We asked our readers and more than 18,000 lawyers in metro Detroit to nominate accomplished attorneys for our Top Young Lawyers feature (those under 40 years old). From high-profile cases like Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding to the real estate transformation of downtown Detroit to international patent law involving a major automaker, the honorees have won cases large and small and, along the way, they helped drive growth and efficiency for their respective clients and employers.
Dana D. Woolen Pierre-Louis
Attorney, Finance and Securities
DTE Energy Co., Detroit
Total Lawyers: 35
Loyola University School of Law
Ten years ago, if someone told attorney Dana D. Woolen Pierre-Louis that she would be an in-house attorney for a Fortune 500 company, she wouldn’t have been the least surprised. “I always wanted to be a lawyer,” Pierre-Louis says. “When people asked in high school what I wanted to do, I would say, ‘I want to be general counsel of a Fortune 500 company,’ not even knowing what that entailed.”
The Lathrup Village native set her sights on becoming a business lawyer, and she studied organizational studies at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 2005, she created a five-year plan: Work for a large law firm in Detroit for two years before moving to a Fortune 500 company.
“If I have a goal in mind, I take the steps to do whatever I have to do to achieve that goal. I can’t do anything without a goal,” she says. “I have never been a person without a five-year plan. It might be more or less a loose plan, but I have certain goals I would like to hit within that time period, and that is how I guide my life.”
Her first step was to attend Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. As a student, Pierre-Louis had the opportunity to intern with her future employer, DTE Energy, in the legal department. It was there that she found her niche in securities and finance.
“I never really saw myself as a litigator,” she says. “I actually really loved the contracts. A certain piece of this area of practice is black and white, because we do have laws and regulations … that govern the type of work that we do, and disclosures that we provide on behalf of the company. That kind of intrigued me.”
Following graduation in 2008, Pierre-Louis landed a position as an associate at Dickinson Wright’s Detroit office. There, she was given the opportunity to work on sophisticated transactions such as working with multi-bank syndicated credit facilities.
“I was always told, ‘You need to get to a big law firm in order to get the fundamentals. That way you’ll be able to come into a legal department at a large company and bring some knowledge, talent, and experience.’ I would say working at Dickinson Wright definitely did that.”
Two years later, DTE Energy offered her a position as an in-house attorney in the securities, finance, and governance department. Today, she serves as issuer’s counsel and the lead attorney for DTE in connection with the hundreds of millions of dollars in securities that are offered every year by DTE Energy and its subsidiaries, DTE Electric and DTE Gas.
“I get the opportunity to learn the business part of it and become intimately aware of what business issues we’re facing and how the law impacts that,” she says. “I not only look at the legal aspects, but also the business interests and goals. I try to find ways to further my clients’ business goals while making sure everything is legal and we’re doing everything appropriately.”
Pepper Hamilton, Detroit
Total Lawyers: 21 (Detroit)
Columbia Law School
Bankruptcy attorney Deborah Kovsky- Apap mastered the art of juggling while attending law school and raising a family in New York. “My oldest was good training because she was born 10 days before (I started) my second year at law school,” says Kovsky-Apap, a West Bloomfield native. “You learn to juggle really quickly when you have those kinds of responsibilities. I had law school, law review, and learning to be a parent — but I think the biggest challenge was learning to get by on very little sleep.”
After graduating from Columbia Law School in 2003, Kovsky-Apap was hired as a full-time associate at the New York law firm of Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale). “I really liked the firm and living in New York, but it was very hard to be in the city with two small kids. After my second was born, I knew it was time to go back to Michigan. I interviewed at several firms, but Pepper Hamilton was the one I really felt a connection with.”
Although Kovsky-Apap never fashioned herself a bankruptcy lawyer, in 2005 she accepted a position with the firm’s corporate restructuring and bankruptcy practice group. “Often you run into brand-new legal issues, things you may not have encountered before, because it’s not like you’re working in a specific industry or area of law. There’s always something new to learn, as it covers such a breadth of areas of law.”
Kovsky-Apap, since being named a partner at Pepper Hamilton, has focused her practice on insolvency and out-of-court workouts. She amassed substantial litigation and trial experience in the areas of bankruptcy, commercial, and securities law. Most notably, Kovsky-Apap represented the City of Detroit in its Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.
“The nice thing about this area of practice is that there are many different things you can do because bankruptcy doesn’t fall into just one category, like litigation or transactional work. You can kind of dip your toe into a lot of different things dealing with bankruptcy.”
In addition, Kovsky-Apap has handled several pro bono matters on behalf of the ACLU. One notable case occurred prior to the 2008 election, when she and a partner helped restore the right to vote for dozens of citizens. Reflecting on her career, the mother of three children admits that balancing professional and family obligations can still be a struggle.
“We’re a service industry,” she says. “You’ve got to be there for the client. In an ideal world you would be able to take your four weeks of vacation, or your weekends would be sacred, or your time with your family would be sacred. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the reality. But there’s also a lot of satisfaction knowing that you’ve done a really great job, and doing the best you can for your client.”
