Noted attorney to chart a 'new course' in his life


An acclaimed products liability attorney, Larry Mann said, “Being in a foxhole at trial is a great way to build collegiality.”


by Tom Kirvan
Legal News    

The trouble with retirement, so the saying goes, is that you never get a day off.
Larry Mann will gladly welcome such trouble in late June when he retires as a partner with the Bloomfield Hills office of Bowman and Brooke, a national litigation firm that counts such corporate heavyweights as Toyota, Honda, and Porsche among its list of clients.

Mann, who has served several stints as managing partner of the Detroit area office of Bowman and Brooke over the past 23 years, stuck his toe in the retirement waters once before when he retired from teaching at his legal alma mater, Wayne State University Law School, in 2008. Of course, that “retirement” was nothing more than a test run for Mann, who used his exit from WSU as a means to devote even more time to a series of challenging cases defending claims against Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda.
Now, after years of grueling travel to the West Coast, replete with red-eye flights and a life “living out of a suitcase,” Mann will put down his smartphone and his legal guard, at least for the time being.

“As attorneys, we are stress-eaters,” Mann said of his longtime professional role. “We consume that stress for our clients, offering them guidance and hopefully a good outcome when they seek our counsel. But for as much satisfaction as I’ve derived from that, there comes a time when the body and the mind say ‘enough’ and that point arrived for me over the course of the past year when I recognized that I wasn’t bouncing back like I was accustomed to in the past.”

For the past several years, Mann and other topflight attorneys in the Bowman and Brooke firm were in the national spotlight for helping Toyota successfully defend a series of lawsuits related to accidents involving sudden and unintended acceleration claims. Mann was a key member of the defense team, successfully arguing that the accidents could not be traced to any electronic malfunctions in the throttle systems of the Toyotas.

Mann’s realization that the “clock was ticking” on a career that has been marked by courtroom success comes at a time when the Detroit native wonders about the “generational divide” in the practice of law.

“We, as a firm, are a place where you are all in or you’re not,” Mann said. “There has to be a realization from the younger generation of attorneys that this has become a 24/7 type of business given the advances in technology, which has raised the expectation of clients in many respects.

“I’ve always prided myself in being an attorney who sees the value in building relationships, of meeting with people face-to-face, instead of resorting to electronic means for contact,” Mann said. “The new generation of lawyers seems more inclined to go the electronic route, which I have serious reservations about when considering the high stakes nature of our work.”

During his time as a professor at Wayne State Law School, Mann shared many of his views on the current state of the legal profession, imparting knowledge that he gained in the “trenches” over the course of his distinguished career that spans more than three decades. As a 1980 alum of Wayne Law, Mann has enjoyed a special affection for his alma mater, serving two stints as a professor there. Former U.S. Attorney Jim Robinson, who was then dean
of the law school, enticed Mann to return to the classroom in 1998.

His decision to return to Wayne was inspired in part by overhearing his young daughter, Lauren, tell a friend that her father “lived at the airport” because of his grueling trial and travel schedule.

“It also was a time when my parents were in failing health and it made sense to have more of a structured schedule without all of the travel,” Mann said of his second teaching “tour of duty” at Wayne. 

“My years at Wayne were incredibly special, both as a student and as a member of the faculty,” said Mann, who graduated from Central High School in Detroit and the University of Michigan. “Teaching at its best is a reciprocal process. You get out of it as much as you put into it. I truly loved it.”

He showed his fondness for Wayne in a big way last spring by making a $100,000 donation to support the Student Trial Advocacy Program.

“Enhancing the presentation of opportunities for students will captivate and empower many of them,” Mann said at the time. “In turn, they will be able to provide all citizens, including under-represented groups, top-notch legal services. WSU must hold fast to its urban mission. My experience as a student at Wayne excited and empowered me, and allowed me to create a professional pathway that has provided great fulfillment.”

In the same breath, he expressed his gratitude to his parents for the “life lessons” he learned from them. His father, Lawrence, was an “entrepreneur,” owning dry cleaning businesses on Linwood and Brush streets in Detroit. 
“I saw him on Saturday nights and on Sundays, the rest of the time he was working,” Mann said of his dad, youngest of 14 children. “On occasion, we would go fishing over in Canada, hoping to catch some perch, bass, pike or bluegills. Dad grew up during the Depression, when there were days he didn’t get anything to eat. As one of 14 kids, he was a survivor and was determined to make it on his own.”

Aside from his business success, Mann’s father also was a musician of note, regularly performing on the saxophone in a popular Detroit jazz group.  “He carved out a reputation as the best ‘tenor’ in town,” Mann said proudly of his father’s music.

Mann’s mother, Kathryn, was “vibrant, really smart, and a talented woman” who helped in the dry cleaning stores while raising the couple’s two sons. 

Mann has “fought the good fight” for racial justice as a student activist and throughout his legal career, working to improve diversity efforts at Wayne Law and Bowman and Brooke. Even in retirement, expect Mann to be involved in the effort somehow .

“We’ve made strides in the legal world, but there is still a long way to go to see that all ethnic and racial groups are properly represented in the profession,” Mann said. “It will be a ‘work in progress’ for years to come.”