Ties that Bind


Southfield attorney sports deep legal roots

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As a commercial litigator, he prefers a style that is “full speed ahead,” which is a legal approach that attorney Ethan Holtz may have inherited while working for one of New York’s topflight law firms during the last decade.

It also may serve as a fitting description for how fast Holtz changed his mind about pursuing a medical degree during his freshman year at the University of Michigan.
“One class in biology was all it took for me to determine that I was better suited for a career in the law,” said Holtz, now 39, and a partner with the Southfield-based firm of Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer, & Weiss.

In fact, Holtz seemingly was destined to become a lawyer, considering the legal roots that run deep throughout his family. His parents, Judith and Albert, are well known attorneys in metro Detroit, while his sister, Meredith, serves as an in-house counsel for a major title company.

“Both of my mother’s brothers are also attorneys, as were her father and grandfather,” Holtz said, acknowledging that the “handwriting was on the wall” about his career track.

Raised in West Bloomfield, Holtz earned his bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern and North African Studies at U-M. He decided to attend law school at Fordham University after considering the possibilities at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

“The temptations of Miami were probably too great, so I elected instead to attend law school at Fordham, right in the middle of New York City and its even greater temptations,” Holtz said. “Make sense of that.”

Eventually he did, however, working his way to become associate editor of the Fordham International Law Journal and a member of the Moot Court team at the school that counts the late Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate, among its alumni.

After taking the New York bar exam in the summer of 2001, Holtz joined a friend for a month-long trip through Europe, returning to his tiny studio apartment in Manhattan three days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I was out jogging in Central Park when the second plane hit the World Trade Center,” Holtz said. “I could see the smoke plume when the buildings started collapsing. It was a surreal experience for everyone in the city that day, as thousands upon thousands of people were milling around in the streets, trying to make sense of what happened. To make it even more real, my best friend was scheduled to start work the following week in Tower 2.”

Later that year, Holtz began work with a New York firm where he gained experience in commercial litigation. After two years there, he joined one of the city’s premier law firms, Morrison Cohen LLP, where his “legal education” would begin an altogether different chapter.

“It was a sink or swim place, where clients demanded perfection and you, as a lawyer, were expected to deliver the same,” Holtz said. “There wasn’t any hand-holding of new associates.”

While there, Holtz worked on cases involving such clients as corporate activist investor Carl Icahn and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

“It was fascinating to work on cases involving some of the titans of the New York real estate and business worlds, and to be able to respond to the type of pressure that those kinds of demanding clients apply,” he said. “That kind of experience was priceless.”

Holtz counted one of the firm’s “top rainmakers,” Y. David Scharf, as a valued mentor, learning “many important lessons” from the noted trial lawyer.

“One of the biggest lessons I took from David is that confidence can go a long way in building your career,” Holtz said. “It sounds simple, but the importance of it can’t be underestimated when you’re dealing with the stakes we consistently see in commercial litigation.”

It also helped Holtz weather the storm of the 2008 economic crisis, when it appeared that “everyone tied to finance” was losing their jobs.

“The sky fell in the fall of 2008 when Lehman Brothers went belly up and other firms started laying off associates by the dozens,” Holtz said. “It was a wild, wild time, and everyone was petrified every day about whether they would have a job when they got into work.”

A year later, Holtz and his wife, Dana, welcomed their first child, Linley, eventually setting in motion thoughts about leaving New York for the warmer climes of Florida or for the familiar surroundings of the Detroit area, where most members of their families resided. The couple now has three children, ranging in age from 5 to 1.

“Kids grow up way too fast in New York, and that definitely was a determining factor in wanting to relocate,” said Holtz, whose wife is a former fashion publicist. “One of the concerns about moving back to Michigan was whether there would be any jobs available. The state, principally because of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, was a mess economically and legal jobs were not very plentiful. But my wife and I both felt a deep connection to the Detroit area and decided that this was the place we wanted to raise our children, so if we could find a way to make it work, we were going to.”

So, despite the grim outlook, Holtz decided to apply to five firms in metro Detroit, landing an interview with each in early 2010.

“I knew right away that Jaffe was the one,” Holtz said. “I was impressed with the people I met and how well managed the firm was to have made it through the downturn without having to lay off anyone. I also liked the size of the firm and the type of entrepreneurial client they cater to, and I wanted to be part of the re-boot that was going on in the state. In a sense, Michigan is like the Wild West where everyone is out there looking for gold. Despite what all the media was saying about Detroit, it was actually an incredibly exciting time to be moving back here and part of the economic renaissance that is going on.”

Three years after joining Jaffe, Holtz was named a partner with the firm, where he has “developed a sophisticated litigation practice representing public and private companies, and high net-worth individuals,” according to Jaffe CEO Bill Sider. In the fall of 2013, Holtz was honored by Super Lawyers magazine with its “Michigan Rising Star” recognition awarded to some of the “finest up-and-coming attorneys” in the state.

On occasion over the last few years, Holtz has crossed legal paths with his father, Albert, who is Of Counsel with the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Lipson, Neilson, Cole, Seltzer, & Garin.

“We have served as co-counsels on several cases, which has been quite an interesting experience,” Holtz said. “My father has had a long and distinguished career in the law, as has my mother, who has served as a district court magistrate. I have learned so much from both of them.”

His parents may have passed along their lifetime interest in politics to their son, who served as an intern in college to a pair of U.S. Senate legends, Ted Kennedy and Carl Levin.  Holtz remembers well accompanying the Michigan Democrat on a high speed car ride through the streets of Washington, D.C. as a harried Senator Levin raced to make a meeting with the prime minister of Israel, only to get pulled over for speeding. After a few brief words with the police officer, Senator Levin was “off again, leaving the officer in the dust” as he hurried to make the meeting, ordering Holtz to stand watch over the car so it didn’t get towed.

“More recently, I pounded a lot of campaign signs into the ground for one of my former (Jaffe) colleagues, Karen McDonald, when she ran for Oakland County Circuit Court,” Holtz said. “It reminded me of helping my dad when I was 9 or 10 years old with some of those campaign sign duties when he was working on Jessica Cooper’s run for the bench. Good memories, for sure.”