All that jazz: Labor lawyer finds his rhythm inside and outside courtroom

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 By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
 
David Calzone is a pretty busy guy.
 
He plays trombone in at least three jazz bands, tickles the piano keys, dips into woodworking by making small tables and other items, and occasionally squeezes in the odd wilderness canoe trip with his wife.
 
But that’s all just for fun.
 
In his real job, Calzone has carved out a niche as one of Michigan’s top labor and employment attorneys in a firm he and three others founded on Leap Day, February 29, 1996.
 
“That means we’ve only had four anniversaries here,” Calzone joked.
 
But in truth, the Bingham Farms law firm of Vercruysse, Murray, & Calzone PC has grown in 16 years from eight attorneys to 14, plus legal assistants and administrative staff, and is recognized as one of southeast Michigan’s go-to firms for labor and employment-related legal services, business immigration law and commercial and business torts litigation.
 
Calzone, 55, never imagined this life scenario after growing up in New York and graduating from the University of Michigan as an undergrad and its law school.
 
“No, I thought I’d be in a big firm as an associate, and hopefully as a partner,” he said. “But looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
 
He was born in Rochester, N.Y., and although neither parent attended college, Calzone said it was always his desire to go. He chose the University of Michigan in part because it was “an internationally prominent university,” and a family he knew in upstate New York had both parents graduate from there.
 
Calzone was interested in history in high school, and he also enjoyed writing, so he graduated from U-M in 1978 with a degree in history. Along the way he developed an interest in becoming an attorney. It also helped that his mother was a legal secretary, and he spent time with the attorney she worked for while still in high school. Although that attorney was in real estate, Calzone developed an interest in employment law. 
 
“I thought that one of the most important things people do throughout their life is their work, and I wanted to be involved in a legal area that impacted it one way or another,” he said.
 
Calzone applied to the U-M Law School after graduating, but was not accepted. Disappointed but not defeated, he attended the New York University School of Law for one year and was appointed to the law review there. He then decided to give the U-M Law School another try.
 
“It had been a goal, and I wanted to give it another shot,” he said.
 
He was accepted, and eventually graduated from the U-M Law School magna cum laude in 1981.
 
He took the required classes, but remained steadfast to his interest in employment law. Luckily, the school at that time employed several prominent labor and employment law professors. Calzone was instructed by “icons” such as Theodore J. St. Antoine and future U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Harry T. Edwards.
 
“And I also took a class from the fella whose name is listed first on our firm, Robert Vercruysse,” he said.
 
Calzone interned at a small New York firm for one year while he was in New York, and for a Detroit firm Butzel Long, when at the U-M Law School. After his second year at law school, he was hired there as a summer associate, and continued there after graduation and passing the state bar examination.
 
As a summer associate, he received assignments there from a number of different departments, but tried to get as many from the employment group as he could, and landed one eventually with the employment practice group.
 
“What I really wanted to do was get to the point where I was able to counsel clients,” Calzone said.
 
After working his way up to shareholder, Calzone and three other Butzel Long attorneys, all shareholders in the employment law practice group, decided to branch out on their own in 1996. As secretary, co-founder, director and shareholder, Calzone said the goal was to maintain a level of practice the four provided at the larger firm but on a more cost-effective basis for clients. 
 
“And I think we accomplish that,” he said. “And we wanted to have an extremely good work environment for the people who work here.” 
 
Calzone has been an integral part of that, and has garnered many accolades for his work and accomplishments in labor and employment law. He lists being selected by peers from across the country in 2002 as a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers a “very prestigious honor,” and takes equal pride in his involvement, as a member from 2000-09 and chair from 2007-08, of the governing council of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
 
He has written articles and lectured on employment law and is a member of a number of bar associations, both state and national. He also has an expertise in advising employers on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and other employment matters.
 
Calzone, who practices in both state and federal courts, said employment law has changed dramatically over the years, with more labor and employment law cases being tried before juries, significant increases in the application of insurance law, and the evolution of court decisions. 
 
