Schiff Hardin opens Ann Arbor office 'Time to do something different'

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By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Greg Curtner had a long, successful run at Miller Canfield, which he joined fresh out of Michigan Law School over 42 years ago.
But last year, he knew he needed a change.

“It was time to do something different,” said Curtner, a litigator who focuses on antitrust and trade, regulation in the sports and entertainment industries.   “And in part, we were looking for a more national and broader platform for our anti-trust and commercial litigation practice. “

So in January, Curtner and 5 other Miller Canfield attorneys moved into a new branch of Schiff Hardin in a second-floor suite of offices in the 350 N. Main building at William.

The verdict?

So far, better than good.

“We’ve been delighted with our new firm,” said Curtner, an Ann Arbor resident. “The support, the integration and the platform have worked better than we’d hoped for. I tell people it’s like being a new lawyer again. After 42 years, you can use a little excitement.”

Schiff Hardin’s Ann Arbor office focuses on complex commercial litigation matters nationwide.

Curtner and three other partners from Miller Canfield made the switch.  Two associates, two of counsel, four paralegals, and three assistants complete the team.

Steve Cernak, who’d been part of General Motors’ legal staff for 23 years, joined the firm last month.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Cernak, who also teaches at Michigan Law School. “I’m doing the same kind of work, but for different clients. I’m getting the freedom to do the kind of antitrust work I’ve always enjoyed doing.”

Curtner handles cases for the National Collegiate Athletic Association all over the country. So the fact that Schiff Hardin has offices in San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Charlotte, and Chicago made the thought of opening an Ann Arbor branch of the firm especially appealing.

Rick Juckniess was at Miller Canfield for 10 years before moving to Schiff with Curtner to become a partner.

“In addition to being connected to a firm that has a more national footprint, which is particularly helpful for us in our practice, “ said Juckniess, “Schiff is built with such high-quality people who are so dedicated to the practice of law. It really matches the way our group has always practiced, so we fit in very nicely.”

Partner Bob Wierenga said he’s happy with the progress the firm has made since opening earlier this year.

“Schiff is a great firm, and we’ve been very happy to join them,” he said.

And partner Kimberly Kefalas appreciates the way Schiff Hardin integrates new offices.

“We aren’t an outpost,” she said. “I really feel as if we are working for one large firm, with all of the attendant resources that brings—the most important of those being our new colleagues across the country, who are wonderful people and excellent lawyers.”

Curtner, a father of three, commuted from Ann Arbor to Miller Canfield’s Detroit office for 27 years, before switching to its Ann Arbor office downtown about 15 years ago.

He also used to run Miller Canfield’s small New York City office.

“I like to joke that people think I’m smarter when I’m in New York,” he said. “I’ve had a New York office for 25 years in one form or another. But with the advent of cell phones and so many area codes, the New York advantage has gone away. It used to be people knew where you were by your phone number. Now, you can be anywhere.”

But he still loves New York. And now he has a desk in Schiff Hardin’s 50-lawyer office on Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street.

“I thought about going to New York after law school, but stayed here for family reasons,” he said. “I’ve always thought of myself as a part-time New York lawyer and a part-time Michigan lawyer, and in many ways I’ve had the best of both. I’ve had a national practice while having all the wonderful advantages of living in Ann Arbor.”

One of Curtner’s most memorable cases was the $500 million cash settlement he won in 2010 as the lead Miller Canfield lawyer representing the Livonia-based Valassis Communications Inc.  Curtner helped prove that Rupert Murdoch’s News America Marketing coerced client companies into taking part in its free-standing insert market in newspaper delivery where Valassis had once had an equal market share.

“It was one of the largest outcomes in the country that year and is by far the largest outcome as far as we can tell in the state of Michigan,” said Curtner, who as a result was American Lawyer’s Lawyer of the Week, which he calls his “15 minutes of fame.”

On a wall of his corner office overlooking downtown Ann Arbor is a framed picture from the Avatar movie, which is circled with hand-written congratulations written by Valassis officials. The 3-D hit film was released by News Corp, the parent company of News America.

“Their profits from the movie were just about $500 million, so we got all their profits,” he said.

Another high-profile case he tried and won was brought by the Church of Scientology against the Sally Jesse Raphael TV show, and took place in Washtenaw County Circuit Court.

A few of the attorneys’ many collective victories are represented in a T-shirt gallery in the firm’s hallway. It’s a humorous collection of slogans representing a few of the cases the attorneys have won over the years.

Schiff Hardin has a team of people who help with marketing events and party-planning, which has meant several quality receptions in the past months.  The firm also integrates practice groups among its offices across the country.

Curtner appreciates the way Schiff Hardin is so open with its partners.

“We know exactly what’s going on with the firm,” he said. “The financial and business and decision-making is all shared and open, and we find that very attractive. We feel like we are really part of a partnership.”

All in all, he says, the move was a great decision.

“We left for a better opportunity,” he said, “and have been enthusiastically provided with a national platform of exceptional lawyers providing world class support in an open, collegial environment.
 
 

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