High stakes: Trial lawyer is fond of juries, courtrooms

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In one memorable case, attorney Norm Ankers apparently so unnerved a witness during cross-examination that when the man left the stand and exited the courtroom, he began running down the hall. 

“You could hear the clack of his feet as he did because the courthouse had a particularly hard tile floor,” Ankers said. “The jury heard the clacking and the significance of it was not lost on them.”

It was just one of many interesting courtroom experiences for Ankers, who recently joined Foley & Lardner LLP in Detroit. A partner and trial and appellate lawyer at the firm, he is experienced in business torts, shareholder and partnership litigation and class action defense.

In more than 30 years of experience in high-stakes litigation, Ankers has secured multiple monumental verdicts, and regularly obtained dismissals of multimillion-dollar claims.

“What happens in the courtroom is still one of the best mechanisms we have for ascertaining the truth,” he said. “I’m especially fond of juries. Any individual member of a jury panel may have limitations and constraints, but if you put a group of people together from different walks of life, you have one powerfully smart organism.” 

An honors graduate of Harvard Law School, Ankers enjoys trying cases and being in court, and that is a distinct feature of his business litigation practice. 

“Each time you appear in court or before an arbitral or administrative tribunal, you learn something, and then you bring that ‘something’ to the next case you handle,” he said. “That’s why there’s no substitute for actual experience in handling and trying cases.”

A court-appointed facilitator, case evaluator and discovery mediator, Ankers notes that most cases are capable of resolution if both sides engage in a rational and thorough assessment of risk and reward.

“Dispute resolution is all about the managing of risk, and provides the certainty of an outcome,” he said. “It also puts an end to what can be enormous expenditures of time, energy and money pursuing claims.
As a colleague once quipped, ‘The courtroom is no place for litigants.’  (But) sometimes you need to try cases and I’m there to answer the call when that happens.” 

The co-author of West Publishing Company's multi-volume “Michigan Court Rules Annotated — Evidence,” Ankers has been an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School since 2012, where he teaches conflict of laws and electronic and class action discovery courses.

He also has been a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law since 2005, and was named the Outstanding Adjunct Professor for the fall 2006 term.

“There is never a semester when I don’t learn as much from my students as they learn from me,” Ankers said. “They have brilliant insights into ways of thinking about things that I haven’t considered, even though I’ve taught the courses that I’ve taught for a long period of time.  It’s invigorating and refreshing, and I will turn somersaults to try to make my students as active and engaged as they can be.”

A member of the Federal Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan, Ankers also is a member of the Oakland County Bar Association where he is involved in the circuit court committee and was past chairman of the Professionalism Committee.

“This is a way of giving back to the legal community which has nurtured my practice and supported a wonderful lifestyle,” he said. “One thing I love to do is to be a FBA docent, taking classes of students around the federal courthouse and showing them the ropes.  You never know from which of those classes the next brilliant legal scholar or trial lawyer will come.”

Ankers, whose long list of kudos includes Lawdragon 500 and 3000, Best Lawyers in America, Lawyer of the Year, Michigan Super Lawyers, DBusiness Top Lawyers, Chambers USA, and AV Preeminent, got an early indication he was destined for the law after joining the debate team at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham. 

“When I started high school, I thought I was destined for a career in theoretical mathematics or the sciences,” he said. “Doing debate made me fall in love with verbal reasoning and with the art of persuasion.”     
Ankers’ parents — his 91-year-old mom still lives in the area — produced a trifecta of legal eagles.
His older sister Nancy is a lawyer, and is married to a retired lawyer. His younger brother Gary also is a lawyer and is married to the head of human resources at the Detroit office of Foley & Lardner.
Ankers and his wife Janet, a retired GM executive, live in Beverly Hills — “or, as I like to call it, ‘Beverly Hills 48025 — the real Beverly Hills,’” he said with a smile.
Their household is rounded out — and ruled — by their faithful terrier, Misty.
“Misty runs the house,” Ankers said.
An avid indoor plant gardener who has grown tomatoes, radishes and lettuce in his office, Ankers also is fan of music of any sort, from classical music to punk. He and his wife are ardent supporters of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra where he co-chairs the Gabrilowitsch Society, named for Russian-born Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the symphony’s first “permanent” conductor, and husband of Mark Twain’s daughter Clara, who sang at recitals with her husband.
“We’re great devotees of classical music,” Ankers said. “The Gabrilowitsch Society is devoted to the care and feeding of generous patrons who donate at the $10,000 and over annual level — we try to find unique opportunities, musical and otherwise, to thank them for their extraordinary generosity.” 

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