Ann Arbor attorney spices up legal life with gourmet cooking

Attorney Nick Roumel was enjoying Greek food before he could talk, and cooking it - and other dishes - with expertise by the time he earned his law degree from Wayne State University Law School in 1984.

"I grew up with bountiful and delicious Greek food but never started cooking until having an apartment my sophomore year in college - basic things like omelets and tuna casseroles," said Roumel, who completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan. "Senior year, I got a job in a French restaurant and worked my way up from clumsy busboy to waiter, doing tableside cooking and wine service. From there, I worked in catering and other restaurants before, during and after law school."

Today, on topics from baklava to back wages, Roumel is an expert. He's a partner with Ann Arbor law firm Nacht Roumel Salvatore Blanchard and Walker PC and focuses his practice primarily on employment, civil rights and labor law. He also writes a food column for the Legal News and food features from time to time for Current Magazine in Washtenaw County. And he cooks.

He cooks for his family, friends and co-workers. He cooks as a guest chef for local foods-centered, nonprofit Selma Café once in a while, and he donates his services cooking private dinners for auctions to benefit charities.

"My last one was a five-course, upscale Greek dinner featuring wine pairings with every course, including open spinach pies in muffin tins, tomato stuffed with spinach rice, grilled bronzino (that's a fish) and rice pudding with fig almond cake," said Roumel, who lives in Ann Arbor.

His food fixation helps him keep his life in balance and deal with stress.

"I think it's essential, because my job is so stressful I could probably work at it every waking minute," he said. "I also try to find time to exercise or run whenever I can. It's my time to clear my head and work through my life's problems. Writing my food column has led me to have some great conversations with fellow lawyers and even judges. Through these conversations, I learn about what my colleagues do for balance in their own lives, whether it's cooking, music or running."

Still, for a great thrill, going to trial with a case is hard to beat, Roumel said.

"There is nothing as satisfying as winning a jury trial," he said. "But with a system increasingly designed to prevent the trying of cases, those are fewer and further between. In the meantime, I am gratified to help people cope with the loss of their jobs in any way I can and to hear their success stories down the road."

The best part of attending Wayne Law for Roumel was working for the Free Legal Aid Clinic, because he could jump right into practice to make a difference.

"I was incredulous that I could practice law as a second-year law student as long as a licensed attorney signed my pleadings," he said. "And as a litigation supervisor at FLAC, I could have a voice in organizing and administering our policies, and I gained so much valuable experience in court and administrative hearings. There is no question that it made me a better lawyer. FLAC also gave me an interest in serving indigent clients."

From there, Roumel worked for Neighborhood Legal Services in Detroit for five years before going into his own practice.

"I still approach practicing law from a legal services mentality, helping clients to the extent I can regardless of their ability to pay," he said. "And I also love FLAC because I met my wife there (Gail Altenburg, Wayne Law class of 1986)."

He advises law students to explore their interests and choose an area of expertise.

"Law remains a noble calling and an important helping profession, but times are different," Roumel said. "It is more difficult to be a generalist. Find what focus you want, and then find a mentor or mentors. And to my fellow graduates, be a mentor. The other piece of advice for law students is not to be afraid to hang your own shingle after you graduate. There is a crying need for low-cost providers of divorce, criminal defense, landlord-tenant and consumer law. It's a great way to learn, hopefully with the support of fellow bar members."

Published: Thu, Nov 27, 2014