Strengthen Your Support System — As in most professions, work/life balance can be incredibly difficult to obtain. Surround yourself with friends and family that not only understand but support your efforts to help other people. I often took my young kids to the office and shared with them my cases and causes. In turn, both of my children have grown up to be highly empathetic, community-based, passionate people for healing and justice.
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 Attorney Ven Johnson.
Attorney Ven Johnson has been representing victims against insurance companies, big business and government for more than 35 years. He has handled cases in state and federal courts in most Michigan jurisdictions and in courtrooms throughout the United States, winning more than 300 million dollars in jury verdicts and achieving case settlements of more than 500 million dollars.
Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, Ven graduated from Douglas MacArthur High School where he was a standout athlete, earning first team all-conference and all-area honors in tennis and basketball. He later graduated from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science, and earned first team all-conference and all-American honors in tennis. He was thereafter inducted into the Kalamazoo College Sports Hall of Fame as well as awarded a Most Distinguished Alumni Award.
Following Kalamazoo College, Ven attended and graduated from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where he was class president and vice president of the Student Bar Association. In 2020, the University of Detroit Mercy awarded Ven the Spirit award for the School of Law.
Ven began his legal career at renowned civil defense firm, Kohl Secrest, where for over nine years he was mentored by partner John Secrest. Ven practiced all areas of insurance defense, and some plaintiff cases, with focus on liability, legal malpractice and automobile negligence.
For the next 16 years, Ven was a member of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Johnson, where he was the law partner and second in command to one of the most successful civil plaintiff trial lawyers in the United States, Geoffrey Fieger.
In 2011, Ven opened his own personal injury law firm, Ven Johnson Law, in Detroit’s historic Buhl Building. Less than three years later, Ven expanded his practice, opening an office in downtown Grand Rapids and in 2017, he opened a third office in Flint.
Ven has been recognized by numerous legal organizations and publications across the United States for his contributions and achievements in the field of personal injury law, and he has handled some of the most high-profile cases in the nation, including the infamous Jenny Jones Show civil case, victims of U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and parents of children used as propaganda by the Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. campaign, among others. Recently, Ven is one of three liaison counsel in the Midland Dam Flood cases, following the collapse of two dams in May of 2020.
An active supporter of the legal community, Ven is a member of numerous legal organizations and has served as president and executive officer of the Michigan Association of Justice (MAJ). He is also part of the American Association of Justice’s (AAJ) Leader’s Forum and has served on the State Bar of Michigan Negligence Committee where he served as chair of the committee. He was awarded the Trial Advocacy of the Year by the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).
Ven continues to lecture on numerous litigation issues across the United States, as well as support young lawyers through speaking engagements, internships and more. An expert in the field of personal injury law, Ven is often called upon by news organizations, including CNN, Good Morning America, Forbes, People Magazine, Newsweek, and many broadcast news stations within the state of Michigan to comment on pending cases and other legal matters.
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 trust, belief and love for the jury system was most solidified when my former law partner and I were wrongfully charged by the federal government for alleged campaign finance law violations. At the time, I was a single father of a middle schooler and a senior in college. Not only was I at risk of losing my law license, I was facing serious prison time and being taken away from my family. After two and a half years, we went to trial and were acquitted of all charges by a unanimous jury verdict on June 20, 2008. To this day, I am thankful for my lawyer, Steve Fishman, and for the love and support of my family and friends.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In May 2020, three dams were breached along the Tittabawassee River in mid-Michigan. The flooding displaced nearly 10,000 residents, affected over 4,000 homes, damaged or destroyed numerous bridges and roads, drained two inland lakes and caused roughly 190 million dollars in damage to businesses. We’re currently representing approximately 300 of these flood victims. For many of our clients, they lost their homes and/or businesses and everything in it. For others, what used to be a lake front property is now a foul-smelling mud pit — thereby, significantly decreasing home values and the desire to live there.
We are also representing approximately 20 male sexual assault survivors who were abused in the 1970s by the now deceased Dr. Robert Anderson during his employment as the University of Michigan’s athletic physician. Moreover, we also represent a number of the female sexual assault survivors of the former Michigan State University physician Dr. Larry Nassar.
