Get to Know Joe Cunningham


By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Joe Cunningham grew up in Detroit, the second oldest of eight children. He attended the University of Detroit Mercy for both an undergrad degree in accounting and his law degree.

Cunningham worked at Plante & Moran for 40 years as both a tax partner and a litigation support partner, and has more than 30 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. In 2010, he started his own practice with continued focus on family law financial, tax, and valuation support services.

Cunningham has been very active in both State Bar and local bar association committees. He served three 3-year terms on the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Section Council, and founded the Section’s Taxation/QDRO Committee, on which he continues to serve. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, Michigan Judicial Institute, State Bar Family Law Section, and the MICPA. He also is the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. He received the State Bar of Michigan John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award in 2004 and the Family Law Section Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

Cunningham’s office is in Troy, and his practice is statewide. He and his wife, Brenda, live in West Bloomfield.

What is your most treasured material possession? My wedding ring. Dare I say anything tops that!?

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
Law school is a mind-expanding experience. It is not for everyone but most find it a worthwhile intellectual pursuit in addition to a career pathway. Learning by the case method forces one to see both sides of an issue. Very few issues in life are cut and dried. Most have many shades of gray. This comes through loud and clear in the study of constitutional law – all U.S. Supreme Court cases. You read the majority opinion and think – “They nailed it!” But, then the dissent gives you pause. Two sides to every story.

Favorite local hangouts? Home on U-M football Saturdays.

Who is the most interesting person you have known?
The late Frank Moran, the driving force behind Plante & Moran. A philosophy major—not accounting or finance, but smart and savvy. His hallmark was his focus on the wellbeing of staff. He established progressive, enlightened personnel policies far before they became vogue. Frank was a fountainhead of wisdom. Some of his pearls were – “Virtue is its own reward”; “Adversity builds muscle.” He was a strong believer in the golden rule including that doing the right thing for the right reason was also the best course to follow for business success.

Favorite music? Broadway musicals.

What is your happiest childhood memory? Growing up with seven wonderful brothers and sisters in a house in Detroit on a 30-foot lot. What fun we had there.

What would surprise people about your job?
How stimulating it is because each case comes with its own set of challenges. You never stop learning new ways to resolve issues. I find that fulfilling.

How do you define success?
Having a positive effect on every situation you encounter – personal and professional. There is so much negativism in the world. Success is to effectively advance the wellbeing of others and worthy causes in all you do. Winston Churchill put it well: “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be? Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been?
The Lincoln Memorial.

What is your proudest moment as a lawyer? Receiving the SBM John Cummiskey Pro Bono Award in 2004.

What do you do to relax? I love crossword puzzles. I do one every morning. I also enjoy reading – biographies and mystery novels.

What is something most people don't know about you?
I had a very lethal form of brain cancer some 30 years ago and was given 10 months to live. Long story with a happy ending.

What is the best advice you ever received? The key to happiness is through others. Essentially the Golden Rule.

Where would you never want to return? The bar exam.

What do you drive? A Buick Enclave.

What would you drive if money were no object? 1930 Chrysler Roadster.

Favorite place to spend money? Barnes & Noble.

What is your motto? Never give up (also Churchill).