Lead role: Former National Bar president continues to help pave the way

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Harold Pope read two books in seventh grade that were a huge influence on his life: "Manchild in the Promised Land," by Claude Brown, chronicling the journeys of a reform school attendee from Harlem who later became an attorney, and "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

"Although few realize that Malcolm stated at the end of the book that he wished he could have been an attorney," says Pope, who recently became a senior counsel in the Litigation Department of Dykema's Detroit office.

In high school, Pope's time on the debate team made him realize how much he enjoyed formulating arguments.

"I enjoyed that more than arranging commas and periods with others, so litigation felt more natural," he explains. "I didn't want to work on either side of the criminal justice system, nor was I comfortable working on divorce cases so I was drawn to products, employment, and commercial litigation."

An alumnus of Duke University Law School, Pope has had a long and storied career in the law with many fascinating and challenging cases.

In 1992, in a single asset case in which a partnership, LLC or corporation is formed to own a building he faced off in bankruptcy court against Phillip Shefferly, now a judge.

"During the early 1990s there were a lot of bankruptcies involving buildings of this kind," Pope says. "I represented the insurance company that financed the building and Judge Shefferly had the debtor. We had an intense evidentiary hearing."

So intense, in fact, that within the next year the bankruptcy judges in the Eastern District put on a trial advocacy workshop featuring these two worthy opponents.

The case was memorable for another reason. "The major evidentiary hearing occurred the day after the Lions beat the Cowboys in their only playoff win since 1957 and I took the client representative to the game," Pope says.

A 2013 case involved a corporation that had sued a former employee for utilizing a manufacturing process he had brought to the company; the man counter sued claiming antitrust violations. "The former employee had won a judgment that totaled over $10 million dollars but the case was reversed and remanded so I and one of my partners were asked to take over the representation of the corporation," Pope says. "We spent 10 months litigating the case and settled on the eve of trial on much more favorable terms for the client."

Pope also successfully tried a case for an auto manufacturer in 1999 in which it was claimed the vehicle suddenly accelerated causing the death of the elderly driver and memory issues for his passenger wife.

"We showed the children changed the emphasis of the claimed injuries to the mother from her legs to her head as she got older," Pope says. "An eyewitness testified that the driver didn't look as if he was conscious. Those factors, along with expert testimony and the excessive request for damages, caused the jury to rule in our favor."

In addition to his work, Pope has given back to the legal profession in myriad ways. In 1987, he joined the National Bar Association, the nation's oldest and largest national network of predominantly African-American attorneys and judges. He got involved after attending a meeting where it was being determined whether the Commercial Law Section would hold a conference to introduce African-American attorneys to corporate counsel in order to facilitate corporations retaining African-American attorneys as outside counsel.

"I helped design the Corporate Counsel Conference and stated it should be held in February as that is Black History Month and we were going to make history," Pope says. "That conference still occurs on an annual basis in February."

After becoming chair of the Commercial Law Section, in 1992 Pope spearheaded a FOIA to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to determine whether they were complying with their duties under the law to retain minority and women owned law firms (MWOLFs).

When the FOIA results showed the agencies were non-compliant, Pope, along with incoming NBA President Sharon McPhail and prominent New York lawyer Cora Walker met the General Counsel of both agencies to address the issue. The trio proposed the agencies use the Corporate Counsel Conference model to select and qualify MWOLFs for use by the agencies in conjunction with the other national bars of color and women's bar.

"That effort produced an increase in the utilization of MWOLFs by the agencies from less than 1 percent to 9 percent of their dollar volume of counsel fees," Pope says. "It also paved the way for the organization of the Coalition of Bars of Color that now meets annually in May and coordinates the efforts of those national bar associations."

As president of the NBA from 1999 to 2000, Pope helped raise a substantial amount of money and established the MLK advocacy program a high school oratorical contest started locally by the late Kay Stansfield Spinks as a national program. He also raised the funds to start the Crump Law Camp, which brings high school students from around the country to Howard University to learn about the law and life on campus.

During his bar year, the West Publishing company donated 200 passwords each to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. "I went to Arusha, Tanzania to meet with officials of the Tribunal for Rwanda and went to Kigali, Rwanda to meet with members of the Rwandan government," he says.

During five years on the American Bar Association Board of Governors Pope helped get the ABA to produce a diversity policy. He also served the past two years as a minority member-at-large of the Nominating Committee in the House of Delegates; and recently completed a term on the ABA Audit Committee.

He also has served as chair of the National Bar Institute, and for the American Bar Association (ABA) Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice; has served on the State Bar of Michigan Judicial Qualifications Committee; and on the Board of Trustees for the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation.

A current member of the Wolverine Bar Association, and the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, Pope has earned numerous honors and awards, including the National Bar Association's C. Francis Stradford Award, the State Bar of Michigan's Champion of Justice Award, the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association Trailblazer Award, the Wolverine Bar Association's Damon J. Keith Community Service Award, and the National Bar Association Commercial Law Section's Cora T. Walker Legacy Award.

A native of Newton, N.J., Pope makes his home in Detroit. "I enjoy the warmth of the people and the change of seasons," he says. "I also enjoy the fact that we have all of the major professional sports."

His wife Renay is a retired physical therapist who worked for more than 30 years in school settings, most recently with Early Interventions in the Detroit Public Schools. The couple met when Renay was obtaining her master's at Duke University and Pope was in law school. The couple's son Daman structures Collateralized Loan Obligations at RBC in New York City; and daughter Ebony works at Village Capital in Washington, D.C.

In his leisure time, Pope enjoys playing golf, sporting events, and church activities.

Published: Mon, Oct 31, 2016

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