We are representing and fighting for our clients through what is arguably some of the most difficult times in their lives. It takes tremendous strength for survivors to speak out to ensure these atrocities do not happen to others and that those responsible are held accountable. We pride ourselves on being fierce fighters that fight along fighters.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
In approximately 1998, Geoffrey Fieger and I tried the Amedure vs. Jenny Jones Show civil case. This was a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family whose son, Scott Amedure, was tragically shot and killed by Jonathon Shmitz approximately two days after taping an episode of the Jenny Jones Show. During the show, Amedure revealed on national television that he had a homosexual crush on Shmitz. Geoffrey and I obtained a 30 million dollars judgement only to have it reversed and thrown out by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
To this day, this remains one of the largest travesties of justice that I have ever seen and been a part of.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The two that immediately come to mind are Oprah Winfrey and President Obama. Both of these extraordinary individuals faced insurmountable barriers to which they overcame to become among the most recognizable and influential persons in the world. After they reached the pinocle of their success, Oprah and President Obama faced incredible attacks, both personal and professional. Throughout the challenges, not only did they maintain their impactful momentum, but they handled the adversity with class and integrity.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
I would advise for them to absolutely, 100% go for it. After 35 years of practice, I love it just as much now as I did from the outset. It allows me to help people who are faced with incredible barriers in the pursuit of justice. This profession has brought me friends, purpose, and a deep sense of gratitude for juries, lawyers, judges, and the full spectrum of our legal community.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
Do away with medical malpractice and product liability caps on damages in Michigan. These caps exist but are hidden from the jurors; hence, the jurors can award a significantly higher amount money than what the cap allows, only for the judge to reduce the award to a legislatively predetermined amount of money after the trial. The amount was created by the Michigan legislature in the 1990s as a part of “tort-reform”- a conservative political tool specifically designed to benefit insurance companies, hospital corporations, and medical professions. An offensive notion to any lawyer who can read and understand the Michigan Constitution.
Do away with governmental immunity- including qualified immunity for police officers. Governmental Immunity is a legal concept which allows the government special privileges that normal citizens aren’t provided- simply because they are employed by the government. It encompasses special protections under the law which makes it more difficult for average citizens to hold the government and governmental employees liable.
For example, if you were hit by another driver, and wanted file a lawsuit, you would have to prove that your injuries were caused by the negligence of that driver. On the other hand, if you are hit in an identical way by an on duty governmental employee, it is significantly more difficult to prove their gross negligence (a much higher standard) was the cause of your injuries. Or in other words, that there weren’t other causes as well.
Eliminate big pharmaceutical lawsuit immunity. Under Michigan law, you cannot sue a drug manufacturer for their negligence unless you attach physical evidence that proves that the manufacturer defrauded the FDA as part of their approval process. How does one go about getting documentary evidence of defrauding the FDA without a subpoena or a pending lawsuit? You can’t. Michigan is the only state in the country that has this draconian law.
The three aforementioned laws either came into being or were otherwise strengthened during republican Governor Engler’s 12-year era which literally flipped Michigan civil juris prudence upside down. Thus, successfully flipping Michigan’s legal climate from pro-citizen to anti-citizen.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It is near impossible to exist in the justice world without being aware of privilege.
My “success” should be defined by the impact I have made to the people I serve. When all is said and done, I feel that I will have been successful in knowing that I have spent a lifetime helping as many people as I could during their time of need. My passion for helping others extends beyond the service to my clients. Since the beginning of my career, it has been crucial that the impact of my professional success extends to my community. Since its inception, Ven Johnson Law enthusiastically extends support to our Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids community.
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.
- Hang in there — this work is important, and the need is great; thus, you will be working long, thankless hours to only start again as soon as you obtain results. The work is tough, but the impact is profound. Hang in there!
- Work hard. Work smart — To be successful in this profession requires hard work, discipline and dedication. As my mom says, the cream always rises to the top. Work hard, work smart, and you will achieve success.
- It Takes a Village — Even when it may feel that way, you are never alone in this work. Be sure to treat those you work with, from your administrative assistant to the court clerk, with respect and dignity. Their wellbeing directly impacts your wellbeing, and some attorneys don’t realize that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face by mistreating others.
- Find a Mentor– The legal realm is wide and full of niches. Finding a mentor that reflects your ethics and passion will be crucial for you finding a positionality within law that will fuel you through life. They are rare, but they are out there and many of us enjoy the ability to teach and share.
- Strengthen Your Support System — As in most professions, work/life balance can be incredibly difficult to obtain. Surround yourself with friends and family that not only understand but support your efforts to help other people. I often took my young kids to the office and shared with them my cases and causes. In turn, both of my children have grown up to be highly empathetic, community-based, passionate people for healing and justice.
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. 🙂
Vice President Kamala Harris. She is a lawyer who comes from a mixed raced and ethnic background, has excelled in law and now in national politics, and is the second most powerful person in the world. To have the honor of picking her brain would be one of the highlights of my life!