Legal 'links': Experience in golf course management serves as asset for corporate attorney

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Prior to practicing law, Joseph Michniacki oversaw operations of a company that owns and operates several golf courses in southeast Michigan.

“The best part was having to be creative,” he says. “Constant adjustment was required. We worked off a tight budget, so if there were heavy rains or an early freeze, or equipment needed replacement, we had to adjust on the fly. And some of this time was also during the 2008 downturn, so there was little margin for error. We had a great team and all of the courses we managed actually improved during that period.

“Working in management was a great experience and invaluable to my corporate law practice,” he adds. “It’s incredibly helpful to speak with a business
owner/operator and understand their perspective because I dealt with those same issues managing golf courses.”

Now an attorney with Howard & Howard in Royal Oak, Michniacki concentrates his practice in the areas of mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures (domestic and international) and corporate law.

He started his career path with a B.B.A. in accounting from the University of Michigan – Flint.

“I’ve always had an interest in business, so obtaining an accounting degree was a stepping stone to my understanding,” he says. “Practicing corporate law, it’s critical to have this background and understanding so I can effectively advise our clients and understand their issues.”

He earned his J.D., magna cum laude, from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, where he was successful in Moot Court competitions.

“Although I never intended to be a litigator I thoroughly enjoyed moot court because it forced me to really analyze an issue from both perspectives,” he says.

“That’s a critical skill in my transactional practice, because I’m often arguing opposite perspectives depending on whether we represent the seller or buyer. It’s also somewhat exciting to be put on the spot and have to come up with an answer. The competitions with engaged judges who know the problem were the best.”

Michniacki, who has since served as a judge at a number of moot court competitions, enjoyed the flexibility of WMU-Cooley. Starting law school six years after earning his undergrad degree, married and with several years of full time work under his belt, Cooley’s 2-year program was a perfect fit.

“If I was going to embark on a career change, I wanted to do so quickly and not be out of the workforce for long,” he says. “Great education. Most professors actually worked in the practice area they taught, so they had current knowledge of what was going on in that practice area. And I was able to take LLM classes for JD credit, which was great. I had a securities professor who had been in-house at one of the Big 3 — his insight was way beyond what a textbook
could provide.”

Starting as a summer associate at Howard & Howard during law school, he is now a partner at the firm. In the last year he has been working on a transaction where the purchaser was a publicly traded company in the UK.

“That added a layer of complexity,” he says. “I also worked on a restructuring for a client having subsidiaries in the UK and Australia. This involved some 20 entities, so it was a challenge to keep all the parties moving in unison, but very satisfying when completed.”

This year he handled a publicly traded client’s acquisition of a strategic target on the East Coast. The transaction, which took about 8 months to complete, closed early this year. 

“The two companies are a great fit and our client was very happy with the result so that is definitely satisfying,” he says. “There is always tension to a certain degree during a negotiation, which is expected because the parties’ interests are divergent at that point, but the goal is to wind up on the same team, and when we reach that point, it’s a very satisfying result.”

Michniacki also enjoys working with start-ups and many of his clients are new businesses.

“It’s so important to set up the business structure correctly so the business has a solid base going forward,” he says. “My perspective from golf course management really helps in this space as I’m very cognizant of budgetary restrictions and time restraints on new business operators. They are being pulled in so many directions and it’s important to be mindful of these aspects.”

A native of Memphis, a city that straddles the line between Macomb and St. Clair counties, Michniacki now makes his home in Rochester Hills in northeast Oakland County, with his wife Brandi and daughters, ages 1 and 4.

In his leisure time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and golfing, and the family participates in many Rochester events, including the Kris Kringle marketplace, Halloween at the fire station, the Big Bright Light Show, and Music in the Park.

The family also enjoys the variety of activities in the Greater Detroit area, including the Hands On Museum in Ann Arbor, ice skating at Campus Martius, the municipal park in Rochester, and the Cranbrook Science Institute. 

“This is a great area to live in,” he says.