Building 'unions': Attorney handles several 'first ever' finance mergers

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
Attorney Michael Bell opened his first savings account at the age of 10, at United Federal Credit Union.  Nine years ago, the UFCU became the first credit union client for Bell, who is now a partner at Howard & Howard in Royal Oak.  
“It grew from there and I now represent credit unions across the country,” he says. “I am fortunate to have a national practice and I’m helping credit unions grow through M & A, including buying banks.”
Bell’s specialized work includes a few “first-ever” industry mergers: in 2011, he completed the first ever purchase of a bank by a credit union; and the following year, completed the first ever purchase of a stock-owned bank by a credit union. He is currently working on several other “first-ever” cross-industry transactions, becoming a “go-to” legal adviser in this field.
“CUs serve an interest niche, making up less than 7 percent of the financial services market as a whole,” he notes. “There are nonprofit and cooperative institutions. They have strong missions of supporting and giving back to their members—their customers—and their communities. It’s a real pleasure to help CUs grow and prosper.” 
His work with state and federally chartered credit unions throughout the country includes mergers and acquisitions, strategic planning, compliance and risk management, loan documentation and review, workout and foreclosure services, contract review and negotiation, property acquisition and highly sensitive employment and personnel issues. He also advises credit unions on regulatory matters including issues with National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and state regulators and provides strategic and legal advice in the area of Credit Union Service Organizations (CUSO). 
Outside of his legal work, Bell is an entrepreneur involved in multiple ventures throughout the Midwest, including the development of Class A commercial office space, development and operation of a quick-service franchise, and the area development of a franchise restaurant—and draws on his personal experiences when counseling entrepreneurs. 
“I represent business of all types from agriculture to sea captains,” he says. “Being in business myself, I know what it’s like to sign both the front and the back of a check. I understand their business and the issues surrounding them, which helps me provide the best legal advice.” 
Bell has also represented developers in more than 80 residential and commercial real estate developments across Michigan and Indiana. Issues include site selection and due diligence, business entity selection, preparation of condominium and subdivision documents, and structuring complex real estate financial transactions, as well as legal strategy and advocacy on zoning, land use, and property issues before local, county, and state governmental agencies.
A Michigan Rising Star, Super Lawyer, and Credit Union Times “Trailblazer 40 under 40,” Bell has been on a fast track since receiving his undergrad degree in political science, magna cum laude, from Adrian College—where he was since honored with the Young Alumni Achievement Award. He earned his J.D., with honors, from Valparaiso University School of Law; and was a partner at Kotz, Sangster, Wysocki in Detroit, and at Desenberg, Colip, & Bell in his native Buchanan in west Michigan, before joining Howard & Howard in August 2012.  
Born in Benton Harbor, and raised in Buchanan, Bell currently makes his home in Beverly Hills. An advocate for animal welfare, last year he was appointed by Gov. Snyder to the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine. He is also very involved in Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan, serving as president of JA of Michiana before he relocated. Currently an active volunteer for JA of Southeastern Michigan, he teaches a high school class each semester.