Family matters - Lawyer shares expertise with U-M Law students

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Divorce makes good people act badly, according to Joe Aviv, co-managing partner of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn's Bloomfield Hills office and leader of the Matrimonial and Family Law Practice Group.

"Dealing with the high emotion of divorce and the pressure of working with people in crisis is difficult to understand unless you've been there," he says.

Aviv, whose practice includes non-routine matrimonial and divorce matters involving the valuation of family businesses, teaches Family Law as an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

When he started preparing for his course and ordering casebooks, he came to the conclusion they didn't deal with the realities of the practice.

"For example, divorce today is very much tax driven--an attorney in this field needs a healthy background in tax law, which the casebooks don't touch," he explains.

Previously a lecturer at Michigan Law and at the U-M Ross School of Business, Aviv also speaks before groups of lawyers and at the annual Advanced Family Law Seminar of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer; and has lectured at the International Council of Shopping Centers, and Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE).

"Part of my reason for teaching is to give back, and part is the intellectual stimulation of being around bright students asking tough questions," he says. "It also is my love of the theory of the law and the rationale for the law."

A fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Aviv helps clients through a crisis to come out stronger on the other side.

"I serve as a counselor and help the client through his or her pain," he says. "My business cases are similar to my divorce cases in that, in both, I deal with the value of a business and the separation of its shareholders. In family cases, the shareholders just happen to be married to each other."

Co-leader of the Securities and Corporate Governance Litigation Practice Group and the Trusts and Estate Litigation Practice Group, as well as member of the firm's Board of Directors, Aviv also focuses on complex corporate, securities, and class action litigation, and constitutional law.

He particularly enjoys high-stakes "bet-the-company" cases.

"Being an attorney on a bet-the-company case is like being a good baseball player on the field, who wants the ball hit to him," he says. "He wants the outcome of the game to ride on his shoulders because he has confidence that he will do the right thing and win the game for his team. Ultimately, everything rides on the outcome. If you prevail, the company continues. If you don't succeed, the company disappears. It's all or nothing--everything rides on what you do."

Aviv was recently named one of 30 "Leaders in the Law" for 2013 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, adding to many other kudos, including Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers for Business; Best Lawyers in America; DBusiness: Top Lawyers; Top 10 Michigan Super Lawyers; Benchmark Litigation "Local Litigation Star;" and Lawdragon 500, one of the top 500 Litigators in the United States.

In 2003, Michigan Lawyers Weekly recognized him as "Lawyer of the Year" for his successful defense of long-time client, the Taubman Centers, Inc. in the hostile takeover by another national shopping center development company.

"I've litigated a series of cases before state supreme courts involving the constitutional right of property ownership, as opposed to competing rights of political agitators to enter the property," Aviv notes. "As in many constitutional cases, policy - i.e., what the law ought to be - drives the decision making."

A Manhattan native and former State of New York assistant district attorney, Aviv has amassed a string of favorable results in some of the most important cases in Michigan over the past two decades. Currently, he is representing the personal representatives and trustees of an enormous estate, delving into complex legal, financial, and personal issues such as apportionment and abatement issues among the beneficiaries and other beneficiary contests, and accounting, tax, and administrative issues.

In 2011, he was an integral part of a legal team that set a new precedent in the world of professional sports leagues with the sale of a professional franchise and its related entertainment portfolio to a private equity group. The deal may change the nature of how a professional sports league will view potential investor groups in the future, he notes.

Aviv joined Honigman in 2004, along with the other attorneys from Miro Weiner & Kramer in Bloomfield, when the two firms joined forces. Aviv, who had served as a shareholder and head of litigation at Miro Weiner, said the late David Miro had been an important mentor.

"While he was teaching me to be a 'proper' lawyer, he provided many pithy maxims," Aviv says. "Perhaps his most memorable was, 'Don't tell me how you comb your hair in the morning,' meaning, be spare--just provide the essential facts."

A fan in his youth of TV's famous fictional lawyer "Perry Mason," Aviv thought it would be fun to be in a courtroom.

"There was always a mystery and a puzzle to solve, which Perry would very cleverly solve during cross examinations - it seemed very exciting and challenging."

He first, however, set his sights on a career in medicine, before deciding on an undergrad degree in sociology and psychology from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

"I was more interested in what makes people's minds tick, rather than their bodies," he says. "I wanted to understand why people behave the way they do."

He went on to earn his J.D. from Boston University School of Law.

An avid motorcycle rider for more than 25 years, the Birmingham resident enjoys riding his sport-touring bike, a BMW R 1100 RS. He and his wife, fellow Honigman attorney Linda Wasserman--proud parents of Sari, Rachel, Stephanie, and Lizzie--have toured in Western and Eastern Europe, the British Isles, Central America, and the American and Canadian Rockies, sometimes with touring groups and other times on their own.

"Linda is the 'pillion,'" he says. "She packs a bike like no one else--being the daughter of the owner of a packaging and delivery company--it's amazing what she can fit into two saddlebags and a tank bag."

Published: Mon, May 6, 2013

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