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(r) Butzel Long attorney James Bruno is pictured in Italy with Francesca Natale of the Torino Chamber of Commerce at its business forum on “Doing Business in the United States.”

Attorney is active in firm’s trans-national practice

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With family roots in Italy and Germany, attorney James Bruno has always had an interest in events beyond U.S. borders. So it is no surprise that his career has had a focus on international business law.

After earning J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Michigan, Bruno took his first step up the legal ladder at a small law firm. Fellow Wolverine alumnus Jim Elsman, who previously worked for the international section of Chrysler legal, introduced him to trans-national business legal matters and immigration law. 

“This was at a time when Detroit was less international and much of the trans-national legal work was done in Cleveland and New York – all of that has changed,” says Bruno.

Bruno is now a shareholder at Butzel Long in Detroit, where he has served on the firm’s Board of Directors and acted as a firm representative to the Original Equipment Suppliers Association.

His early international work led to State Bar of Michigan leadership positions on Committees on International Law and Latin American Law.

“It was wonderful to work with lawyers such as Professors John Jackson and Logan Robinson,” he says.

His service as Consul General in Detroit for El Salvador from 1973 to 1997 included a period of huge civil unrest.

“The insurgents were well organized and held a demonstration around the building in which my office was located,” Bruno says. “They also sent representatives to the U.S. to gather support. I was fortunate enough to engage in a public debate regarding the peace process with one of the representatives.”

A major reason for Bruno’s career move to Butzel Long was access to U.S. clients expanding overseas and foreign-based clients investing in the U.S. 

“It was a good move – more than 50 percent of my practice is assisting foreign-based clients in developing the U.S. market and compliance with U.S. regulations,” he says.    

At Butzel, he found colleagues with a similar international focus such as Nick Stasevich, a recent chair of the International Law Section, and Clara Mager who assumed leadership of the immigration practice initially developed by Bruno, which is now recognized as a first-tier national practice.

“It’s been very educational to watch the different waves of foreign investment into Detroit. It began with the Japanese OEMs and their suppliers and has continued with Europeans, Koreans and Chinese. Most recently, we’ve had a surge in Italian business activity in Michigan,” Bruno says. “The business culture of each is substantially different and assisting with their adjustment to the U.S. legal environment has been very rewarding. This would not be possible for me if English had not become the global language of commerce. I am looking forward to assisting with the next waves from India, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

“Fortunately my practice does not include being a constant road warrior – I have a great deal of respect for my clients who cross multiple time zones on a regular basis.”

Many of the foreign companies who located in Michigan are now expanding to Mexico, and assisting clients in this expansion is a significant part of Bruno’s practice. 

“It’s important to keep in mind we would not have a growing economy without foreign investment,” he notes. “Although we continue to see expansion in Mexico, we continue to see foreign investment arriving in the U.S. including investment by a few Mexican companies.”

Bruno explains that many “domestic” events have an international component, and cites by way of example GM and Chrysler who filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S., but whose many foreign affiliates in Mexico and elsewhere did not file.

“Many clients have called for advice as to the extent U.S. companies and foreign companies could attempt collection in those countries despite the automatic stay in the U.S.,” he says.

A member of the State Bar of Michigan and the American Bar Association, Bruno has served as chair of the SBM Business Law Section, co-chair of the Corporate Laws Committee, Council Member of the International Law Section, co-chair of the International Business Law Section, and member of the Advisory Committee for the Michigan Bar Journal, where he also was editor of the Business Problems and Planning column for many years.

An author, speaker and moderator, his articles have been cited in legal briefs and court decisions. He has served as an expert witness on business law matters. Legislative work has included assisting in the drafting of the Michigan Business Corporation Act, Michigan Professional Corporation Act, and Michigan Limited Liability Company Act.

An initial recipient of the State Bar of Michigan’s Stephen H. Schulman Outstanding Business Lawyer Award, Bruno has also been named Lawyer of the Year in International Trade Law, and has been listed in the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Attorneys, The Best Lawyers in America, The Best Lawyers in America Consumer Guide, DBusiness Top Lawyers in Metro Detroit, and Michigan Super Lawyers.
In his leisure time, Bruno enjoys tennis, yoga, surfing and travel.

“I’ve been to Italy many times on business and try to work in an additional day to visit relatives in Southern Italy,” he says. “Next year, I hope to search for my German roots in northern Germany.”

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