Miller Canfield names new resident director for Detroit office

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By Brian Cox
Legal News

Joe Vernon admits it sounds corny, but when as a recent law grad he first met attorneys from Miller Canfield he immediately felt the firm’s sense of itself as a family. He describes the feeling as an “unusually collegial vibe.”
“I believed them when they told me it was a place of mentorship,” he says.

A Toronto native who hadn’t known a soul in Detroit before law school, Vernon decided to take a leap of faith and accept an offer from the firm. It’s a decision he never regretted.

“I learned quickly that the lawyers here are committed to the development of young attorneys,” he says, “and not just from a technical skills standpoint, but also from a civility and practice management standpoint.”

He feels fortunate to have matured professionally under such mentors as Mack Faison, Carl Von Ende, and Saul Green.

Now, more than 12 years later, Vernon, 38, is a senior principal in the litigation practie group and earlier this month was named the new resident director of Miller Canfield’s headquarters office in downtown Detroit, succeeding Irene Bruce Hathaway, who served in the post since 2011. He will manage the office’s overall operations.

Vernon says he recognizes the appointment as an honor and feels a connection to the firm’s heritage. Vernon sees correlations between the firm’s current role in Detroit with its role dating back to its founding in 1852, when the city was experiencing its first population boom and was dealing with the fallout of a nationwide financial crisis.

“We were entrusted with important work then,” Vernon says. “Detroit is, once again, in the midst of a major transition and we want to continue to be that trusted voice for our clients and a driving force in the community.”

As a teenager at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, Vernon thought he would pursue a career in accounting or finance. It wasn’t until his senior year in college at Wilfrid Laurier University that a professor asked him if he had ever considered law. He hadn’t, really. Outside of “Law and Order” and “A Few Good Men,” he didn’t know much about lawyers. The idea of becoming a lawyer held some intrigue for him, but the real hook turned out to be football.
Vernon was a wide receiver for the Laurier Golden Hawks and attending law school at Windsor University would afford him the opportunity to extend his football career. He enrolled in the dual JD program at Windsor University and Detroit Mercy and played for the Windsor Lancers, helping lead the team to its first playoff victory in 28 years and being named captain during his final year.

Football, says Vernon, taught him about time management and the importance of “meticulous preparation,” lessons he has carried over into his legal career.

“It also taught me about the amazing things that can happen when a group of people share a common goal and are committed to the same core principles,” he says, drawing a similarity to how he sees his new role as resident director. “As an office, we want to provide great service to our clients and make significant contributions to our community. We’re at our best when we work together as a team.”

A commercial litigator and business lawyer, Vernon’s sports background has also provided a natural foundation for the work he’s done in the sports and entertainment fields, advising athletes, upper management and entertainers and representing them during contract negotiations.

As resident director, Vernon has the opportunity to interact with staff from different spheres of the firm, which he finds exciting and refreshing.

“Our greatest assets are our people,” he says.

One of the challenges Vernon recognizes he faces as resident director is managing the integration of technology with human interaction.

“Technology continues to change the way we practice law, and the way we interact with our colleagues and our clients,”?he says. “In many ways this has been positive and allowed for greater work flexibility and more timely communications, but we do have to work harder to have the important in-person interactions that help develop meaningful long-term relationships.”

He’s conscious that without a concerted effort to make connections between colleagues and clients an over reliance on technology could lead to a gradual breakdown in the sense of family he felt that first drew him to the firm.

“I’ve found that every relationship gets better and stronger when you can spend some time together,” he says.

It was spending time at a networking event, in fact, that Vernon met his future wife, Jessica, who is vice president and general counsel of The Huntington Company, based in Berkley. The two recently had their first child, 5-month-old Jones Montego Vernon, whose name is a tribute to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where Vernon’s grandfather was the first mayor. The family emigrated to Canada before Vernon was born.

Outside of the firm, Vernon is a member of Leadership Detroit Class of XVII, serves as a mentor in the Detroit Economic Club’s Career Readiness Academy and on its Young Leader Board sits on the board of Mariners Inn, a substance abuse recovery center for adult men.

“It’s important to contribute to the community,” says Vernon. “The firm makes it easy to do so and makes clear that doing so is a part of who we are.”
 

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