Charting a course: Attorney brings creativity and strategy to helping clients through bankruptcy

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Bankruptcy can be a very creative process, according to Julie Beth Teicher, a shareholder at Erman, Teicher, Miller, Zucker & Freedman in Southfield.

"There are many constituents in a bankruptcy case, especially in a re-organization," she explains. "The different parties usually have different interests. Formulating a plan that solves both the debtor's problems and satisfies the creditors' interests requires strategy and creativity.

"Also, bankruptcy pulls in from a lot of different areas of the law, so you need to know how to handle many types of legal issues in a business bankruptcy case."

Teicher, now an expert in this field, had her first experience with bankruptcy cases when she began working with Earle Erman in 1983, a year after graduating from the University of Detroit School of Law.

"I was always interested in law that involved a code," she says. "My practice has been pretty evenly split between debtor and creditor work. The work has been more heavily weighted toward business cases. As far as individual/consumer debtor work, the clients I represent are generally professionals, individuals who have business-related debt, or individuals who have some very interesting or unique issues."

Once the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) was enacted, Teicher focused almost entirely on business-related matters, representing both creditors and debtors. She has represented institutional lenders as creditors in consumer bankruptcy matters (both Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 cases), and has experience in out-of-court workouts for both business and consumer debtors.

She also has experience representing Chapter 7 trustees, and has acted as a receiver in state court, federal court and other insolvency matters--something requiring a lot of organization and attention to detail, she says.

"I think it's fair to say that it probably satisfies part of my 'Type-A' personality--the same with representing receivers. It's critical to stay on top of what's happening in a case, to make sure that, if there is a liquidation of collateral, all of the components to get to the liquidation or sale are in place, and that you've addressed the various issues that arise, such as tax issues, real estate liens, and other secured creditors' rights."

In a recent case, acting as counsel for a receiver, Teicher had to deal with issues under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930.

"There's always an opportunity to learn about new matters in this kind of work," she says.

A certified bankruptcy court mediator, Teicher likes helping people try to solve their conflicts.

"It's important to be respectful of all of the parties in a mediation, and sometimes, people just want to tell their story, then they're willing to resolve the issues," she says. "It's very satisfying to have a mediation come to a successful settlement. There's also satisfaction in knowing that I'm assisting the court in moving a case to resolution."

Perhaps it was no surprise that Teicher followed in the footsteps of her father, Harry Klein, an attorney at Legal Aid and Defender for about 40 years, then agency counsel for United Community Services of Detroit. Most of his work was in Wayne County.

"We always had discussions around the dinner table about interesting cases, legal issues and civil rights," Teicher says.

For a while, however, she did eye some other career options. She earned her bachelor's degree, with honors, from James Madison College at Michigan State University, with a "core" in Urban Community Policy Analysis.

"I was always interested in the history and sociology of cities and their residents," she says. "It was a great program. I remain in touch with some of my professors and fellow classmates--there's an instant bond with other James Madison alumni."

She initially considered journalism, and then wanted to be a history professor--until her advisor warned that if she taught at the college level, she would have to be prepared to go anywhere.

"I think the example he used was that I could end up in North Dakota, and how would I feel about being so far from home? I decided he was right. Ultimately, going into law seemed like a natural thing to do," she says.

The "natural thing" has led to a career of almost three decades with the firm, where her name went on the masthead in 1991.

"I love the people I work with," she says. "The shareholders have been together for a long time. Earle and I just had our 29th 'anniversary,' David Miller has been with us for 27 years, Craig Zucker for 22 years and David Freedman for almost 21 years.

"We also have very little turnover of other attorneys and support staff. You don't get that kind of longevity in a small firm unless there's a great sense of respect and support. I greatly respect everyone's legal skills--we each bring different strengths to our practice, which results in a lot of depth for a small firm."

An adjunct professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Teicher enjoys the interaction with her students.

"I've also found it's required me to sharpen up on the law related to issues I work with on a daily basis," she says. "Presenting concepts and issues that I deal with in practice to people who are learning them for the first time is very challenging, but when the students understand it, that's very rewarding."

Born in Detroit, Teicher moved to Birmingham at the age of 7.

"Sometime when I was a teen-ager, our mailing address changed to West Bloomfield. I still live in West Bloomfield, fairly close to the house I grew up in. I think the area has a great quality of life," she says.

A life-long member of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Teicher started to get involved in governance when her son, Perry was in religious school. She continued to be involved in various roles, and two years ago, became president.

"It's been one of the best things I've done," she says. "It's enabled me to develop wonderful relationships with people, and to learn more about my religious identity. It's also been, in a sense, a starting point for me to be more involved in the greater community. I think that service for one organization leads to service for others. This year, I'm also starting on the board of Jewish Family Service, a great organization. I think it's very important to give back to the community."

Cycling and gardening are favorite leisure time activities.

"I like to do organized paved road rides, because I feel safer when there are set routes and communities know to watch for cyclists. I also like to ride dirt roads, because there's not a lot of traffic," Teicher says. "We have a cottage in Washtenaw County, so most of my riding is there."

Her husband, Mark Teicher, also is an attorney, with a solo civil litigation practice in Franklin.

"Mark has handled many interesting and varied cases," she says.

The couple's son, Perry, served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, then as the first Fellow at Repair the World, a New York-based organization focused on making service a core part of American Jewish Life. He is in the second year of a JD/MBA at University of Michigan, with a focus on social entrepreneurship and human rights. Their daughter, Zara, who plays French horn, completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Music Performance at the California Institute of the Arts, and a bachelor of music at Northwestern University. She is a free-lance musician in Los Angeles, with interesting gigs, including playing on the soundtrack for an independent film, "The Do-Deca-Pentathalon."

The final member of the family is Zoey, a spunky 12-year-old Standard Schnauzer.

"When we got her 12 years ago, I started grooming her myself--I love when people tell me that she has a beautiful haircut," Teicher says with a smile.

Published: Fri, Aug 3, 2012

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