Shoots From the Hip
The employment law attorney prides himself
on being straightforward with clients and colleagues
BY ELLEN PILIGIAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT STEWART
In 2000, after 15 years of practicing employment law at a large
firm, David Kotzian, then about 4 0, entered a mild midlife crisis.
Nothing major, he insists. But he did get a tattoo.
“I kept it professional,” says the conservative-looking lawyer, his
“I wanted to do my own thing. I also wanted to do more neutral
gray-flecked hair and mustache accenting his ensemble of gray
slacks, gray-and-white striped shirt and gray tie, as he sits in his
simply appointed office in Farmington Hills, while gesturing to the
phoenix tattoo on his right arm above the elbow. “I just wanted to
try something different.”
Kotzian, now 52, did more than add a permanent image of a
mythical bird to his body. He left his position as senior partner
at Southfield-based Sommers Schwartz—his first job out of law
school—to set up a solo practice in January 2001.
work,” says Kotzian, who now litigates employment cases full time,
including more arbitration and mediation, which make up about a
third of his workload. “It’s a nice mix.”
IT SEEMS KOTZIAN, WHOSE PRACTICE INCLUDES WRONGFUL
termination and employment discrimination law, could do just
about anything he wanted. With dual degrees from the University of
Michigan—he graduated magna cum laude with a law degree and a
doctorate in economics—he was a shoe-in with his first employer.
He first impressed veteran employment attorney Joseph Golden at
Sommers Schwartz, whom Kotzian contacted following graduation
because he was interested in the practice area. Golden landed
Kotzian an interview. “He was hired immediately,” says Golden.
The man who hired him was Donald Gasiorek, who remains a good
friend. “He was ungodly impressive,” Gasiorek says. “He was a perfect
candidate, with wonderful credentials, and wanted to do what we do.”
Not that Gasiorek knew what to expect personality-wise from
someone with that kind of a résumé. “You expect he’ll be a dorky
AT TORNE YS SELEC TED TO SUPER LAW YERS WERE CHOSEN IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROCESS ON PAGE 13.
geek, and you meet this wonderful, engaging, articulate person,”
says Gasiorek, today a partner with Gasiorek, Morgan, Greco &
McCauley in Farmington Hills, where Kotzian now rents office
space. “I always say he’s one of the smartest people I know but
Golden agrees. “He’s got an analytical mind, and he’s very
reasonable and comes to things from a very common-man
perspective. The man’s word is his bond,” says Golden, now a
partner at Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Rivers & Golden in Royal Oak.
“You may not want to hear it, but he’ll tell you. He’s straightforward
and shoots from the hip.”
Among the pair’s most famous cases was the 1992 wrongful
termination case involving the late Bo Schembechler and
the Detroit Tigers. The famed Wolverines football coach
had become the Tigers’ president by way of a handshake
agreement. “It consisted of some handwritten notes he and Tom
Monaghan had written on a napkin. It was a little amusing to
see that [Schembechler] had taken the time to have the napkin
laminated,” says Kotzian.
The lawsuit fostered such publicity that reporters camped out in
The parties reached a confidential settlement one day before trial.
the law firm’s lobby. “Bo took it all in stride. It never seemed to faze
him,” says Kotzian, who recalls the legendary football coach as
“just a regular guy like any other client. He didn’t come to us with a
team of advisers or an entourage. It was just Bo.”
Kotzian, a die-hard baseball fan, knew his limits in terms of the
sport, so he didn’t try to talk much football with the coach. He
says Schembechler knew his limits, too, and listened to their legal
advice. “He was an excellent client.”
In turn, Kotzian says, he never treated Schembechler like a living
legend. “I felt that the minute I treated Bo like a celebrity instead of a
client, I’d lose some credibility and objectivity in representing him.”