Leading role: Honigman CEO displays keen eye for acquiring legal talent


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

At a time when job mobility has become an increasing challenge for law firm CEOs across the country, Honigman Chair David Foltyn stands as a prime example of the outlier – a leader who is a “lifer.”

Foltyn, who doubles as Honigman’s chair and CEO, has headed the largest law firm in Michigan for the past 14 years, beginning his career there as a summer associate in the late 1970s while a stellar student at the University of Michigan Law School.

“And I can proudly say that I have been with the firm ever since,” said Foltyn, who will mark his 42nd year as a Honigman attorney this fall.

The firm, of course, has a storied history (see sidebar) and traces its roots to the post-war year of 1948 when Jason Honigman, a Russian immigrant, and Milton (Jack) Miller, a Baltimore native, joined legal forces in Detroit’s First National Building. Over the course of the next 13 years, two more surnames – belonging to Alan E. Schwartz and Irwin Cohn – were added to the firm’s letterhead, setting the stage for the twin forces of growth and success during the next six decades.

Much of that success, according to Foltyn, can be attributed to acquiring and retaining top legal talent, whether from the finest law schools in the nation or from some of the most prominent business law firms in the U.S. That commitment to seeking out the “best and the brightest” has been a Honigman trademark since its founding, said Foltyn.

“Making talent-related moves have helped to spur our growth and our development of new markets over the years,” said Foltyn, who is a product of West Bloomfield High School.

Most recently, Honigman looked west to Chicago to find the firm’s new Chief Operating Officer Thomas Gaughan, a certified public accountant who earned his M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Chicago.

Gaughan, who received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Loyola University, formerly served as Co-COO of ArentFox Schiff LLP after having held earlier C-level law firm roles as a COO at Baker McKenzie, one of largest law firms in the world, and as Chief Financial Officer for DLA Piper and Locke Lord.

“We are thrilled for Tom to join our leadership team,” Foltyn said in a prepared statement last week. “Following an extensive national search, we found that Tom possesses the entrepreneurial spirit and pragmatism which are at the core of Honigman’s culture and approach to our business. We will surely benefit from his business perspective in the development and execution of strategic plans and his experience in managing operations within law firms. 

“Honigman continues to grow sensibly, to grow profitably, and to take advantage of the financial strength that we’ve carefully cultivated over the years,” added Foltyn. “Working alongside our new Chicago office managing partner Kristen Boike, Tom’s presence also underscores our commitment to the growth strategy of our newer offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.”

Gaughan will be based in Chicago and succeeds longtime Honigman COO Robert Kubic, who recently retired after serving in the key executive role since 2008.

With six offices in Michigan, Honigman opened its Chicago office in 2015 and now counts more than 40 attorneys there, according to Foltyn. Honigman’s Chicago attorneys focus on corporate, private equity and complex U.S. and international financing transactions, real estate transactions and financings, litigation, life sciences, intellectual property and patent litigation, and insurance recovery and counseling.

The Honigman office in the nation’s capital opened two years ago in the midst of the pandemic, and “we have strategically built our presence there” in the IP practice area, global real estate, life sciences, M & A, private equity, and white collar criminal defense, Foltyn indicated. Matthew Schneider, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, serves as Co-Leader of the Investigations and White Collar Defense Practice Group.

In 2021, Foltyn’s contract was extended through 2026, a vote of confidence that he deeply appreciated.

“I was very flattered by the trust that my partners have placed in me,” said Foltyn. “It’s a job that I love and it’s a role that challenges me every day.”

Foltyn is the son of Czech immigrants who settled in Metro Detroit, where they owned and operated a wholesale drapery business for many years after surviving the Nazi reign of terror during World War II.

“I grew up in West Bloomfield when it was a very rural community and Orchard Lake Road was a two-lane road,” Foltyn said of his upbringing. 

He was the first in his family “to go away to college,” earning a bachelor business administration degree with high distinction from the University of Michigan in 1977. He enrolled in the U-M Law School in the fall of 1977, serving as senior editor of the Michigan Law Review from 1979-80 and winning the prestigious Henry M. Campbell Moot Court Competition in 1980. He graduated magna cum laude from the U-M Law School in 1980 before joining Honigman, where he has focused his practice in the various aspects of corporate law.

In addition to his CEO responsibilities at Honigman, Foltyn serves on the boards of the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Detroit Economic Club, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, where he was board chair from 2019-21.

Community involvement “energizes me,” said Foltyn, as does his commitment to his wife, Elyse, and their blended family of seven children and three grandchildren. The couple has been married for 22 years and met when Elyse was an executive vice president of Munder Capital.

“My wife is an incredible person and is very active at Cranbrook, where our twin sons are juniors,” said Foltyn, whose twin daughters are rising sophomores at U-M. “She also has served for many years as board chair of MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), which has enriched both of our lives.”


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