Business litigator learned teamwork is important both 'on' and in court


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Although attorney Bernie Fuhs has handled some high profile cases, his most rewarding triumph was helping a close friend in a landlord/tenant dispute.

“My friend was in the early stages of starting what is now one of the most successful youth soccer training academies in the country,” Fuhs explains. “Despite no legal or contractual basis, the landlord, blinded by dollar signs, tried to wage economic warfare against him in an effort to kick him out of the property where he was training his kids, and bring in a new tenant who would pay more money.

“After successfully obtaining an injunction in Oakland County that blocked the wrongful eviction, we were able to resolve the matter, cost-efficiently, and my friend’s business has flourished since then.”

An attorney with Butzel Long in Detroit, Fuhs focuses on business and commercial litigation and advises start-up and closely held businesses, as well as sports and fitness industry clients. An expert on non-compete and trade secret law, he has litigated and counseled clients in all 50 states.

He also has authored, contributed, and presented to national and local publications and business organizations; and in January, served on a panel, “Common Evidentiary Issues in Employment Litigation: What Are They, And Best Tactics to Limit the Harm and Maximize the Benefit,” at the 33rd Annual National CLE Conference in Vail, Colo.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the success I’ve had in my career thus far and in some pretty ‘cool’ cases – including prosecuting or defending dozens of non-compete and trade secret cases, successfully defending a $40 million breach of contract action, representing global franchisors, and representing some of the corporate investors who were bamboozled by the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme,” he says.

“I understand our judicial system can be frustrating at times for lawyers and non-lawyers, especially for those who don’t have the financial ammo for a long litigation battle, but I think we have the best legal system in the world when it comes down to it, especially with the judiciary that we have in Michigan.”

A native of Grand Rapids, Fuhs comes from a small business background; his father and two uncles ran a number of small grocery stores, pharmacies, a flower shop, and even a hole-in-the-wall bar.

In keeping with that family background, Fuhs earned his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in accounting and finance from the University of Detroit Mercy, where he was a four-year player on the Division 1 Men's Basketball Team, including a year as captain.

“I learned very early that the key to working with any business is understanding the numbers,” he says. “At 18, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I did know a solid accounting and finance foundation would help me in whatever career I ultimately chose.”

Since a career as a CPA didn’t appeal, he turned his attention to law, earning his J.D. magna cum laude from UDM Mercy School of Law (now Detroit Mercy Law), where he was president of the 2L class; a member of the Law Review; a member of the Justice Frank Murphy Honor Society; and a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and Beta Alpha Psi. He interned for Chief Justice Maura Corrigan of the Michigan Supreme Court; and was a law clerk and field operations analyst for Chrysler Financial.

“I thought having a law degree would provide me an excellent foundation to whatever career I chose,” he says.

With his small business experience, Fuhs originally aimed to become a transactional attorney – but after taking trial practice class in law school and serving as a summer associate at Butzel Long, he knew that litigation was his niche.

“It has so many similarities to the game of basketball – competition, sportsmanship, and teamwork,” he explains. “It was just a great ‘fit.’”

Co-chair of Butzel Long's Recruiting Committee, and a member of the Diversity & Retention Committee, Fuhs was named a Michigan Super Lawyer for the past three years.

He was named to Crain’s Detroit Business’ “40 under 40” class, and to L. Brooks Patterson’s Elite 40 Under 40 Class of 2013; and was one of six Michigan attorneys selected as a Top Young Lawyer as well as a Business Litigation, and Top Franchise and Trade Secret Lawyer by DBusiness magazine.

Fuhs, who lives in Grosse Pointe Farms with his wife Ivonne (a successful attorney herself) and their three children, Emilio, Samantha, and Alexandra, continues his passion for basketball by serving as a television color analyst for NCAA and MHSAA basketball.

“And I can still shoot the rock, so if the Pistons are looking for someone, I’m available,” he says with a smile.