Josh E. Ney
Brinks, Gilson, and Lione, Ann Arbor
Total Lawyers: 160
University of Michigan Law School
For intellectual property attorney Josh E. Ney, the decision to pursue a career in law was, more than anything, influenced by his passion and dedication to the field of science and technology.
While working toward his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan, Ney briefly considered a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Worried that such a path would offer little more than being confined to a laboratory, he did what any avid scholar would do: He went back to school.
“I decided while I really liked science, and found science interesting, I wasn’t sure being a chemist behind the bench was something I wanted to do as career,” Ney says. “I saw patent law as a great opportunity to continue being involved with the forefront of science and technology but, at the same time, experience the broader scope of the two.”
Upon completion of his Ph.D. in 2007, Ney attended the University of Michigan Law School to pursue a career in intellectual property law. He had an opportunity to work as a summer associate for Brinks, Gilson, and Lione’s Ann Arbor office, and was offered a full-time position after graduating in 2009. As it worked out, his extensive background in chemistry allowed him to focus his practice almost exclusively on pharmaceutical patent prosecution and litigation.
“I think my clients appreciate having someone they can converse with on a higher level when describing their product, as opposed to having to teach me the basics of the science behind it,” Ney says. “If I’m drafting an application or covering an invention that my client has made, my background has given me the advantage of having the ability to draft that application without needing every single detail about the technology.”
Ney says his biggest accomplishment so far has been successfully representing a large pharmaceutical company under the Hatch-Waxman Act, which passed in 1984 and helped launch the large-scale production of generic drugs. “The company was able to get the product on the market three years earlier than they otherwise would have,” Ney says. “That, of course, was a great financial benefit for them.”
On the prosecution side, Ney has managed several patent portfolios for small pharmaceutical companies. He has largely managed the patent application of two particular drugs for two pharmaceutical companies: one for male urinary tract symptoms and the other relating to a treatment of cardiovascular disease.
“The best thing to learn is how to be detail oriented for this career, and the research experience from graduate school definitely helped me with that,” Ney says. “Being attentive to detail, making sure you’re crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s, is very important. In research you have to be very attentive to the details that may not jump out at you upon first glance, but could potentially change the course of your entire case.”
GM Co., Detroit
Total Lawyers: 86 (U.S.)
Syracuse University College of Law
Stephanie Jones was a medical school-bound senior at Michigan State University, studying biochemistry, when she realized that law was her true calling. While working on a semester-long project on genetics, Jones was attracted to the legislative aspects of the field.
“Part of my review included looking at IP (intellectual property) law and legislative policy,” Jones says. “I fell in love with (the) law behind the science, and the law that supported the science. It was then that I decided I no longer wanted to go to medical school. I wound up calling home the fall of my senior year and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to law school.’ I think he thought I had lost my mind.”
A year later, Jones was enrolled at Syracuse University College of Law in a program tailored to IP and corporate law. She gained ample professional experience working as a summer associate at Troy-based Harness Dickey, where she would eventually spend the first eight years of her law career as outside counsel.
“All the lessons I learned through drafting patent applications and litigation, the due diligence work, the M&As, and just the variety of things that you do at a firm of that caliber made a wonderful baseline for me in my current role at General Motors.”
As lead patent counsel to the global R&D business unit at GM, Jones provides general IP and patent advice, negotiates and drafts agreements for the automaker’s global academic programs, and manages an annual patent budget in excess of $10 million.
“The thing I like most about R&D is that I’m always required to learn something new,” she notes. “The docket that I manage doesn’t just relate to the chemical arts; it involves electronic controls, vehicle parts, engine systems, business methods, and analytic information — just a variety of things that really allow me to stretch.”
Jones helps oversee the operational side of R&D facilities in the U.S., China, and Israel, and often finds herself working with facilities from all three countries in one day — an aspect of the job she finds both rewarding and challenging.
“Working with a global workforce through R&D, you can’t have a ‘me first’ mentality. The challenging thing is making sure you’re not only thinking of General Motors in Detroit, Michigan, (but that) you’re also considering the needs of your partners, suppliers, and your business partners. I make sure to consider the product from the global perspective, not just from my little desk and chair.”
Still, she says patent law doesn’t limit her. “The opportunities are always evolving and they’re endless. I really enjoy working with a business team. I enjoy taking all of these skills I’ve gathered working for a law firm, from drafting patents and to counseling, and putting (them) together for one project, for one client.”
Allison R. Bach
Dickinson Wright, Detroit
Total Lawyers: 176
Wayne State University Law School
When Allison R. Bach graduated from Wayne State University Law School in the winter of 2004, she was still unsure of what type of law she wanted to practice. One thing she was sure of was that the law firm of Dickinson Wright — where she worked as a summer associate — was where she belonged.
