Attorney brings his engineering experience to bear in law practice


Bodman attorney Matt Rechtien, who previously worked as a structural engineer, specializes in construction law, working out of the firm’s Ann Arbor office.


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Matt Rechtien’s engineering background came in handy early in his career, when he assisted a client who had suffered an industrial accident.

“As part of that work, I found myself climbing hundreds of feet above the ground on industrial equipment with a Michigan sub-zero wind blowing into me,” he says. “I didn’t expect that coming out of law school! But I was pleased to assist.”
Now an attorney with Bodman PLC in Ann Arbor, Rechtien excelled at math and science at East Lansing High School, making engineering a natural fit.

“My insatiable curiosity drew me to engineering – from my earliest age, I never, ever stopped asking questions,” he says. “It drove my parents nuts. Engineering is a discipline for exploring the answers to questions, a key to understanding how the world works and why.”

After earning his B.S.E. in civil engineering, summa cum laude, from the University of Michigan, and an M.S.E. in structural engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, Rechtien spent five years as a structural engineer at Walter P. Moore & Associates, an engineering consulting firm based in Houston.

“I enjoyed the sense of satisfaction in building something – literally, a building or structure, but figuratively, a legacy to be enjoyed by me and by the public for years to come,” he says.     

His structural engineering projects included the design of a corporate headquarters, an NBA arena, a massive exhibit hall, a high-rise Las Vegas casino, a university’s new business school, and many others.

From 2001-03, he worked on the design and construction of a large hotel and conference center in Austin, from the ground up, participating in the design team before being stationed in the field to observe its construction.

“The gratification of returning to, and staying at, that hotel seven years later to attend a bar conference was hard to match – a perfect blend of my past and current careers,” he says.

A passion for history and politics led Rechtien to flirt with the idea of law school from time to time.

“As an unrepentant history buff, I was particularly drawn to the nexus between the law and history, each ‘field’ intertwined with and reflecting the other,” he says.    

As luck would have it, he became involved in a project that was contentious from the get-go, resulting in his first interaction with lawyers on both sides. He was struck, and impressed, with the perspective that lawyers brought to managing and strategizing the disputes.

“It was completely foreign to me,” he says.  “It was fascinating and I wanted to learn to think that way.”

On the flip side, these lawyers knew very little about construction and engineering, the underlying substance of the dispute.

“I thought that, with a law degree, I could bring unusual if not unique expertise and credibility to a similar case or project,” he says.

Rechtien went on to earn his J.D., with high honors, from the University of Washington School of Law, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif, and of the Federalist Society, and had both an externship and a clerkship in Seattle.

Construction law was a natural fit. 

“I found it substantively interesting –but I also felt as though I could distinguish myself in it,” he says. “And I wasn’t prepared to walk away from maximizing the return on the 11 years of education and work I’d already invested in the field.”

Clearly it was an excellent choice. Rechtien was listed as a 2014 “Top Lawyer” by DBusiness magazine and has been recognized as a “Rising Star” in Construction Litigation by Michigan Super Lawyers from 2013-16.

A frequent author and speaker on insurance, construction, and engineering law, Rechtien does municipal work but litigation is a major part of his construction and insurance law practice.

“Litigation appealed to me from the earliest stages of my legal career,” he says. “I remember finding my first-year civil procedure and second-year evidence classes especially satisfying, despite their sometimes bland, underlying substance. They just felt to be what lawyers do. And, of course, I liked the competitive framework, the idea of making arguments, and the thought of honing briefs into efficient argument-delivery vehicles.” 

Rechtien, who served as 2013-14 president of the Structural Engineers Association of Michigan, approaches problems with both a lawyer’s and an engineer’s perspective. 

“While both are highly analytical, they are not always the same,” he says.  “I think clients benefit from that rigor and precision.

“And for construction law work, I bring to my clients an understanding of the non-legal aspects of their situation that’s unusual if not unique. I can ‘talk the talk.’ I know how to read plans. I understand how a construction project works and the terminology used in the industry. That’s a big advantage.”

His favorite cases synthesize the primary specialties of his law practice: construction and insurance. 

“I’ve had a chance to work on some cases like that recently, in particular representing an owner, in the wake of a major property loss, having to weigh claims against both the contractor on the one hand, and a property insurer on the other,”
he says. 

On another case, he assisted an engineer whose malpractice insurer denied a claim for coverage.

“I helped the engineer obtain relief from his insurance broker, who failed to obtain the proper insurance. In light of my background, I very much enjoy working with engineers – call it the camaraderie of the  profession.”

A native of Kirksville, Mo., Rechtien grew up in East Lansing. He and his wife, Darcy, make their home in Northville, with their children, Caitlin, 9, Audrey, 7, and Peter, 5; and where Rechtien’s leisure interests are sports, especially college football, hunting, and reading historical non-fiction and classic novels.

After working in Bodman’s Detroit office for several years, Rechtien relishes being back in Wolverine territory, in the firm’s Ann Arbor office. But he made a point of making his home midway between Detroit and Ann Arbor, getting the best of both worlds.

“I lived out of state for 10 years, which really makes you appreciate what this area has to offer – an affordable cost of living, a good wholesome place to raise children, and a water wonderland just hours to the north,” he says. 

“I’ve also enjoyed, over the course of the last decade, watching Detroit’s exciting rebirth.  It’s a great time to be a Michigander – there’s incredible potential and energy here.”