Upward bound

Miller Canfield attorney Mike McGee, pictured at the Mackinac Bridge, co-wrote an article about the ‘Mighty Mac’ on its 50th anniversary in 2007.
– Photo courtesy of Miller Canfield

Election setback set stage for a rise up legal ranks

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

With three degrees in hand from the University of Michigan, including a juris doctor from U-M Law School, Mike McGee was seemingly well suited for his first run for political office in 1984.

He had just returned to the Detroit area after beginning his legal career with one of the major firms in Chicago and was excited about the prospects of winning an open seat as the Democratic nominee for state representative in a district that encompassed the sprawling city of Livonia.

But like other Democratic candidates that presidential election year, McGee got tripped up by the Republican coattails of President Ronald Reagan, who breezed to a second term with a landslide win over challenger Walter Mondale.

“I got crushed,” McGee said with a laugh of his first bid for elective office. “It wasn’t pretty.”

While a political setback, the loss to Lyn Bankes – a Republican with whom McGee shared considerable common ground – offered the “loser” an opportunity to recalibrate.

“After taking some time off following the campaign, I couldn’t wallow in self-pity much longer,” McGee said with a grin. “I had to go looking for a ‘real’ job.”

Not surprisingly, McGee’s U-M pedigree proved to be a plus as he began his job search, canvassing the major firms in Detroit for the proper fit.

“At that time, in 1985, the landscape of Detroit firms looked much like it does today with a few exceptions,” said McGee. “The major firms then are still the major firms now, and I was looking for a place where collaboration was ingrained in their culture.”

A friend suggested that McGee give Miller Canfield a close look as a possible destination, a recommendation that turned out to be a life-changing move for the promising young attorney.

Now, some 35 years after joining the firm as a member of its Public Finance Group, McGee has earned his leadership stripes over the past seven years as Miller Canfield’s CEO, guiding a legal powerhouse that includes 240 attorneys spread across 18 offices in six countries.

“Obviously, I had no idea at the time that it would play out this way,” McGee said of his 1985 landing at Miller Canfield. “When I joined the bond department back then, I didn’t know anything about bonds, some would say I still don’t know anything about bonds, but it proved to be a perfect match for me, given my interest in politics and public service work.”

Despite a willingness to poke fun at himself, McGee proved to be a quick study when it came to the complex world of public finance, particularly as it relates to the issuance of bonds to fund an array of capital improvements and infrastructure needs.

"It's is a wonderful practice, combining so many elements,” McGee said in an earlier interview with The Legal News. “It offers intellectual challenge, because public finance is informed by three separate bodies of law – a state law, federal tax law, and federal securities law – which need to be addressed and balanced."

McGee was instrumental in helping form the Wayne County Airport Authority while simultaneously pursuing an airport bond financing project, all within a year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Similarly, helping to steer the $1 billion financing for the McNamara Terminal at Metro Airport was a professional thrill,” McGee said. “Being part of successfully spinning off Cobo Hall into a regional authority, which now is an example of how regional cooperation really can work, was very gratifying."

Miller Canfield and McGee also have long and strong ties to perhaps Michigan’s greatest symbol of public-private cooperation – the Mackinac Bridge, which at the time of its opening in 1957 was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

In 2007, the “Mighty Mac’s” 50th anniversary, McGee co-wrote an article, "The Lawyer and the Bridge: How a Public Corporation Lawyer Saved the Mackinac Bridge," for the State Bar of Michigan's Public Corporation Law Quarterly. The lawyer in question was an attorney from Miller Canfield, John Nunneley. Fittingly, McGee’s co-author on the article was Nunneley’s grandson, attorney John MacArthur.

"The article detailed the high-stakes efforts to stop the bridge financing at the 11th hour," McGee said. "It's a dramatic if little-known footnote to Michigan history.”

Now, McGee is coming to grips with the sometime tragic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, a crisis that seems to take a different shape on a daily basis. With an office in Shanghai, Miller Canfield leaders got an early glimpse at the potentially devastating effects of the virus by virtue of the firm’s connection to China, where the outbreak originated.

“We got a sense early on that this could grow in magnitude, so we had a plan in place for how we would approach our business operations,” McGee related. “We’ve been able to work effectively and efficiently by following that strategy.”

McGee has made a career habit of volunteering his time and talents, serving in the past as a board member of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and currently on the board of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan among many other worthwhile organizations.

“Helping out in whatever role I can is part of the joy of this job,” McGee said of his passion for volunteer work. “It helps feed my soul.”


Subscribe to the Legal News!


Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more

Day Pass Only $4.95!

One-County $80/year

Three-County & Full Pass also available



Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available