Litigation vocation: Local attorney draws on his business background

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Recently named shareholder at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC, Alex Cavanaugh has spent his entire career with the firm focusing on a commercial Litigation practice. 

“I had the good fortune of starting at Howard & Howard as a summer associate and have had the opportunity to learn and develop under some excellent attorneys who I can now call my partners,” he says.

Early in his career, Cavanaugh helped litigate a case from the date it was filed, to conclusion after a five-week trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. He and colleagues represented a Tier I automotive supplier that was sued by the company it hired to design, build, and install an automated assembly line to produce parts for an OEM. The plaintiff claimed the equipment it was provided to build the automated assembly line was the issue, and that it could never function as required.

“We filed a counterclaim because the assembly line never functioned as intended and caused major issues in the supply chain, with resultant damages to our client,” he says.  “After peeling the onion back a bit further, and really studying the subject matter, we discovered that the issue was not the equipment that was provided at all, but other aspects of the design and decisions that were made by plaintiff. In the end, the jury agreed and we were awarded a multi-million dollar verdict on our counterclaim.

“At that point in my career, it was an invaluable development opportunity to take a complex case all the way through an extended jury trial to a jury verdict, and prevail on a counterclaim. It was also a great opportunity to learn about automation and develop an understanding of how so much of the manufacturing that is occurring in automotive, and in our region, happens.

“The opportunity to become a subject matter expert in different businesses in order to litigate and resolve disputes in that space is one of the aspects of commercial litigation that I enjoy most,” he adds.

The majority of Cavanaugh’s practice focuses on representing manufacturers, and primarily automotive suppliers.

“I’ve had the opportunity to litigate and resolve disputes touching many parts of an automotive program, from the design and installation of the line that makes parts, to the tools used to make parts, to parts being defective, to programs ending earlier than expected, to the sales people that sell the parts,” he says.

“At one point, we were representing a Tier I supplier of hood and roof panels for a vehicle program, and also representing a different supplier in a sales representative claim related to that same program.”

After receiving his B.A. in business administration/pre-law from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business, Cavanaugh spent just over a year working in Chicago, brokering commodities in the transportation industry. However, pursuit of a career in the law was never far from his mind.

“It didn’t take long after joining the workforce, to make the decision that I wanted to return to school for an advanced degree to raise the ceiling on my career prospects,” he says. “I had an excellent professor during my senior year at MSU that really encouraged me to evaluate all of my options before jumping into a legal career. I’m happy I took the year off in between undergrad and law school to work, and since then there’s been no looking back.”

That work experience has also provided value in his legal career. 

“Having some practical experience and a business background has helped to identify what may motivate people in certain situations and can help build litigation strategies,” he says. “On a more granular level, my experience in the transportation industry has assisted in representing similar transportation broker clients at Howard & Howard.”

Cavanaugh went on to earn his J.D., cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where he served as an associate editor of the Law Review and also represented the school at national and international moot court competitions.

“Moot court forced you to analyze a fact pattern and write and argue that fact pattern in a very similar way as is required for any appellate argument in practice,” he says. “I enjoyed travelling for competition against other schools, and was able to tap into that experience to do some appellate work early in my career.

“Attending school in downtown Detroit near the beginning of downtown’s resurgence was fun, especially after having just moved back to Detroit from Chicago,” he adds.  “After law school, I moved downtown in 2012. The amount of change that has occurred even since then is incredible.”

During his time at Detroit Mercy Law, Cavanaugh was vice president of the law school student chapter of the Incorporated Society of Irish-American Lawyers, and is still a member of ISIAL today. 

“I enjoy the access to a network of local attorneys and judges the group provides, and attending the group’s meetings when available, whether it’s to perform community service, or listen to a discussion about Irish contributions to Detroit and the local legal community,” he says.

Away from the office, Cavanaugh enjoys playing hockey and cycling. He was a member of the Detroit Mercy Law hockey team as a student, and still plays a couple of nights a week. 

“It’s one of the things I enjoy most,” he says. “Many of my current teammates are lawyers and other professionals. It’s a fantastic way to break up the grind of a long workweek.”

A native of Madison Heights, Cavanaugh now makes his home in Berkley with his wife Jackie and infant daughter Quinn. Jackie is a tax accountant at Price Waterhouse Coopers, and the two met during an MSU Study Abroad program in Spain.

Cavanaugh enjoys living and working in the greater Detroit area. 

“Living away from Detroit for a short period of time helped me realize that this is where I wanted to spend my life.  I identify with the gritty, resilience and optimism that I think characterizes Detroiters,” he says. “Plus, I enjoy being close to family, so having the opportunity to build my legal career here has been ideal.”  

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