Leading Role: New CEO of Miller Canfield firm ‘humbled by trust placed in me’

In a keepsake photo, the Palizzi family includes: (l-r) Mike, Mia, Elisa, Jack, and Daniel. Palizzi also has a brother, Nick, and a sister, Lilly.

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

He began his new role as Chief Executive Officer of Miller Canfield on April Fools’ Day, circa 2024.

The April 1 date, which annually is celebrated by pranksters worldwide, would not be reflective of a career move gone awry for attorney Mike Palizzi, a Florida native who now guides the 205-attorney law firm with 19 offices in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Instead, the date figures to serve as the launch pad for even greater career success for Palizzi, a Miller Canfield “lifer” who joined the firm in 1991 as a summer associate while pursuing his juris doctor degree at Wayne State University Law School.

“I was pretty confident that the April 1 start date was just a coincidence, but a prank was always a possibility,” Palizzi said with laugh.

Palizzi certainly has the professional chops for the job of leading the 172-year-old law firm that has been headquartered in Detroit since 1852. As the son of a law school professor, Palizzi appeared destined for a career in the legal profession even if he also weighed the possibilities of becoming a physician while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Albion College.

But midway through his studies at the small private college sandwiched between Jackson and Battle Creek, Palizzi opted to follow in the legal footsteps of his father, Anthony.

“He enjoyed a very distinguished career in the law, first as a law school professor at Florida State and then Texas Tech,” said Palizzi of his 82-year-old father who earned law degrees from Wayne State and Yale University. “He also made the transition into the corporate world, serving as General Counsel for Kmart and for a time as its interim CEO.”

His father’s underlying influence led Palizzi to enroll at Wayne State Law School, where his connection to Miller Canfield began.

“I was fortunate to be offered a summer associate’s position at the firm, which also led to a job offer when I graduated from law school in 1992,” said Palizzi, whose paternal grandfather immigrated alone to the United States at the tender age of 14.

When he joined the prominent Detroit-based law firm, Palizzi was assigned to the commercial litigation group. It proved to be a great starting point, where he learned from the likes of such Miller Canfield titans as Clarence “Rocky” Pozza, Carl von Ende, and Marjory Basile.

“Back then, I didn’t know the difference between a patent and a trademark, but I was surrounded by great teachers and mentors who were very generous with their time and were very patient with me,” said Palizzi of his early years at the firm that traces its roots to work in the public financing sector.

One of his early cases involved a trademark action involving Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and one of the leading manufacturers of commercial airliners, including the 747 “Jumbo Jet” aircraft.

On the one side was Miller Canfield client Boeing; on the other was Top Flight Entertainment, “an adult entertainment company” that operated a strip club in Wayne County that used “747” in its business name.

It was a classic case of trademark infringement in which Palizzi helped Boeing enforce its legally protected rights against the unauthorized use of the 747 label even if it came with an X-rated twist.

“The case, of course, attracted some media attention by virtue of the defendant involved,” Palizzi acknowledged while preferring to leave any other details to legal historians.

Palizzi was more willing to discuss another legal triumph when he represented the marketing company Valassis Communications in its anti-competition battle with News America, Inc., part of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. In that case, Palizzi was part of the trial team that helped Valassis obtain a $300 million jury verdict in Wayne County Circuit Court after an eight-week trial in July 2009.

The verdict, which reportedly was reached by the jury in less than a day, was the eighth-largest in 2009, according to Palizzi, and was made even sweeter when a second legal shoe fell on the defendant in a related case.

“As part of a comprehensive settlement – reached three days before the parties were scheduled to begin a second jury trial in federal court in Detroit – News America agreed to pay Valassis $500 million and enter into a 10-year shared mail distribution agreement with Valassis,” Palizzi indicated.

As co-leader of the firm’s nationally recognized Litigation and Dispute Resolution as well as Intellectual Property Groups, Palizzi also served as lead counsel for a Michigan pillow manufacturer – LMP Worldwide, Inc. – accused in a 2018 federal lawsuit of infringing trademarks owned by My Pillow, Inc.
Minnesota-based My Pillow, founded in 2004 by TV pitchman Mike Lindell who in recent years has gained another sort of fame in political circles, met its match in the legal pillow fight, as the court dismissed the company’s false advertising claims while also permitting LMP to assert various counterclaims.

“The case settled on confidential terms and resulted in a permanent injunction enjoining My Pillow from making various medical claims in its advertising,” said Palizzi, who was elected to Miller Canfield’s Board of Managing Directors in 2021.

When he was chosen to succeed Megan Norris as CEO, Palizzi was humbled by the appointment, stating, “I am honored to take on this new role and humbled by the trust placed in me,” adding that “we intend to remain exceptionally client focused.

“This is the foundation upon which our firm was built and why it has flourished over its storied 170-plus-year history,” he noted, while also praising Norris “as a selfless and stalwart leader during one of the most challenging times in recent history.”

Palizzi, whose mother Bonnie owned a framing design gallery in Birmingham, expects to serve about five years in the CEO role, guiding “an unparalleled group of lawyers, professionals, and firm leaders . . . With their help, I am confident that we will become an even stronger, more diverse, and market-leading law firm.”

A key part of the Miller Canfield team is a member of Palizzi’s family, his wife Elisa Angeli Palizzi, a 1989 University of Notre Dame grad who earned her J.D. from Wayne State Law School in 1994.

A former law clerk for the late U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, Elisa is a commercial and intellectual property attorney for the firm, and is a “terrific lawyer who specializes in trademark prosecution,” according to her husband.

The couple, who will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary this summer, have three children. Twenty-year-old Daniel, a product of University of Detroit Jesuit, is a sophomore pre-med student at Michigan State University. His twin siblings, Mia and Jack, are 17-year-old juniors at Notre Dame Prep and U of D Jesuit, respectively. All three have been key contributors on their high school swim teams.

“Let’s just say that my wife and I have spent a lot of time at swim meets over the years,” Palizzi said with a smile.

“It has been time well spent,” he added.

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