By Sheila Pursglove
A highlight of attorney Ron Deneweth’s career was having multiple clients working on Ford Field, Comerica Park, and McNamara Terminal projects, many times for the same, out-of-state general contractor.
“It was very challenging,” says Deneweth, a specialist in construction law and president of Deneweth, Dugan & Parfitt in Troy.
On the flip side, one of the lowlights of his career was representing multiple contractors at the sprawling failed development, Bloomfield Park on Telegraph Road.
“Every time I drive to the Oakland County Circuit Court, I’m reminded as to what a failure that project became and how many Detroit contractors were hurt.”
A founding member of the firm more than 30 years ago, Deneweth specializes in construction, fidelity and surety, insurance disputes, and real estate/lending matters. Representing owners, contractors, investors, subcontractors, and sureties, he has also served as an arbitrator and/or mediator in nearly 300 insurance or construction-related disputes, as a member of the American Arbitration Association and in private cases.
“I know how expensive construction litigation can be and what a disruption it can be to one’s business,” he says. “I know that when I participate as an arbitrator or a mediator, I’m helping two businesses resolve their dispute as promptly and as cost-effectively as possible with a minimum of disruption to their businesses.”
Honored as a Top Construction Lawyer by Crain’s Detroit Business and dbusiness, as a Michigan Super Lawyer, and included in the Best Lawyers in America, and Michigan’s Top 100 Lawyers, Deneweth has been sharing his knowledge by teaching at his alma mater, Michigan State University College of Law, since 2008.
“I most enjoy the young people and their perspectives on life,” he says. “I hate the drive to and from MSU when the weather is bad, but I love it when I get into the classroom.”
His law students already have a good foundation in contracts and real property when they get to his class.
“I love it when they begin to grasp the risk-shifting concepts found in construction law that are inherent in the various project delivery systems,” he says. “I also get excited when students begin to grasp the concepts that are unique to construction law, such as pay when paid, construction liens, and surety bonding. These are also very challenging concepts for students to grasp.”
According to Deneweth, this is a solid career field.
“I don’t see LegalZoom.com branching out into the construction law field,” he says.
Author of several books and articles, he also lectures at the National Business Institute, Lorman Education Systems, Construction and Financial Management Association, and Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education.
The path to his successful law career was “dumb luck,” he says. After graduating from Cleveland’s John Carroll University in 1974 with a degree in economics, he learned about that topic the hard way: with the country in a recession, jobs were scarce.
Although accepted at the University of Michigan to study for an MBA degree, Deneweth could not afford to move to Ann Arbor and attend school full time. A job at a Southfield bank, buying and selling mortgages on the secondary market, allowed him to work while attending Detroit College of Law, where he earned his J.D., cum laude, in 1977. While attending DCL, he clerked for Merle Jenkins and Carl Schier, getting an introduction to his future specialty.
“They had a great construction and surety practice,” he says. “I worked for them full time after law school and loved the practice.”
Today’s law students face a much different ball game, he notes.
“When I went, you could have a minimum wage, part-time job and earn enough to cover your tuition and transportation. No one had any outstanding loans. Now, I understand my average student is carrying in excess of $100,000 in student loans.”
A huge Spartan fan who cheered the MSU team to victory in this year’s Rose Bowl, Deneweth was born on the Eastside of Detroit, grew up in Grosse Pointe, and attended Detroit Austin Catholic Prep School. He and Mary, his wife of 33 years, live in Bloomfield Hills. Their son, Ben, is a manager at a marketing analytics firm headquartered in New York, and daughter, Tina, is an options trader on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange.
In his leisure time, Deneweth enjoys tinkering with old cars, showering TLC on his ’55 T-Bird and ’66 Mustang. A self-styled “inconsistent and unremarkable golfer,” he hits the links in order to spend time with friends and to get some exercise.
“If they told me we were switching to fly fishing, I’d buy a rod and some waders,” he says with a smile.
He has served as chair of the Metro Detroit Y since 2010.
“Not the best of timing – I followed a great leader in Matt Cullen,” he says. “The YMCA Board is a truly a working board of directors who partner with the Y staff to achieve amazing outcomes. I feel the Y is the best organization around to make a positive impact on families and children in the Detroit area. I’m most proud of the three charter schools we opened in the City of Detroit during my chairmanship — it’s great to see the progress the kids are making in our Y schools.”