Be good with your money. Lawyers make good money, but so many lawyers spend foolishly. Learn to save, invest, and live within your means. Financial security equals freedom and allows you to take risks and make career choices you could not otherwise take or make.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Wippler.
Michael Wippler is an attorney at national law firm Dykema. He is a member of the firm’s six-person Executive Board and his practice focuses on business counseling, litigation, and negotiating and documenting business and real estate transactions. Additionally, Mr. Wippler manages client service teams for several of the firm’s main clients.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
My career path in law resulted from a combination of choice, luck, and maximizing opportunities. In law school, I chose to be a civil (as opposed to government) lawyer. I joined my first firm as a transactional lawyer. However, like many young lawyers, shortly thereafter I decided to litigate. Nevertheless, one of the biggest professional decisions I made as a young lawyer was to focus on client development. As a seventh-year associate, I generated enough work to keep myself fully busy. This gave me security and created opportunities. One such opportunity arose when a client asked me to be its general counsel. For the next seven years, I served as a national company’s GC, and doing so was one of the best things I did for my career. Among other things, I learned what it was like to be a client and what I liked (and disliked) in outside lawyers. When it came time to transfer back to a law firm, I had the experience and connections to successfully transition to my current firm where I have been for nearly 17 years.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
For me, one of the more interesting (and educational) moments in my career occurred when I was in-house and defended my company in a trial in a very rural county in another state. During voir dire, the plaintiff’s attorney referred to us as the “out of town crowd.” Moreover, the plaintiff’s counsel, the judge, and the bailiffs all knew each other. I quickly learned the importance of “local local” counsel (I hired local counsel from the “big city” in the adjacent county), that law is not the same in all parts of the country, that having the winning case does not mean you will win, and that law is not always fair or just. Needless to say, we settled that case early in the trial.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of my most interesting current projects involves a company that makes biodegradable, plant-based substitutes for plastic. The company’s products include items that are typically made from plastic such as straws, tennis shoe bottoms, bags, ski pole handles, cups, and bottles. With the amount of plastic in our landfills and oceans, being involved with a company that can help solve this issue is exciting and rewarding.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
My most interesting case was a contentious partnership dispute. The partners jointly developed shopping centers for over 25 years. However, when our client decided to sever the partnership, the other partner created a plan with his lawyers to sue our client. During the case, the other partner went through four sets of attorneys (and four different firms). After nearly four years of litigation, over 80 depositions, numerous major court hearings, and two trips to the California Supreme Court to reverse potentially disastrous rulings, our client prevailed at trial. We were fortunate to have a client who trusted us and stayed with us even when things looked bleak, which allowed us to understand the nuances of the case better than the opposition and to present a strong defense.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Three people in history that inspire me are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Winston Churchill. I admire them because of their strength, courage, wisdom, and willingness to fight against tremendous odds for the betterment of their people. Dr. King and Gandhi (a lawyer) fought and prevailed against racial inequality in the United States and British Imperialism in India, respectively, using peaceful means. Both prevailed despite overwhelming odds and gave their lives for their cause. Likewise, Churchill stood alone against Nazi Germany, and through leadership and courage, helped Britain survive the Blitz and helped prevent the Nazis from controlling Europe.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
The advice I would give to a young person considering law is to ask yourself why you want to become a lawyer. Law is not easy. It requires hard work, dedication, tenacity, thick skin, and intelligence. Civil law, even civil litigation, involves far more reading and writing than courtroom skills. Succeeding financially in civil law also requires you to sell yourself. If you are considering law because you do not know what else to do — stop. Take some time to reflect on your decision before you spend three years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a law degree. If after giving it serious thought you know you want to be a lawyer, then throw yourself into it from the moment you start law school. Law is a great profession, and I could not imagine myself doing anything else.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
If I could make three changes to the legal system, I would expedite the civil litigation process, hold people who abuse the system more accountable, and make the criminal justice system focus more on victims’ rights. Unfortunately, all of this is easier said than done.
- Justice delayed is justice denied. Civil litigation is often slow and cumbersome. Litigants routinely play games to delay depositions, court hearings, trials, etc. Much of the delay is also caused by impacted courts. Expediting the legal process could help damaged litigants find closure and prevent wasteful tactics that increase legal costs.
- Many litigants and lawyers abuse the system. Unfortunately, I rarely see the courts hold accountable the litigants or attorneys that engage in wrong conduct. The lack of accountability encourages bad behavior and helps create the public’s often negative view of the legal system.
- Being the victim of a serious crime or the family of the victim of a serious crime is life-altering. Nevertheless, our criminal justice system seems to forget about these victims and families. I believe our system focuses too much on the criminals and often ignores the people they harm. This is backward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe my success helps me bring goodness to the world by allowing me to contribute both my time and money to worthy causes and individuals. A career in law has allowed me to donate resources to worthy charities and organizations. Moreover, the experiences and lessons I learned over a 30-year career have allowed me to mentor people and volunteer for organizations to hopefully help others succeed.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
What drives me in law is my desire to help my clients, my sense of obligation to my clients, and my need to be the best lawyer I can be and to do right.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each. Five things I wish someone told me when I first started law include:
- Be good with your money. Lawyers make good money, but so many lawyers spend foolishly. Learn to save, invest, and live within your means. Financial security equals freedom and allows you to take risks and make career choices you could not otherwise take or make.
- Avoid procrastination. We all do it. However, procrastination causes unnecessary stress and negatively impacts your work product. Moreover, clients and others you work for will know when you procrastinate and will not like it.
- Become an expert at something. Be the go-to person in a particular subject matter. Being an expert increases your worth and is probably easier than learning and relearning a new area.
- Avoid job-hopping. Many young lawyers frequently change jobs. Usually, most move laterally, not up, only to find that the grass is not greener at the new job. Too many jobs on a resume hurt your chances at a new firm or company. Unless you hate your job and you know the next one will be that much better, avoid thinking about changing jobs for at least two or three years.
- Focus on balance. Law is demanding, and it is very important that you learn early on what it takes to be a good lawyer. However, to succeed in life, it is also important that you find time for yourself, your friends, your loved ones, and your health. Treat your health and your loved ones like gold.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be Elon Musk. I am amazed by and admire his work ethic, vision, intellect, and accomplishments. He is the Leonardo da Vinci of our time.