Jaffe CEO sees 'opportunities' for growth with Philly office

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

“I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”

For comedian W.C. Fields, it was a proposed epitaph to appear on his gravestone.

For Rick Zussman, CEO of Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, Philadelphia is viewed in an altogether different light, principally as home to a new satellite office for the Michigan-based law firm.

“Our expansion into Philadelphia is a natural one for us,” Zussman said in a prepared statement announcing the office opening last month. “We have a large client in the market and see outstanding opportunities to leverage our great depth, experience, and expertise for business headquartered on the East Coast.”

The decision to open an office in Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth largest city, was driven by Jaffe’s relationship with one of its major clients, CMS Companies, a private equity firm that invests in real estate development projects and medium to small business ventures, according to Zussman.

Heading the Philadelphia office for Jaffe will be Ingrid Welch, a 1984 magna cum laude graduate of Villanova University Law School, where she was a member of the Order of the Coif and an editor of the law review. Welch, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Villanova in 1981, also with magna cum laude distinction, formerly was associate general counsel for CMS.

“Ingrid is an outstanding addition to our firm,” Zussman said. “She brings a depth of corporate and securities knowledge and experience that will fuel both our existing client relationships as well as our vision for our East Coast growth.”

Jaffe, which Zussman said has embodied an “entrepreneurial spirit” over the course of its 43-year history, now has offices in six cities, including Southfield, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Naples (Fla.), and Jerusalem. The firm has more than 100 attorneys, principally focused on providing counsel on a range of business law matters.

“With the addition of both our new location and Ingrid leading the office, we will be providing East Coast companies highly sophisticated, service oriented legal representation at lower rates than offered by other top law firms in the area,” Zussman said. “This will be extremely attractive to businesses looking to realize greater efficiencies without sacrificing their need for outstanding legal service.”

The growth strategy for Jaffe is part of a “measured business approach” that has helped the firm weather a challenging Michigan economy without trimming its legal staff, Zussman indicated.

“Not too many firms have been able to avoid layoffs in the last few years,” Zussman said. “We are pleased to be talking about expanding, about opening another office even during difficult economic times.”

A native of Huntington Woods, Zussman can trace his legal roots to his father, Milton, who built a successful private practice serving a business clientele.

“I knew from the time I was a senior in high school that I wanted to go into the law,” Zussman said of his days at Cranbrook, where he was an All-State tennis player.

He planned to take his tennis talents to Kalamazoo College, a traditional Division 3 power, when fate intervened in an unusual way. In his senior year at Cranbrook, Zussman was locked in a marathon three-hour match in the state finals. The tennis duel was played out in 90-degree heat, sweltering conditions that eventually took a toll on Zussman. In the stands that day, witnessing Zussman’s gutsy performance, was the tennis coach from the University of Iowa.

“I passed out at the end of the match because of the heat and when I came to, the Iowa coach was there, offering me a scholarship,” Zussman recalled, sporting a hint of a smile.

The offer was well placed, as Zussman eventually earned All-Big Ten honors twice for the Hawkeyes. He then went to law school at Boston University, transferring to the University of Michigan after his first year. His first job was as a summer associate with Jaffe, a firm where he has spent the past 31 years.

One of seven children, Zussman along with his wife, Julie, have three of their own. Their oldest, Adam, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and serves as vice president of a company that operates senior living facilities in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. Son David, 24, graduated from the Ross School of Business at U-M and works with a real estate development company in New York City. Daughter Emily, 18, is a freshman at U-M and, like her brothers, graduated from Detroit Country Day High School. She is majoring in Jewish studies at Michigan.

For years Zussman has served on the board of Southfield-based Kadima, a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency serving the mentally ill in Oakland County. His father and mother, Lois, were among the founders of the agency that has grown to include 25 group homes and an activity center bearing the family name. A past president of the Kadima board, Zussman also served on the board of CATCH Charity for Children, a nonprofit organization founded by former Tiger manager Sparky Anderson. In 2008, he served as vice chairman of athletics for the Detroit Maccabi Games.

That year, Jaffe marked its 40th anniversary, a milestone the firm celebrated in a novel way, asking each of its employees to donate a minimum of 40 hours of service to a pro bono or charitable cause. The goal of 8,000 hours was surpassed by more than 3,000 donated hours, according to Zussman.

That spirit, Zussman said, is perhaps best personified by the firm’s namesake, Ira Jaffe, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and U-M Law School.

“In addition to being an incredible attorney, Ira cares a great deal about the people here, offering each and every one of us the opportunity to grow and succeed,” Zussman said of Jaffe.
 

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