Life as a lawyer in Detroit

By Jason Searle
Michigan Law

What does it mean to be part of the Detroit law firm community? The student organization JDs in the D hosted a panel of Detroit lawyers on Oct. 21 to explore this question and highlight the benefits of being in Detroit's legal market. The panel members had widely varying backgrounds, but they shared a feeling of confidence in the outlook for Detroit legal and business markets.

The moderator opened the session by asking the panelists how they ended up in Detroit and why they have stayed. Their experiences included Chicago litigation, foreign diplomacy, and work involving a host of legal issues in Michigan. In highlighting these experiences, the panelists were able to segue into explaining how, despite the great opportunities they have had abroad, there is nothing like the current vibrancy and opportunity of the Detroit area, and of Michigan in general.

"Over the last eight years, it's like a switch has been flipped," said Louis Gabel, of counsel at Jones Day. Tom Colis, principal and managing director at Miller Canfield, spoke about the renewed energy around Detroit's Campus Martius since 2008. Lisa Brown, commercial litigator and hiring partner for Dykema, added, "Everyone wants to be in Detroit now."

The panelists shared their experiences and observations about the benefits of practicing law in Detroit. Gabel pointed out that Detroit is a hub of the most cutting-edge aerospace, intellectual property, and military supply work. Colis added that Quicken Loans has "changed Detroit," highlighting in particular the economic stimulus and young professional influx spurred by the company. Brown spoke about varied market growth that has created easily accessible opportunities, ripe for new business. "There is a great sense of collegiality in Detroit. I have gotten referrals and business while at my kids' soccer games," Brown said. She added, "If you are looking for work-life balance, this is the place to find it."

As they described the Detroit legal market, the panelists agreed that the city offers an interesting mix of opportunities and law-firm office sizes. Gabel identified as one of only 12 attorneys at Jones Day's Detroit office, one of its newest offices. The panelists characterized a smaller market as advantageous. "As we've compared notes with other firms, the level of work we've been able to do is way above what others in New York and other big city firms have been doing," said Tara Mahoney, '05, partner at Honigman. She added that Detroit offices often deliver the same high-quality services as firms in larger cities, but at lower rates.

The panelists offered advice to students about how to land a job in the Detroit market.

"The best interviews are not where we talk about your summer work at 'wherever,'" Mahoney explained. Instead, she said, students should try to find interesting commonalities with their interviewer.

"I'll echo that as well," Brown said, "and I also look for someone with fire in the belly."

The panelists said that when they visit for On-Campus Interviewing (OCI), they already expect Michigan law students will be smart. Each of the panelists noted that applicants have to set themselves apart in some other way.

"I need something that jumps off your resume that shows you have work ethic," Colis said. "You get paid a lot right away, and to be honest, you're not that useful yet," Colis explained jokingly to the audience, noting that law firms make a significant investment in developing and mentoring new lawyers, so they are looking for law school graduates who show they are willing to work hard, who are curious, and who have ability to grow into a team.

Published: Thu, Oct 27, 2016