Working the Dream Ben Muth spreads his wings in father's practice

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

When he graduated from Pioneer High School in 2003, Ben Muth told his parents that sitting in a classroom for four more years sounded impractical.

Fine, they said.

But he had to do something.

And so Muth enrolled in The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), where he spent three (shower-less) months in the Baja California, Mexico, sailing, backpacking and kayaking.

The already nature lover found further devotion to the environment and natural world, and he found inspiration for further education.

So Muth attended Arizona State University, where he double majored in journalism and anthropology, with the goal of writing for National Geographic.

In his junior year, when he realized that everybody wants to work for National Geographic, he decided that law school was a more practical career to exercise his passions.

He was no stranger to the business. His father, Andy Muth, is a well-respected medical malpractice attorney in Ypsilanti. And during college and law school breaks, Ben worked at the firm as a receptionist, file clerk, and trial paralegal, so he had a clear idea of the process from every level.

He chose to attend Vermont Law School, ranked the number one environmental law school in the country by US News and Reports.

And so began three of the best years of his life.

The fact that he had a job waiting for him with his father made it all the more sweet.

"It loosened me up," said Muth. "Because I didn't have to build resumes. I didn't have to fight for internships. All of those social stressors that my peers were going through I avoided. I could focus on school and on building relationships. That was an advantage in law school, and I feel so lucky in that regard."

After he graduated and passed the bar, Muth started his new job on Nov. 4, 2012.

And now, as an associate working alongside his father, he says he couldn't be happier.

"I'm the luckiest lawyer I know," he said, sitting in his office directly across from Eastern Michigan University's College of Business in downtown Ypsilanti. "I'm thankful every day that I'm able to work here in this practice."

Muth focuses on personal injury litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and vehicle accidents, and other serious injuries.

The least of his concerns was how he would get along with his father, as the two have always been close.

"My dad and I get along great," said Muth, whose older brother, Matt, is a professional writer in Seattle. "Very rarely does any familial tension enter our work lives. Anybody who knows us knows that I'm basically a mini Andy Muth in my tone of voice and mannerisms."

Muth's biggest concern initially was being able to handle the workload and learn personal injury and medical malpractice litigation. By far, the most difficult thing has been slowly building the medical knowledge and vocabulary, he said.

"I remember one of my first weeks here, after passing the bar, Andy gave me an eight-inch stack of medical records and said, ??Familiarize yourself with this.' I thought, ??I just passed the bar. Not the MCAT. I have no idea what any of this says.'"

The tough learning curve, and many hours pouring over medical literature, had begun.

"I'm now starting to be comfortable enough to live in this world," he said. "I can actually sit down and read a set of medical records and grasp an understanding of the diagnosis and treatment. That's taken two and a half years to reach that understanding."

His father is the lead attorney for all the medical malpractice cases while Muth does motions, writing and support work for those cases. And Muth handles most first and third party auto, premises liability, and landlord-tenant disputes-with his father's tutelage.

Andy Muth said his son is personable, genuine and caring -"all good traits for anybody, but especially a lawyer who counsels people."

"It's a delight to work together," he said. "On a personal level it's delightful, and on a professional level, it's delightful, too."

At the firm, titles don't mean anything, he said, adding: "We're a father and son, working together. We're both lawyers working for clients."

Ben Muth said his favorite days are spent in the courtroom in motion hearings, and he recently survived his first day of trial, which ended in a settlement for his client.

"Before I did my first opening statement and direct exam, I was quite nervous," he recalled. "But after doing it once, I thought, ??OK, I could do that again. And it was kind of fun.' That's sort of how I've approached every new opportunity in this profession. I'm constantly learning, and becoming more confident."

He just finished a case in Branch County in which he sued on behalf of a driver who struck a black cow that had escaped from its farm on a dark foggy morning.

"I learned about proper cow fencing," he said, adding that he also met a bunch of interesting people in the process.

Compared to other counties, Washtenaw County is a "bastion of sanity in the judicial and legal fields," he said.

"I've been in courts in other counties, and Washtenaw County is definitely my favorite," said Muth. "It seems to be the most honest and fair county in which to practice law."

Muth especially enjoys pro bono work, and donates time to Legal Services of South Central Michigan.

"My favorite part of this job is being able to help people," he said. "The best phone calls are when people have a small problem and they need a little bit of guidance. The fact that I'm able to give them a professional opinion regarding what to do is my favorite responsibility. Free advice helps people so much, and makes a lasting impression in their lives."

He appreciates the fact that he is free to exercise his intellectual curiosity at the same time he works for the firm.

"My dad never says, ??No, you can't do that. You need to put in more hours. You need to be here 9 to 5 Monday through Friday,'" he said. "As long as I'm here doing what I need to do, I can exercise other professional curiosities, which is a great place to be as a young lawyer.'"

Muth, who is single, lives in a duplex near the Washtenaw Dairy. He's the treasurer of the Old West Side Neighborhood Homes Association, and is in the process of being appointed to the City of Ann Arbor's Environmental Commission. Muth currently serves on the City of Ann Arbor Elizabeth Dean Trust Fund Committee, which plants trees in the city.

He enjoys attending local and state bar events, and is co-chair of the Washtenaw County Bar Association's Young Lawyers section. When he gets a chance, he loves to play golf and relax on Lake Michigan at his family's cabin.

While he can't imagine living in any other county in Michigan, he left part of his heart in the mountains of Vermont.

"Every time I visit Vermont, it draws me back in with its natural beauty," he said. "I call it the Switzerland of the United States. But for now, I'm right here."

Not only does Muth love his job, but he realizes he's fortunate in this economy to be working in his chosen field.

"Of my law school friends, I may have five or six who have full time legal jobs, and that's out of a class of 200," he said. "Everyone else is scraping along in internships or applying for jobs and fighting the fight. I was blessed to have my dad waiting for me after passing the bar.

"But I remind myself that I do good work for good people, and that I'm using this position to help my community, as opposed to just being lucky."

Published: Thu, Jul 10, 2014

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