Dedication to litigation: Helping clients resolve personal, financial matters


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Disputes are like puzzles — and attorney Dave Hutchinson enjoys trying to solve and figure out puzzles. 

“Also, I’ve always liked numbers and I enjoy disputes that involve understanding them,” said Hutchinson, owner of The Law Office of David J. Hutchinson, a small, private firm in Ann Arbor focusing on general civil litigation.

Bankruptcy, real estate and the economic part of family law all involve numbers, he said, as do many commercial disputes.   

“I love the fact that each new dispute is a learning experience,” Hutchinson said. “You learn about business practices, manufacturing, sales, and
many different things by being forced to understand them to properly prepare for the matter before you.”   

And some of those learning experiences are a little offbeat. Two decades ago, Hutchinson handled one of the first ever fights between former
spouses over frozen embryos.    

“It was a lot of learning and a lot of fun,” he said. “I still hear from that client on a regular basis.”     

Very recently, Hutchinson had a case involving potential spousal support in a case with significant assets, and was intrigued by the lack of evolution of spousal support law in Michigan.    

“It really needs some updating — most of the judicial language we have in Michigan in this area dates back to the way things were in the 1950s and really doesn’t apply today,” he explained. “The law is so loose and open ended that trial court judges can do just about whatever they want for almost any reason they see as appropriate, and there is little chance of a reversal. We need better and clearer standards that work in today’s

A relatively unique area of the law is bankruptcy preferences, and Hutchinson enjoys working with business clients to make it through these cases as efficiently as possible.    

“Most companies run into these situations from time to time, and they are often befuddled by the fact that one of their customers has failed to pay them and then the Bankruptcy Court is trying to get them to pay back some of the money they actually did receive,” he noted. “This happens when a company in bankruptcy has paid bills within the three month period prior to the case filing.”

To effectively ‘level the playing field’ for all creditors, Hutchinson said, the court “seeks repayment of these moneys so no creditor is ‘preferred’ over another based upon payments made in the weeks leading up to the formal filing.”    

The basic concept “usually seems counterintuitive to the uninitiated,” Hutchinson said, “but   when one understands the system and how it works, it actually makes a lot of sense in most cases,” he added. “One nice thing about the bankruptcy arena is that everyone understands resources are scarce, and most lawyers do a good job of seeking reasonable settlements and minimizing legal costs.”   

Hutchinson has a good foundation in numbers, having earned his undergrad degree in economics, with distinction, from the University of Michigan, following in the footsteps of his father, an economics professor.   

After earning his J.D., with honors, from Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, and not yet interested in practicing as a lawyer, he spent two years teaching legal research and writing to students at Wayne State University Law School.    

“I had just been a law student, so I really understood where they were coming from, their fears and excitement,” he said. “I was close to their age — and younger than many of the night students — and that made it more fun.    

At the same time, as this was a period when computer-aided legal research was just beginning, Hutchinson said he enjoyed “learning about and then teaching about how to do this new form of research that today’s students take completely for granted.”

“I learned to research by primarily using indexes in the back of books — today’s students never heard of such a thing,” he added. “This was the beginning of what everyone now knows as a computer search.”   

Hutchinson then spent two years clerking at the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

“Watching and learning from Judge Charles Joiner and from all of the very good lawyers who appeared before him was great, but one gets spoiled watching that and then having to be a new lawyer in the real world,” he said. “Eventually, I just had to become a real lawyer, and it turned out,
thankfully, that I actually like it.”   

Hutchinson joined Hooper Hathaway in Ann Arbor, a general practice firm where he spent 14 years as a litigator.

“It’s a very good law firm, where I learned a lot from some wonderful lawyers,” he said.    

Since hanging out his own shingle in 1994, Hutchinson has handled a variety of matters.

“I really enjoy being able to educate people about how the law affects their particular situation,” he said. “Each new matter is a learning experience for me and the client and I relish the things I learn about the world and the people in it.”    

In many cases, he finds people start out fearful of the law and how it might affect them.

“I enjoy helping them see the law is really pretty sophisticated and fair in most circumstances,” Hutchinson said. “I greatly appreciate clients who want to listen and learn and especially those who convey back that I’ve explained things in a way that makes them understand the situation better and eased their fears.”    

Hutchinson will pursue mediation if it best serves a client.

“I think a big part of a lawyer’s job in any dispute is to try to help the client find an amicable way to end that dispute,” he said.

“Long before the term ADR existed, good lawyers were doing this all the time,” Hutchinson said. “It bothers me greatly that one must take a 40-hour course in mediation in order to able to formally call oneself a mediator. I think law school and years of practice should be recognized as sufficient training. We are all mediating constantly.   

Hutchinson recalled that his wife, “a teacher with decades of experience, was once told that she would have to take a course in handling children before she would be permitted to be a Girl Scout leader.

“These seem similar to me,” he said.   

Hutchinson also serves as a trustee in family farm bankruptcies.

“When the law setting out special rules for family farmers was passed in 1986, the Detroit court wanted someone from outside the urban center to deal with these cases,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with these farmers and have been very impressed at the work ethic most have shown over the years.”   

Hutchinson, who lived in Ann Arbor through third grade at Eberwhite Elementary School, then grew up in Newark, Del., where his father taught at the University of Delaware. He returned to “Tree Town” to attend the U-M.   

He and his wife Kris, who is retired from teaching special education and fourth grade in Ann Arbor schools, live in Ann Arbor as do daughters Elise, a financial analyst, and Marisa, a school psychologist and synchronized skating coach.   

In his free time, Hutchinson enjoys spending time with family, friends, or following University of Michigan sports.

“Like many folks, I love Ann Arbor’s college town atmosphere — having grown up in them with my dad being a professor — and I’m one of the many overly enthusiastic fans of Michigan athletics,” he said.