Former Sen. Levin joining Detroit law firm

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Retired Michigan Sen. Carl Levin said Monday he is joining a Detroit law firm as senior counsel and will advise businesses on government investigations.

Levin, 80, who was the longest-serving senator in Michigan history after serving six terms, will join Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP in April as senior counsel, the law firm said.

The focus of Levin’s practice at Honigman will “include aiding corporations with internal investigations and crisis management; assisting corporations with social responsibility and compliance issues; and facilitating alternative dispute resolutions and mediations.” Levin will also serve as an advisor to the firm’s Government Relations and Regulatory Practice Group.

Levin led many investigations into major companies as chair of the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, often bringing the CEOs of major firms to answer tough questions, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. He was also chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin is also expected to announce plans to teach

“I am delighted to be joining Honigman,” Levin said. “We have many shared values, from our long-standing support of Detroit to our dedication to assisting Michigan businesses. It will be a part of my role to help business clients navigate the path to understanding and complying with complex state and federal laws and regulations. I also am hopeful that my negotiating experience will be helpful in assisting clients find alternative ways, including mediation, of resolving disputes, and to help them meet their legal, professional and civic responsibilities.”

The firm praised Levin.

“We are proud that Senator Levin will be joining our firm,” said David Foltyn, Honigman chairman and CEO, in a statement. “He brings to Honigman a profound knowledge of corporate governance, vast experience in complex corporate financial matters, the ability to resolve disputes among parties with divergent interests, a sincere appreciation for entrepreneurship, and deep understanding of all levels of business, from local family business to multinational corporations, across a wide range of industries, including finance, real estate development, homeland security, technology and manufacturing. His skills as a strategist, negotiator and advisor will be a great asset to our clients and our firm.”

Levin doesn’t plan to lobby.

"The one thing I know for sure, besides going home, is we're going to be keeping busy and hopefully being productive," Levin said during an hour-long interview in his Capitol Hill office in December.

Levin earned a law degree from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College.

Headquartered in Detroit, Honigman has offices in Lansing, Bloomfield Hills, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo. The firm has attorneys practicing in more than 50 different areas of concentration.

Levin has been close to law partners at Honigman dating back to his time as a law student. The law firm approached him after he announced in early 2013 that he would not seek re-election.

"We said we don't know what you are going to do but if coming back into the practice of law is part of it, we'd really love you to bring your talents and your integrity and everything else to the law firm," said David Foltyn, Honigman chairman and CEO, in an interview. That led to a series of discussions and Levin will start in April.

The law firm will account for a quarter of Levin's time, Foltyn said. Another quarter of his time will likely be spent on academic pursuits, and half spent in semi-retirement — enjoying his family and grandchildren, "having fun" Foltyn said.

Levin can advise companies in how to approach or work with government agencies but won't lobby.

He may also help lawyers draft legislation at clients' request. Levin has "tremendous experience" in drafting legislation.

"He knows the process from the inside," Foltyn said.

Levin's work to get compromise legislation is perfect for alternative dispute resolutions that some clients may need.

Levin is a big booster in Detroit and Honigman said with more than 150 lawyers in the city, it is the largest law firm in the Motor City. Levin will help mentor some younger lawyers as well.

"He has a deep, deep love of the city," Foltyn said.

Honigman was the law firm for the Detroit Institute of Arts during the "grand bargain" talks.

Levin held hearings repeatedly on corporate activities and sharply questioned the CEO of Goldman Sachs in 2010.

He said there was a "fundamental conflict" in Goldman's selling home-loan securities to clients that internal emails showed its own employees had ridiculed — while not telling the buyers.

Levin's committee said Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs manipulated aluminum stockpiles at Metro Detroit warehouses in a practice that likely has added "billions" to the cost of beer cans and cars.

The committee spent two years investigating commodity transactions from Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley involving aluminum, uranium, copper, coal mines, and oil and natural gas pipelines.

The committee looked in detail at Goldman Sachs' acquisition of Allen Park-based Metro International Services LLC in 2010 for $450 million — a company that had about 10 warehouses in Metro Detroit to store hundreds of thousands of tons of aluminum.

In essence, the committee said by using cancellations of major orders and transfers of aluminum, Metro International was able collect more in rent because of long delays in getting the aluminum out of warehouses. In May, the time it took to move metal hit 674 days — up from 100 days in early 2012.

Goldman Sachs said its practices at Metro were legal and "did not impact the cost that Americans pay for cans of beer."