and employment law was fueled by a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Law, from where he received his J.D. in 1989. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in 1985, he headed to Vanderbilt to pursue law. There, his professor Bob Covington impressed Theros with his comprehensive grasp of the law and remarkable memory of details, particularly in labor and employment relation cases. After a summer clerkship, he returned to class to find Covington reciting tidbits from Toussaint vs. Michigan Blue Cross/Blue Shield, a Michigan case Theros had learned about that summer.
“Right off the top of his head, Bob could recite specific, minute details,” Theros recalled. “He supposedly got such a high score on the Tennessee bar exam — this has turned into a Paul Bunyan-like story, I’m sure — that they suspected him of cheating. But when they spoke to him, he could give pinpoint cites to cases all over the country. Every other Friday, the school would host happy hour in the courtyard and Professor Covington would show up in his Grateful Dead tie-dyed shirt. He and I became good friends.”
The professor encouraged Theros in the direction of labor and employment law, and Theros obliged. 
“I kind-of gravitated toward it. I found it fascinating, particularly the human element,” Theros said.
 
Observations on the ‘human element’
The human element, as Theros noted, is one of the most interesting components of his work in labor and employment law — an area that often sees breakdowns of friendships, employment/employee relations, and shifts in workplace policies.
He recalled one memorable case that involved a woman suing her employer for gender discrimination. Theros, who was defending the employer, and her attorneys had reached a settlement, and during the final meeting at the federal courthouse to sign the paperwork, the woman asked to step outside for a cigarette to calm her nerves. She didn’t return.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Theros said. 
She resurfaced, only to fire her lawyers and to take the case to trial. 
“We ended up having to go to trial, and during the course of the trial I was successful in getting her claims for emotional distress and punitive damages dismissed,” recalled Theros. “The court at that point had knocked down a substantial amount of the damages. I asked the jury to consider awarding only nominal damages of $1. Of course, we were ready to settle for a lot more than that 60 days earlier.”
The jurors continued to deliberate for several days, but they were hopelessly deadlocked, with six in favor of a $1 award to the plaintiff and two preferring no damages at all. The judge sent the jury back to deliberate, but they wouldn’t budge.
“After all this — the original settlement, the court case, having the trial with the new lawyers and in between trying to reach a settlement — I thought, ‘I’m going to have to try this case all over again,’” Theros recalled. 
Additionally, the case took place in Chicago, forcing Theros to be gone from his family for an extended period of time, which weighed on him as well.
But a silver lining of all those efforts was found when Theros was able to interview the jurors after the case. 
“We talked to the jurors who didn’t want to give her one single dollar and said, ‘You guys are killing us, why didn’t you give her the dollar?’ They looked at me and said — and this little small window gave me some faith in the jury system — ‘The instructions said we were to stick by our convictions and not waive our convictions in order to reach a compromise verdict,’” Theros said. “They said, ‘Your client did not discriminate and this was a baloney case. Neither of us could find it in our hearts to find your client guilty, even if it meant only a dollar.’”
Relieved that he’d gotten the message across, Theros was finally able to schedule a flight home the next day, exhausted but hopeful about the good in people and looking forward to a few days to decompress from the stress of the trial. 
“I flew home and woke up the next morning,” said Theros, “and the next morning was 9/11.” 
 
‘I should bob and weave a little more’
Theros, an engaging storyteller and gregarious personality during a recent interview, recalled another “learning moment” from his first case as first-chair trial lawyer. The jury had returned a small verdict against his client in a sexual harassment suit, about $40,000. His client was being sued for not stopping a third-party vendor from harassing employees at its facility.
During interviews with the nearly all-female jury following the trial, Theros was especially eager to hear from a nurse whom he had specifically wanted on the panel because of her education and professional demeanor. 
“Finally, I asked her for her thoughts on the case, and she said, ‘Mr. Theros, have you ever heard of personal space?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Well you’ve invaded mine! When you came up to the jury box right in front of us, you totally invaded my personal space.’”
Another juror came to his defense, saying she appreciated his personal approach. The arguments between the two jurors got a bit heated, and Theros had to stop their bickering after a few minutes.
“The moral of the story,” Theros said with a laugh, “is that I should bob-and-weave a little more.”
The experience of appearing before a jury remains enjoyable for Theros, though most cases today, he noted, are settled before trial because of the economics of current times. 
“I used to say I was a litigator/trial lawyer, but now we’re more litigation managers, trying our best to manage litigation and get the case dismissed or favorably resolved before going to trial,” he explained.
Another enjoyable aspect of his career — and one that influenced his Fellow designation — is guiding junior lawyers, particularly in developing their writing skills.
“I can tell you that writing skills have diminished in the sense that we’re so tuned into our techy stuff that people just don’t read enough anymore,” Theros lamented. “Lawyers write a lot, and one of the things that senior lawyers can do to help junior lawyers is to teach them to write in a way that reaches their audience. Even if their sentence structure and grammar and word choices are fine, you still have to be able to persuade, to make your argument resonate with the reader.”
It’s an area he works on relentlessly with his own two sons, Jonathan, 15, and Evan, 13.
“I ride them on their writing constantly,” Theros said. “The reason I do that is because I’m still getting better as a writer myself — it’s a lifelong process.”
In fact, one of his writing mentors is an 87-year-old partner at Butzel Long, Bill Saxton.
“He still writes, and he writes in a way that is beautifully succinct and to the point,” Theros said. “I save his articles and I show my kids.”
When it comes to mentoring junior lawyers, Theros is also involved with the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, of which he is past president. Through a program called the Inns of Court, young lawyers in Wayne County work with judges and experienced attorneys in mock trial settings.
“It gives them the chance to work with masters in the field, and it’s very beneficial,” Theros said.
 

About Louis Theros: Family, career, community

Louis Theros, 49, and his wife, Patti, a freelance writer, live in Grosse Pointe Farms with their two sons, Jonathan, 15, a sophomore at Grosse Pointe South High School, and Evan, 13, an eighth-grader at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic School.
Theros is a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law (J.D., 1989). He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan (B.A., 1985). 
He has more than 24 years of experience, including first chair trial and appellate responsibilities, in employment discrimination and harassment matters and large class action lawsuits, throughout Michigan and the Midwest. Theros has served as counsel on various traditional labor issues, including organizational campaigns and collective bargaining agreement negotiations and implementation. He also has extensive experience in handling arbitrations arising from collective bargaining disputes and unfair labor practice complaints.
Theros is a former president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (2005-2006), and currently serves as a trustee of the DMBA’s charitable arm, the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Foundation (2006-present).
Committed to his community, Theros actively participates in a variety of organizations. He currently serves on the Grosse Pointe Farms City Council (2001-present), where he was mayor pro tem from 2005-07. He also is vice president of the Michigan Ice Hawks Youth Hockey Club, and the treasurer of the Senior Citizen Housing Development Committee for the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). 
Theros’ parents, Spero and Barbara Theros, were immigrants from Greece when they moved to the Detroit area. His father was involved in the development of a 150-unit independent living community for senior Greek-American residents, predominately female.
“When I go there and see these ladies, they could never thank my dad enough,” Theros said.