Holistic Approach: Former prosecutor's new firm reflects his 'passion for justice'


by Linda Laderman
Legal News

In recent years media reports (for example, http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/opinion/too-many-law-students-too-few-legal-jobs.htmlmobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/opinion/too-many-law-students-too-few-legal-jobs.html) that there are not enough jobs for the number of people newly graduating from law schools have raised concerns for the schools and students alike.

And while a 2015 employment report from the ABA reflected an uptick (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/employment_data_for_2015_law_school_grads_released_by_aba_
) in the employment numbers for new attorneys, there is no shortage of prognosticators who hedge their optimism in the law-related job market with a heavy dose of caution.

Those predictions have not deterred 31-year-old Southfield attorney Clarence Dass from making a career move that, in the current legal job market, others might find untenable.

A 2010 graduate of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, Dass recently left the relative reliability of a county job to start a law firm that bears his name. It was a decision that Dass said was motivated by requests for his counsel while he was serving as an assistant prosecutor in the Oakland County’s Special Victims Unit.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy leaving the stability of a government job, but I was starting to get requests from legal groups and I also wanted to help people on an individual basis,” Dass said, adding that as a result of his community outreach, he was increasingly referring people who could benefit from his criminal law experience to other attorneys.

Taking a risk is nothing new for Dass, who grew up in a family that left everything behind as they witnessed Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in their native Iraq.

“My parents were part of Iraq’s Christian population which is now a persecuted community. They saw what was coming very early and decided to leave,” said Dass, a first-generation American. “They had to start over when they came to this country. I think, ‘but for the grace of God that could have been me,’ so I try to help those who are coming here to escape violence.”

Branding his office as a law firm, rather than a solo practice, is part of Dass’s plan to engage the public by continuing to advocate for individuals and nonprofit groups after his legal services are no longer needed.
“Part of my mission is to connect my clients to the community in ways that assist them legally and even after their legal problem is solved. With a law firm, I can join with community partners to help my clients and also work with those partners to pursue projects aimed at improving the community,” Dass said.

According to Dass, by championing community engagement he is taking an approach that reflects his commitment to a philosophy “that practicing law does not stop at the courtroom doors.”

 “With changes in technology, economy and society, practicing law cannot be limited to the courtroom. We must change people’s lives beyond it,” Dass said. “I’m trying to take a holistic approach that allows me to use the resources I have for my clients’ benefit.”

Dass said he began to develop his resources and an affinity for criminal law when he worked for the Detroit law firm, Gurewitz and Raben, where he represented people and companies charged with crimes and regulatory offenses.

“At Gurewitz and Raben, I was doing cases related to white collar crime. I really fell in love with the process,” Dass said. “There’s a special camaraderie among criminal law attorneys.”

As an assistant prosecuting attorney, Dass handled such a wide array of criminal cases that he said he felt like “25 years of prosecutorial experience was crammed into five years.”

“Seventy-five percent of the special victim unit cases I did at the Prosecutor’s Office were related to abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and neglect issues,” Dass said. “In my own practice, I am also representing the type of victims I saw as an assistant prosecutor.”

Even though his father and sister are doctors, and his mother is an engineer, Dass said an experience in high school inspired him to veer away from the sciences and embrace the legal profession.
“My first interaction with the legal system happened while I was putting together a memorial to honor the victims of September 11, 2001,” Dass said. “That date was really important for me because it changed my view and showed me how that kind of work can come from a passion for justice.”

In 2016, Dass’s passion for his work was recognized by the Oakland County Executive’s Office when he was selected as one of the “Elite 40 under 40,” a distinction that Dass described as “humbling.”

“To be in the company of CEOs, professors, and other leaders was humbling and exciting at the same time,” Dass said. “I was especially honored because I was selected for my work outside the courtroom, particularly for helping domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse victims through organizations, resources, and other assistance.”

For the immediate future, Dass said he will continue to expand the scope of his firm by bringing in additional legal professionals.

“My goal is to bring in people from different backgrounds with different skill sets to be able to provide a well-rounded perspective for our clients,” Dass said. “I really believe this is a calling.”