Top of the line: Detroit law firm's chief litigator relishes challenging leadership role


In a prized family photo recognizing his son’s commissioning as a new lieutenant, Jeff Kopp and his wife Denise are pictured with their sons, Lucas, Jason, and Adam. Kopp, who had a 30-year career in the military, is chair of the Litigation Department at the Detroit office of Foley.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kopp

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Now in his 20th year with Foley & Lardner in Detroit, attorney Jeff Kopp is as battle tested in the world of litigation as he was as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves during various tours of duties overseas, including a 2008 assignment in Iraq at the height of the insurgency there and a recent exercise in Africa.

Kopp, not surprisingly, hesitates to draw any parallels between his current role as chair of the Litigation Department at the Detroit office of Foley and his 30-year career in the military except to say that “they both have their own set of unique challenges.”

As an attorney in the labor and employment and commercial litigation fields, Kopp has a track record of success in civil matters in federal and state courts across the Midwest while also defending appeals before the U.S. Sixth Circuit and Michigan Court of Appeals.

“As a litigator and advisor my entire career, I’m accustomed to appearing in court and feel that I do my best work there,” said Kopp, who earned his juris doctor from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1996. “The preparation that goes into a trial and then the need to be able to think quickly while on your feet are challenges that I’ve always enjoyed.”

The past two years, of course, have presented a “special challenge,” said Kopp.

“The pandemic, in many respects, put a hold on a lot of litigation work that normally would end up in court,” Kopp indicated. “It’s been a tremendous adjustment for all of us who specialize in litigation work, first with the courts being shut down and then transitioning to Zoom hearings. Now that it appears we are through the worst of the pandemic, it will take a while for the backlog of cases to be cleared up.”

Kopp joined Foley & Lardner in 2002 after beginning his Detroit legal career with Dykema Gossett in its labor and employment group. His arrival at Foley came two years after the national firm opened its Detroit office with a “startup culture” and just a handful of employees.

“It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since I joined the firm and that Foley has grown to 25 offices across the nation,” said Kopp, who has served as the Detroit office hiring partner and chair of its Pro Bono Committee in Detroit. 

Two years ago, when the firm marked its 20th year in Detroit, Kopp reflected on the growth of its presence here.

“Foley is one of the most prominent firms in Detroit – and when you read the newspaper, you see our involvement in so many big cases,” Kopp noted. “But we do a lot more than legal work. Over the years, our office has been heavily involved in the community. We've had mentorship programs in elementary and high schools, been key in the work in the greening of Detroit, and offered regular assistance at soup kitchens and transition homes for veterans and children. Foley currently has a national association in providing assistance to the Boys and Girls Club of America. We also served in many leadership positions on nonprofit boards and associations.”

Kopp also noted that he is proud that Foley recently was recognized as pro bono firm of the year by the Detroit Bar Association.

Phil Phillips, the managing partner of the Detroit office, has helped set the tone of community involvement, volunteering his time and legal expertise for the Community Action Center in Saginaw, the city in which he was raised as the youngest of nine children.

“Years ago, when I was looking for opportunities to help out on a pro bono basis, coincidentally the Saginaw CAC came across my radar screen,” Phillips said in a 2020 interview with The Legal News. “It was the perfect fit for me and has helped me stay connected to and to give back to Saginaw.”

Kopp has taken that “give back” commitment to heart, particularly with his involvement at the Detroit Bar Association, where he has served as a board member and as president of the Barristers Organization. His willingness to serve was ingrained while he was a student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The seeds of Kopp’s military service were planted in high school by an ROTC instructor who saw his academic and leadership potential. It grew at West Point on the banks of the Hudson River, where Kopp graduated in 1990.

While at West Point, Kopp excelled in his academic studies, devouring core classes in government and engineering, even finding time to snag a spot on the Army Parachute Team. As part of the squad, Kopp regularly dove out of helicopters and planes from as high as 12,000 feet, flying in various two-, four-, and six-man formations at air shows, sky diving competitions, and special events in support of Army recruiting goals.

Kopp had been on active duty for three years – first at Fort Sill, Okla. and later in Germany – before embarking on law school at Notre Dame. He graduated cum laude from there in 1996 and served as symposium editor of the Journal of College and University Law at the South Bend school.

His West Point and Notre Dame pedigree helped Kopp land a job with a major law firm in San Diego following his graduation from law school. A New Jersey native, Kopp spent two years on the West Coast before continuing his legal career in Detroit.

In 2008, as a major in the Army Reserves, Kopp was activated into active duty once again when he was deployed to war-torn Iraq on a nine-month assignment. His job was to serve as an operations counsel at various detention facilities in Iraq, in effect acting as an in-house attorney for the military commanders operating detainee centers.

His legal role was to safeguard the rights of detainees and to assure officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross that the captives were receiving humane treatment under provisions of the Geneva Convention. The directives were part of a heightened U.S. response to the international fallout from the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, according to Kopp.

In 2020, Kopp retired at the rank of Colonel following a distinguished 30-year career that included an assignment at the U.S. Army War College, where he was an International Law/Rule of Law Advisor to the Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute in Carlisle, Pa.

And yet, military service will continue to run deep in the Kopp family, as his oldest son, Adam, is currently serving as an U.S. Army aviator after graduating from West Point in 2020. Adam’s brother Jason is a signal officer in the Michigan Army National Guard and brother Lucas is currently in the Army ROTC program at the University of Notre Dame. 

“The next generation is coming,” Kopp said with a special sense of pride.

Kopp and his wife, Denise, were married in 1990 in a ceremony at West Point. An alumna of Western Michigan University with a degree in business, Denise earned her nursing degree from Indiana University at South Bend. She worked as a nurse in California and at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn for more than 20 years.

“She also is an avid runner, and has run the Boston Marathon five times, as well as completing the Detroit, Chicago, and New York marathons,” said Kopp. “She is amazing.”

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