Bach began her career as a general litigation associate in Dickinson Wright’s Detroit office the following spring, three weeks before Collins & Aikman, the once-prominent Southfield-based automotive supplier, filed forbankruptcy. Having previous experience working on a bankruptcy case as a summer associate, she covered hearings and examined pleadings.
“I really enjoyed bankruptcy, and the law behind it,” Bach says. “It was (one) of the first big automotive suppliers to file for bankruptcy, so I thought it would be interesting. That experience ultimately led me down the path to specializing in bankruptcy law.”
It turned out to be an opportune time to pursue a career in bankruptcy law, as the next five years saw many more automotive suppliers meet the same fate. Bach eventually moved on from the automotive sector to concentrate exclusively on financial services.
Now a partner at Dickinson Wright, Bach focuses her practice on advising and representing secured lenders and other creditors in out-of-court workouts and restructurings, bankruptcy proceedings, and enforcement litigation. Additionally, she gained experience counseling aviation lenders in the repossession and disposition of aircraft.
“It’s not something I ever contemplated that I would do when I got out of law school,” Bach admits. “When I first started at Dickinson Wright, we had a client who financed farm equipment. I started on the finance side in helping that client repossess and take back equipment when the counterpart of the contract didn’t pay. Eventually I thought, if I can repossess a dump truck or a tractor, I can repossess other things.”
Bach’s specialty in aircraft repossession started at the peak of the financial crisis in 2008, when many businesses were unable to make their loan payments. The opportunity arose when a banker from an unrelated case asked her if she knew anything about repossessing airplanes. It didn’t take long to figure out that the legal process of repossessing aircraft was not much different than that of farm equipment.
“Once you repossess a plane, you can pretty much repossess anything,” Bach says. “We have also repossessed helicopters, yachts, (and) anything that can be considered ‘unusual collateral’ to pay back a loan. That quickly became my niche.”
While Bach finds the practice of bankruptcy law rewarding, she admits it can be difficult to remember the other side of a case — which, in most situations, is the borrower.
“The challenge is to remember the people,” she says. “Bankruptcy is a bad situation for everyone involved, but you have to make the best out of that bad situation. My job is to determine how I can make the best out of a bad situation for my client — how can I maximize their recovery? — and, at the same time, be respectful of the other side.”
Aaron E. Bass
Honigman Miller, Detroit
Total Lawyers: 216
University of Michigan Law School
Three years of structuring real estate securitizations and bundling commercial mortgages on Wall Street prepared Aaron E. Bass for a career in real estate law, but he never expected to be on the leading edge of redeveloping downtown Detroit.
“Law school definitely helps, but I don’t think you learn as much in law school,” Bass says. “You mostly learn theory. I think my work on Wall Street really (helped me) understand the deals and how they work, (as well as) the terminology.”
Working for Gramercy Property Trust (formerly Gramercy Capital Corp.), a real estate investment and asset management company, Bass lived and breathed finance and real estate. “There’s no greater place to be for finance, particularly real estate finance, than New York,” he says. “It was a great job, but one that demanded 120 hours per week. It was tough to keep in touch with my friends and family back in Michigan.”
When the recession hit, Bass, a native of West Bloomfield, saw an opportunity to return to his roots and seek other real estate finance opportunities. “I knew the finance side of real estate pretty well, but I wanted to learn the legal side. I thought, what better way to ride out the recession than in law school?”
Bass returned to the University of Michigan, where he received his BBA at the Ross School of Business, and entered law school. His focus was on transactional law with a concentration in real estate, and he worked as a summer associate at two large firms: Detroit-based Honigman Miller in 2009 and Southfield-based Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss in 2010.
Bass accepted a position at Jaffe Raitt as an associate in 2011, practicing a combination of real estate and corporate law. “Coming out of law school, especially just after the recession, I didn’t expect the real estate jobs to be out there,” he says. “Instead, I found myself working on general corporate transactions and mergers and acquisitions. It was good experience, but ultimately just reaffirmed my passion for real estate.”
His big break came in 2012 when Howard Luckoff, a partner and real estate attorney at Honigman Miller, approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse — the opportunity to work with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services, an affiliated company of Quicken Loans Inc. Since 2010, Bedrock has acquired some 40 buildings in Detroit’s central business district, including the Chase, First National, and Federal Reserve buildings. Gilbert and a few partners also co-own the Greektown Casino Hotel in Detroit, as well as gambling operations in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
“(Luckoff) asked if I’d be interested in coming back to Honigman to help out with some of the downtown Detroit real estate work and the casino properties he represents,” Bass says. “I knew what his team was doing was something you wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to ever do again. The revitalization of Detroit only happens once.”
Bass has been an associate at Honigman for the last two years, representing the retail, industrial, and office arenas. As one of the youngest lawyers in metro Detroit, Bass attributes his success to his long-standing passion for business and real estate. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you aren’t going to be good at it, and you’re not going to be as good for your clients. You won’t be successful if your heart isn’t in it.” db