A 'person'able approach

By John Minnis

Legal News

As one the oldest and largest minority-founded law firms in the country, Lewis & Munday pays more than lip service to diversity. In fact, it's future is riding on it.

Proving the point, the firm recently named Blair A. Person, a 23-year veteran of the firm, president and CEO.

"As an African-American-owned firm, we have always been committed to maintaining a diverse workforce," said founding partner David Baker Lewis, who remains as chairman of the firm after relinquishing the day-to-day management to Person. "At the same time, shareholders in the firm who aren't African-American have always bought into the importance of the identity of a firm like ours being African-American-owned and have made a commitment to help maintain that identity. Just as there are diverse majority-owned firms, there are diverse African-American-owned firms, with Lewis & Munday as a prime example."

Shareholder Reuben Munday has worked with Person ever since together they represented the City of Detroit on the Chrysler Jefferson Assembly Plant project back in the late 1980s.

"I think he has earned the opportunity to lead the firm," said Munday, who himself served as president and CEO for nine years.

Person said he is honored that his colleagues chose him as the firm's new president and CEO.

"Lewis & Munday has played a pioneering role in Detroit's legal history," he said, "and I look forward to playing a leadership role in the firm's next chapter."

Richard White, one of the founding partners, hired Person in 1987.

Founded in 1972, the firm originally was known as Lewis, White & Clay. When White became corporate counsel for AAA of Michigan and founder Eric Clay became a U.S. Appeals Court judge, the firm was renamed Lewis & Munday. Today, the firm has offices in Detroit, Lansing, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

A Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook graduate, Person earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and his juris doctorate at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Originally hired to do corporate health care work, Person jumped at the opportunity to do commercial real estate transactions when partner Munday opened that line of practice in the late 1980s. For the past 13 years, Person chaired the firm's Real Estate Practice Group.

"I was really interested in that," Person said of his move into commercial property transactions. "I've been in real estate for the firm exclusively since 1990."

Besides the Chrysler Jefferson plant, other projects Person has had a hand in include a number of affordable housing projects administered by the City of Detroit, various real estate developments undertaken by Wayne State University, real estate matters on behalf of Detroit Edison and matters involving the Detroit People Mover.

"We've been really pleased to work with the university," Person said of the numerous projects near the Wayne State campus. "They recognize that having a strong community around them can only help the university."

A sign of the times, the firm has been working with DTE on renewable energy projects.

"DTE is looking to develop wind farms in the state and increase production of electricity through solar," Person said. "We're working on agreements in that connection."

The firm also represents the City of Detroit's Neighborhood Stabilization and Home Loan programs. The stabilization program provides funding for developers looking to rehab or build on foreclosed, abandoned and vacant properties.

"The projects are important because they stabilize neighborhoods by filling in vacant pockets," Person said.

The Home Loan Program is designed to provide more affordable housing to Detroit residents.

Lewis & Munday is also co-counsel with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn on The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy project, a 5 _-mile RiverWalk from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle bridge. Once completed, the conservancy is responsible for the improvement, operations, maintenance and programming of the riverfront property in perpetuity.

"It's great to walk the whole length of that," Person said. "You get to really see how far it has come. It's a great project."

Lewis & Munday's bread-and-butter work is in four primary areas of concentration: public law, corporate law, real estate law and corporate litigation. Lewis & Munday was the first minority-owned law firm to be listed in the Bond Buyer's Directory of Municipal Bond Dealers, known informally as the "Red Book," and has been consistently recognized as one of the top 50 bond counsel firms in the United States.

The firm has also worked with the city's Economic Development Corp., Downtown Development Authority, Detroit Economic Growth Corp., City of Detroit Building Authority and Detroit Wayne County Port Authority.

"We are very committed to the city and the city's success," Person said.

Out of his office at 660 Woodward in downtown Detroit, Person has the challenging task of leading the 22-attorney firm out of a down economy.

"I do see signs nationally of the economy improving," he said. "People are beginning to travel and eat out a little more. I hope the state and city are beneficiaries of an improving economy."

Despite the economy, Lewis & Munday has been able to add a few attorneys.

"It's been a difficult couple of years for law firms in general," Person said. "We've been fortunate to do as well as we have. Transactions have been down, but we have been fortunate to stay busy doing other things."

The father of one grown son, Ian, Person and his wife, Kate, live in Troy. When not managing Lewis & Munday, Person enjoys travel and cross-country skate skiing up north.

As for the firm, Person hopes to continue Lewis & Munday's exemplary past.

"We're looking to expand our business," he said, "and look forward to the next 38 years."

Published: Thu, Jul 8, 2010

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