Get to Know John Shea


John Shea is a Detroit native who moved to Washtenaw County to attend the University of Michigan for undergraduate school, then stayed around for law school, too.

After graduating in 1982, he practiced law for a few years in Chicago, then returned to southeast Michigan to open his own firm in Ann Arbor on Leap Day in 1988. He’s been in the same downtown location ever since.

He met his wife Marilyn—a fellow native Detroiter—the same year.

Shea’s practice also includes commercial litigation, real estate litigation, professional liability, professional discipline, zoning and land use and planning, and appellate practice.

He is a member of the Washtenaw County, Illinois State and American Bar Associations; State Bar of Michigan; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan; and Criminal Defense Lawyers of Washtenaw County, where he served as president, 1992-1994.

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Residence: My wife and I live in Dexter Township, where, among other things, we wrangle a passel of dogs and cats.

When you were considering law school, what was Plan B?
I was an economics major and thought for a minute about going on in that field. I also was a pretty successful taxicab driver.

What would surprise people about your job? Probably the amount of social work that’s involved. People come to lawyers like me for a particular problem, but usually that particular problem has roots that are more systemic and that intrude into the process of solving the immediate issues.

What is your proudest moment as a lawyer?
Probably navigating five and a half months of trial in Bernard Kilpatrick’s case, and the verdict.

Any advice for someone considering law school?
There’s more than one good reason for going to law school, but going just because you don’t know what else to do is not among them. Upon graduating, it’s much more competitive than it was 35 years ago when I got out. Think about why you want a law degree, what you envision doing with it afterwards, and vet that with others. If you still find it attractive, jump in.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Professionally, it’s a tie. The foreman of a jury that convicted one of my clients asked me some years later to represent his son. And, more profoundly, the niece of a woman murdered by one of my clients asked me even more years later to represent her son.

Favorite local hangouts: 
My favorite hangout is my home. My next favorite hangout is a friend’s home where there’s a good bottle of wine. After that, it depends on the occasion, event or time of day. Could be the courthouse coffee shop, the Old Town bar, Dominick’s, Angelo’s, The Earle, Asian Legend, Frank’s… I could go on.

Favorite websites: Newspapers. NY Times, Washington Post, WSJ, local ones. I’m old school.

What is your most treasured material possession?
I don’t have one. That’s not to say material possessions don’t have meaning to me, just that I don’t have a clear sense of a favorite.

What was always written on your grade school report card?
Umm…talks too much?

What do you wish someone would invent? No question about it: more time.

When you look back into the past, what do you miss most? My dad died too young. I miss him.

What is your most typical mood?
Ask my wife or those who work with me, but I think I’m a pretty positive person generally. Though I do have a surly side.

What were you doing in your last selfie?
Trying to figure out how to take a selfie.

What question do you most often ask yourself?
I don’t question myself much. I do frequently reflect on how fortunate I am, personally and professionally. I try not to forget that, or the people who helped get me here.

What are the most awe-inspiring places you’ve ever been?
On the Colorado River rafting thru the Grand Canyon, and the Sistine Chapel.

What’s something you changed your mind about recently?
The collective wisdom of our body politic.

What word do you overuse?
This is a family column….

What is the best advice you ever received?
Stay humble.

What is one thing you would like to learn to do? Play the piano.

What is something most people don't know about you? I’m the only person they know who both has danced with Rudolf Nureyev and taken two deer with one shot.

How did the Nureyev dance happen? In 1983, I had just started my first law job for a firm in Chicago. My girlfriend at the time had taken classical dance and wanted to get back into it. There were evening ballet classes in the Fine Arts Building, that got out late. I didn’t want her taking the “El” home alone, so I took the class too. On a Sunday, the phone rang— Rudolf Nureyev and the Zurich Ballet were coming to Chicago to dance Don Quixote and the advance team neglected to secure male extras. They wanted me to try out. The law firm allowed me to take time off to audition, and when selected, to leave early for performances. I was a fruit vendor for a half-dozen or so performances. Fantastic experience. Did zero real dancing, but I still say I danced with Nureyev.



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