In the pipeline: Litigator specializes in energy and manufacturing industries

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Amy Johnston’s father was an entrepreneur when such individuals were rare, owning a wallpaper store, muffler shop, marina, computer data management company, equipment leasing company and commercial property developments at one and the same time.

“My father had an innate talent for managing commercial ventures,” Johnston says. “Profit and loss analyses were part of the family culture, with regular discussions centering on cost-containment and productivity evaluations that included legal consulting expenses.”

These family experiences translated to an understanding of the importance of efficiencies and effectiveness for Johnston, a principal and deputy leader of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group at Miller Canfield in Detroit, where she concentrates her practice on the energy and manufacturing industries. For more than 20 years, she has represented companies throughout the country with oil and gas, business and general commercial, mass tort, product liability, and personal injury matters.

She has represented major refiners and franchisors in all aspects of petroleum marketing-related counseling and litigation, including terminations pursuant to the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA) and multi-dealer litigation involving unfair pricing, product shrinkage, assignment and other franchise related issues in courts throughout the United States, including Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. In separately litigated matters, she has secured preliminary injunctions in various federal courts for trademark violations under the Lanham Act resulting from cross-hauling, misbranding, and other related trademark issues.

For businesses faced with litigation Johnston’s goals are twofold: (1) to reach the intended resolution or outcome in the most efficient manner; and (2) to handle the problem as her own. 

“My clients know I treat the litigation with a concern for the company as if I were the owner,” she says. “I really enjoy the relationships I have with many of my clients.  It is a team approach in achieving success.”

Johnston, who earned her undergrad degree from the University of Michigan where she was a member of Alpha Xi Delta, and volunteered with Hands Helping the Homeless, initially set her sights on following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a business entrepreneur.

“Yet, the more I learned about the law, the more intriguing it became,” she explains. “I was drawn to the law by a sense of justice – from a very young age, I was an advocate for fairness. In high school, I was repeatedly asked if I aspired to be a judge.”

Consistently listed as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Michigan since 2011 and one of the Best Lawyers in America since 2008, and honored for her leadership in Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2014 Women in the Law, Johnston is a Fellow of both the American Bar Foundation and the Litigation Counsel of America; The Trial Lawyer Honorary Society; a former chair and current vice chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy and Resources Petroleum Marketing Committee; and serves on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Lawyers’ Society, where she previously served as president and vice president.

Her trial skills were evident at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where she earned her juris doctor, cum laude, and was involved with the Law Review; Moot Court; American Inns of Court; Phi Alpha Delta; and Business Law Journal, and clerked for a trial boutique firm.

She tried her first case as second chair within a couple of months of passing the bar exam. 

“I quickly learned a trial lawyer does not have the benefit of a library of resources in the courtroom – instead she must be equipped with a thorough understanding of the legal issues and be able to anticipate opponent’s maneuvers,” she says. “It’s challenging, exciting, and rule-oriented.”

It can also be somewhat unusual. She once litigated a matter involving offshore natural gas drilling off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, Africa.  The case involved complex legal issues coupled with the challenges of communicating with international clients.

“It was very interesting to learn about the culture in Equatorial Guinea and also how off-shore drilling is accomplished – the technologies are incredible,” she says. 

Another memorable case was a shareholder derivative action involving a closely held company, where – on the eve of trial – Johnston and her colleagues uncovered evidence concealed by the minority shareholders.

“Its not often that the ‘smoking gun’ is actually found and used effectively, but we were able to do just that and achieve a great victory for the client,” she says.

Johnston also handles cases involving hydraulic fracturing – a.k.a. “fracking” – a process for enhancing oil and gas production that involves pumping water, sand and commonly a proprietary blend of other components into the oil or gas formation deep underground to release the oil or gas flow. 

“Michigan is well poised to continue to use this technology to extract natural resources in a safe manner that will bolster the economy, create jobs and assist with energy-independence,” she says.

Johnston shares her expertise by presenting on trial practice and procedure, and business and personal injury litigation issues. A speaker and moderator at various State Bar of Michigan, Ohio Bar Association and American Bar Association conferences, she also provides private presentations to large and small businesses on litigation considerations, including risk management, litigation avoidance, evidence preservation and alternative dispute resolution.

A native of Grosse Pointe, where she lives with her husband, David, and their three children, Johnston thrives on life in the Detroit area.

“I’ve always been devoted to Michigan, its schools, its Great Lakes and everything about it,” she says. “Residents of Michigan have a tremendous loyalty, perseverance, and dedication. I could not imagine living or working anywhere else.”

She and her family regularly volunteer by packing food boxes at Focus:HOPE, a nonprofit civil and human rights organization in Detroit; and also at various organizations distributing food to the homeless. 

“We believe in a sense of community and giving back to those in need,” she says.