“As case law has evolved, so has the nature of litigation,” he said.
 
He believes litigation in general in the area of labor law has declined, in part due to alternative dispute resolution, employers becoming more adept at managing the over-lapping requirements of the law, and practitioners doing a good job of advising clients on how to comply with regulations.
 
So enough with the legal stuff. Inquiring minds want the music story, okay?
 
Calzone said his parents believed he and his sister should be exposed to music, so he started playing trombone when he was eight and the piano when he was 10. Because of his musical aptitude back then, and his reasonably good pitch, he was steered toward those instruments.
 
At U-M, he played trombone in the marching band, but a woman who beat him out for a higher chair intrigued him, and he asked her out. Linda, who also got her degree from U-M, in music, later became his wife. They married in 1980, and live in Plymouth. She is a middle school band director for Plymouth Canton Community Schools. They have two children, son Patrick, 27, who also teaches in that same school system, and a daughter, Kathryn, 23, who is in Boston pursuing a career in opera.
 
While at U-M, Calzone marched in two Rose Bowls and Tournament of Roses Parades, one Orange Bowl and lived through away games at Ohio State University. 
 
“Those were interesting times,” he said of the OSU-U-M rivalries. “But it was a wonderful experience, and I met my wife there.”
 
Calzone has been back to U-M to play in the alumni band’s annual Homecoming Blast from the Past nearly two dozen times, work schedule permitting. And depending on the time of year, Calzone still plays in multiple bands, including the Oakland Community College Jazz Band, the Swing City Big Band, the Blue Steel Big Band and the Plymouth Community Band. He loves big band music, such as Glenn Miller and Count Basie, and small-group jazz.
 
Some of his gigs are paid, and others are free, but for Calzone, it doesn’t matter. He said the last time he got paid he earned the same amount he did when he was playing weddings in 1975.
 
“I enjoy music,” he said. “I enjoy playing music, and making music, particularly jazz. I enjoy the creativity of jazz and I like to improvise, and jazz provides an opportunity for that.”
 
Calzone also said he enjoys the people he has met through playing in bands, his wife makes a living at it, and his daughter is pursuing a career in music. 
 
“So to me, that’s always been a significant part of what I do outside of earning money,” Calzone said.
 
And he credits the discipline of music in helping with the quality and creativity of his writing and oral presentations in law, and the similarities of law and music.
 
“Good music has rhythm, pace, and cohesive, parallel phrasing, and when you take those concepts and apply them to writing and oral communication, I think that they translate. And when your mind thinks in those ways, they can translate from one to the other. So to the extent that my writing is impacted by the music that I play, I do think that some of that has a relationship,” Calzone said.
 
While both the law and music are his passions, he said there is a cross-over effect. 
 
“I’m not sure how much the law helps music, but I do think my music has helped me be a better communicator both orally and in writing,” he said.
 
Calzone said woodworking has been a hobby for most of his adult life, and he tinkers with finishing carpentry, building small tables or bookcases or other small items. 
 
“It’s a way to relax, a way to build things with my hands, and I found out after many years of trial and error that I could actually do it, that I wasn’t terrible at it,” he said.
 
He does see a similarity in playing jazz and woodworking, though. 
 
“It’s creativity. Particularly with jazz or blues, you’re creating and improvising,” Calzone said. “Jazz allows for free style improvisation, sometimes with melody, and sometimes just following a chord structure. And woodworking is very similar in that regard. You see a picture of something and you figure out how to go about building something that looks like that picture. Sometimes you have plans, sometimes you change the plans because it doesn’t exactly fit what your concept is.”
 
And the canoe wilderness trips? He and his wife own a Canadian cottage that belonged to his grandfather that they use to launch out on day trips and longer backcountry trips.
 
So how long can he continue with the law, playing music and canoeing?
 
“I’ll do it forever. Until I can’t do it anymore,” he said.
 
As they say in the music world: Encore!

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