Competitive edge Lawyer/CPA helps others find their specialty niches


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

In today's economy, professionals need a competitive advantage -- and attorneys are no exception.

"There's too much competition to be a generalist. Having a unique skill that sets you apart from the competition is very helpful," says Ken Neuman, managing partner of Neuman Anderson, P.C. in Birmingham.

Neuman, who earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Michigan State University, is a registered Certified Public Accountant and spent several years with one of the Big Eight accounting firms before earning his law degree from Wayne State Law School.

A specialist in complex commercial litigation with a focus on corporate, real estate/construction and contract disputes, his ability to understand financial and accounting issues makes Neuman particularly qualified to handle most business consulting and litigation issues, where business valuation and lost profit analyses are prevalent.

"As a commercial litigator, my role is to bring information to a level that everyone in the courtroom can understand," he says. "I like the complexity of sophisticated business, accounting and legal issues and being able to simplify them for judges, juries and arbitrators."

He has litigated accounting malpractice cases both as a plaintiff's attorney as well as defense counsel.

"As a fellow CPA, I don't take pleasure in suing accountants," he says. "However, it's my job to ensure that if mistakes by the CPA firm are made, that the client doesn't suffer because of the accountant's negligence. The role of the accountant is huge."

"In a case I'm working on right now, a fundamental tax issue was missed, resulting in an approximately $50 million tax liability that could have been avoided. My training helps me to understand the tax and accounting issues in question, and to explain them to the judge and ultimately, the jury."

After a year in the honors political science program at MSU, Neuman decided his goals and objectives could be enhanced with a degree from the business school.

"After being exposed to the accounting program, I realized the ability to understand accounting concepts and financial reporting would give me a competitive advantage as a lawyer," he says. "It's definitely turned out to be a differentiator."

It wasn't an easy row to hoe.

"The process of getting two degrees back to back was tough, but turned out to be extremely helpful and was absolutely the right decision," he says. "After four years of undergraduate studies in accounting at MSU, then three years of law school, studying for the bar exam and then having to take the CPA exam, I was done with academics for a long time."

"However, in less than eight years, I walked away as an attorney licensed to practice law in Michigan, and was licensed as a Certified Public Accountant. It definitely gave me a competitive edge in the marketplace when it came time to find my first job as a lawyer."

He strongly recommends specialization to up-and-coming attorneys.

"Anything to differentiate yourself in law school and throughout your career is a tremendous advantage. Intellectual property lawyers, for example, have an engineering degree in addition to their law school experience. Health care law is another niche where the practitioners with experience in health care have an advantage."

He also shares his experience by mentoring new attorneys in the local legal community.

"Coming out of law school, attorneys starting their careers need to know the first steps -- there's a big difference between learning legal theory in law school and actually being a lawyer in the real world," he says.

"When I started out, I worked for a great trial lawyer who was my mentor. Watching him in action made me realize how crucial it is to have someone who's 'been there' walk you through the process. It's very hard to do this job well without some coaching. It would be like trying to teach yourself how to play golf. I'm blessed to be in this position 25 years later to help mentor the next generation."

Recognized by Super Lawyers magazine three years in a row as one of the top attorneys in Michigan, Neuman is a member of the Oakland County Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan, Michigan Association of Justice, Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants and American Association of Attorneys and CPAs. He is a frequent speaker at the continuing education seminars of the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants on litigation and expert witness related matters, and is also a former member of the executive counsel of the Michigan Association of Home Builders Remodelers.

He also serves as a court appointed receiver and facilitator for judges in Wayne and Oakland counties, and is a regular panelist for the complex commercial litigation division of the Oakland County Case Evaluation.

Neuman set his sights on a law career while still a student in Southfield Public Schools.

"I was always big for my age, and wound up being the kid sticking up for the little guys getting picked on," he says. "I guess law just felt like a natural fit."

When he was 10, his father's attorney friend took Neuman to visit a U.S. District Court, introducing him to a couple of federal judges and showing him the lock up, the judges' chambers and jury rooms.

"I was hooked," he says.

His studies at Wayne State Law School stoked the fires of his passion for law.

"The faculty at Wayne State was outstanding. There was a great balance of academic scholars and practicing lawyers, with real life experiences to keep it interesting," he says.

In his leisure time, Neuman enjoys spending time with his family and two dogs, and coaching his 10-year-old son in a variety of sports.

"My wife, my son and I are all big sports fans and enjoy playing tennis and golf, which we can do together as a family. I also like to read, am passionate about music and art, and take as many opportunities as I can to contribute to the community in volunteer work and pro bono legal assistance - most recently assisting with administrative legal issues for the Frankel Jewish Academy."

But most of all, Neuman is proud of the work he has accomplished as a lawyer.

"I hope my reputation is of someone who is a zealous advocate for his clients but who is fair, honest and reasonable."

As his practice continues to evolve, he is now in a new phase of his career -- going from being one of many partners in a firm where he had limited say in business decisions, to being the senior partner having to make the majority of the key business decisions.

"With two new team members joining us this month, and constantly growing our book of business, I look forward to the excitement 2012 is sure to bring."

Published: Tue, Mar 27, 2012