Barnes & Thornburg Detroit expansion driven by hiring well-known labor lawyer


New Barnes and Thornburg attorney Frank Mamat, left, stands with Grand Rapids Managing Partner Robert Stead in the firm’s Southfield office.


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Highly-ranked national law firm Barnes & Thornburg established its Michigan presence in Grand Rapids in 2003, and is now expanding to the Detroit area thanks to the addition of well-known labor lawyer Frank Mamat.

He will co-lead the new office with Robert Stead, who is also managing partner in Grand Rapids.

“Instead of going to acquisition of a firm, generally we go with acquisition of people,” Stead explains. “We ask who would be the best one to put into this particular market, and trust that they’ll know who’s really good in that market as we continue adding attorneys.

“And that’s why we’re excited we were able to structure something with Frank,” he adds.

The beautiful office on the 24th floor of one of the impressive Town Center buildings in Southfield may indeed soon be too small for all those who are expressing an interest in joining the firm, Mamat says. Mamat brought an associate attorney, Toufic Saati, with him, and they have already added another lawyer who will start Oct. 1 – that in an office that comfortably houses only five.

Though B & T has 15 offices throughout the nation, was ranked 84th in the U.S. based on size by the National Law Journal’s 2019 NLJ 500, and is  in the 2019 Am Law 200 ranking based on revenue, both Stead and Mamat say the name recognition in the Detroit area is currently somewhat limited.

“At the moment, there are a lot of people in Southeast Michigan saying, who’s Barnes and Thornburg? But in other states we’re such a well-known entity, and with the talent we’re already attracting, it’s not going to take long at all for that to change.” says Mamat.

If that comes to pass, it would certainly be in part due to Mamat’s deep experience in labor law and national reputation.

A native of Syracuse,?New York, Mamat attended the University of Rochester for his B.A, and the Syracuse University College of Law for his J.D. While he was in high school, a future Detroit Piston named Dave Bing was “scoring for the Orangemen,” Mamat says. “I never thought I’d end up in the city where he was mayor,” he says.

After spending time immediately out of law school with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington, D.C. – where he was actually the business agent for a federal attorneys’ union – he joined the DC office of New York firm Proskauer Rose. There he gained an expertise in OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) law, on which he still draws to serve his clients.

In fact, he says he believes he has handled more workplace fatality cases for employers than any other lawyer. “It’s not a bragging point, it’s not pretty... but everybody has a right to a defense,” Mamat comments. “The ideal would be to counsel them in advance on workplace safety to avoid it, which we try to do, but often that doesn’t happen.”

Tired of having to shuttle back and forth from Proskauer’s New York office to Los Angeles, he sought another geographic market and ended up in Michigan. Mamat worked at several firms in the Detroit area and was at the Southfield office of Foster Swift Collins & Smith prior to joining B & T.

A proud Republican, Mamat worked in the Reagan administration and was appointed to several positions by former Michigan Governor John Engler. He had to turn down Engler’s first appointment, on the Safety Commission, because “I would have had to give up all my clients,” he jokes; he then chaired the Michigan Construction Codes Commission for many years. U.S. Presidents have offered him jobs and federal judgeships over the years, but he has declined them all for a variety of reasons – including the high cost of living in DC.

Over the years, Mamat has been involved in a truly lengthy list of local, state and national organizations, including the Oakland County Republican Party, the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan, the Associated General Contractors of America, and the State Bar Attorney Grievance as well as Character and Fitness Commissions.

At B & T, Mamat will continue his work in traditional labor law, including counseling on union avoidance and strikes, negotiating labor contracts and agreements, and the aforementioned OSHA counsel.

Mamat says some of his most exciting career moments have been helping draft the Right to Work Law for Michigan and settling the recent road builders’ strike as well as helping negotiate labor contracts for “every studio on the west coast.” He was also the labor lawyer for Madison Square Garden and head litigator in the longest-running NLRB case against the United Automobile Workers in state history.

He adds, “Years ago, I kept the United Nations from being unionized; that was one of my first assignments.”

The Southfield office will expand in the labor and employment practice, but will also seek corporate, environmental, intellectual property, and litigation attorneys in what B & T calls the “burgeoning research, technology and innovation hub” of Detroit.

The Southfield presence augments B & T locations in such markets as Chicago, D.C., Atlanta, California, Minneapolis, and its original office in Indiana. The Grand Rapids office is 27 attorneys strong, but according to B & T, over 200 practitioners firmwide support the clients served there, in industries from manufacturing and distribution to technology and health care.

The GR office also serves companies in a variety of organizational and business tax matters, which is where Robert Stead’s expertise comes in. Not only does he hold a BBA from University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School, he also took time out to get his LL.M. in Taxation from New York University School of Law.

Stead worked with Tracey Larsen,  former B & T GR office co-founder and managing partner, at Warner Norcross, and later joined the B & T team at Larsen’s urging after a stint at Miller Johnson. He started as B & T Grand Rapids managing partner in July of 2018.

“Grand Rapids is great,” says Stead, who was born and grew up in Flint. “I?love Grand Rapids.”

But he also recognizes the importance of a presence in the Detroit market. “Detroit and the surrounding area have experienced an incredible economic rebirth in recent years, due in large part to the development of advanced manufacturing and engineering that supports the automotive industry and other sectors,” he said in a statement. “This is an opportune time to expand our presence in Michigan and attract additional talented attorneys who can build sustainable, outcome-driven partnerships with clients.”

Stead also has a long list of legal community contributions, including being the former chair of the State Bar of Michigan Taxation Section and an enthusiastic member of its Agricultural Law Section, and membership in several  American Bar Association sections.

He says he is delighted to have landed at a firm with the depth and range of B & T, pointing to, for example, a federal monitorship the firm was able to obtain. “We get opportunities like that because of the size and  breadth of the firm,” Stead says. “It’s a great thing for us, and we’re very fortunate in Grand Rapids to have all that deep support.”