Profile in Briefs

 Eric Carlson

Flying High

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
 
Eric Carlson planned to combine a career as an airline pilot with a legal career. But the terror attacks of 9/11 put an end to those dreams.
 
Carlson, now a principal with Miller Canfield in Detroit, became interested in flying during his freshman year at Western Michigan University, and earned his undergrad degree in aviation science and technology. But when he graduated in 1995, the market for airline pilots was in a tailspin.

Securing a charter pilot job in his hometown of Jackson, Mich., he flew small twin-engine aircraft around the Midwest for 18 months, before attending Wayne State University Law School. A law career had appealed since junior high, when he was in a carpool with a family whose father was an attorney. 

“I was fascinated by the stories he told and the conversations we had during our trips to and from school each week.” 

After graduation from Wayne Law, Carlson worked as an attorney for a couple of years, before deciding to combine his two passions; the job market had picked up and college friends were now securing airline jobs.  
Hired by Atlantic Coast Airlines (a.k.a. United Express and Delta Connection) he was put through training on a Jetstream 41 turboprop. His last day of training was 9/11/2001. 

“Needless to say, my career plan was turned upside down as the entire aviation industry went into crisis mode,” he says.  

Carlson stayed with the airline for 3-1/2 years, while running a small legal practice.  The airline laid him off in 2004 and filed for bankruptcy about a year later.  

“It’s unfortunate because I really could see my ultimate plan coming together if the airline would have survived,” he says. 

In light of the continued turmoil in the aviation industry, he returned to the full time practice of law.

Now Carlson flies high with Miller Canfield, where he helps automotive and other manufacturers protect just-in-time supplies of component parts produced by financially distressed or bankrupt suppliers, avoiding costly production interruptions. 

“It’s a delicate ‘dance,’” he explains. “Because OEMs and upper tier suppliers don’t maintain large parts inventories, a missed shipment can result in major problems, a scenario that’s not good for anyone, supplier or customer.”

Carlson advocates for his client in those situations to be sure losses for everyone are minimized and the supply chain does not have a catastrophic breakdown. 

“Negotiations can be very intense and clients expect an advocate who understands the business issues and the realities of failing to reach an agreement, not simply an attorney who knows their legal position and rights,” he says. “I often work with clients to weigh legal options against the business issues in order to develop a strategy that makes sense in the boardroom, not just the courtroom.”

In commercial transactions, Carlson counsels buyers and sellers on developing and negotiating the terms and conditions of supply contracts and purchase orders; and represents clients in commercial litigation, preference actions, fraudulent transfer actions and other bankruptcy litigation. He has extensive experience representing debtors, customers, suppliers and lenders in commercial bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings, financial restructurings, liquidations and out-of-court workouts.

In his field of bankruptcy, Carlson enjoys the variety and the opportunity to learn something new almost every day in a practice area with constant challenge. 

“Bankruptcy is often referred to as the last general practice because as a corporate bankruptcy attorney you need to know and understand all aspects of the law in order to be effective,” he says. “When we’re working through a corporate Chapter 11 case, issues involving real estate, corporate finance, corporate governance, taxation, litigation, labor, corporate transactions, secured transactions and more can all appear and must be dealt with in order to move forward.”

Carlson notes that bankruptcies have slowed since 2011, and that manufacturers that survived the recent recession appear to be doing well.  He often finds, however, that manufacturers can have just as many restructuring and insolvency issues during good times as during bad times - for instance, when customers increase orders and manufacturers are not prepared, problems can result. 

“Working closely with manufacturers on supply chain management issues, I can definitely say that my services in workout and restructuring can bring value long before bankruptcy is even on the table,” he says.
 “Working closely with clients on a regular basis, I’m often able to keep little issues from becoming huge issues.”

He once worked with a business owner who owned three separate manufacturers - and all three had fallen into financial trouble. The owner was sure bankruptcy was the only option. Working closely with him and his financial advisers, Carlson and his colleagues were able to keep the companies out of bankruptcy, restructure some of the operations and financial obligations and sell all three companies to third parties. 

“In the end, the owner walked away with a complete release of liability, the satisfaction that most of his employees still had work and even a small amount of cash — that was a success,” he says.

While Carlson is based in Miller Canfield’s Detroit office, he would welcome the opportunity to help manufacturers in his hometown of Jackson that are looking to restructure, sell or develop a succession plan. 

“It would be very satisfying to know I was able to help a Jackson area company continue in a successful way,” he says. “Likewise, winding down a company and/or guiding one through bankruptcy is a stressful process. Doing it the right way can have a long lasting positive impact on the community. Doing it the wrong way can be devastating for all involved. I would welcome the chance to help any Jackson area company do it the right way, if necessary.”

Carlson gives back to the Jackson community by serving as a consultant to the Youth Haven Ranch — a nonprofit camping organization for underprivileged children — founded in 1968 by his father Larry, and grandfather Morry on several acres in Rives Junction north of Jackson. 

“I was raised on the camp and watched the operation grow,” Carlson says. “My dad and younger brother Lars continue to operate it. Throughout the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with them on various Youth Haven issues, legal and non-legal. I’m always happy to offer advice or weigh in on options or strategy if asked.” 

Carlson, his wife, Marne, and children, Keira, Niklas and Kaiden, live in Pleasant Lake north of Jackson. An avid water skier, he grew up with the sport and competed during his high school and college years. 

“I’m now enjoying introducing my children to the sport I love so much,” he says. “I also enjoy hunting, lifting weights and all things summer.”

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