Q&A: Meet Michael Downey, Class of 2015
Michael Downey is founder of Downey Law Group LLC, a law firm devoted to legal ethics, law firm risk management, and the law of lawyering. Michael has consistently demonstrated a high regard for the ethics that are the foundation of the legal profession. For more than a decade, he has pragmatically explored, taught, and written about the conundrums that can trip up even the most careful lawyer. His leadership in the profession was recognized when Missouri Lawyers Weekly named him a 2014 Most Influential Lawyer and the “go-to ethics counsel in Missouri.” His notable posts include serving as chair of the ABA Law Practice Division and as ethics columnist for Litigation magazine, Law Practice magazine, and the St. Louis Lawyer.
Michael generously shares his knowledge and experience with newly admitted lawyers and with the law firms for which he serves as ethics counsel.
Downey Law Group
St. Louis, Missouri
Where were you born and raised?
St. Louis, Missouri.
What’s your favorite thing to do away from work?
Spend time with my kids — Andy (16), Liam (13) and Katie (10) — before they determine that I am not cool.
What achievement outside of work makes you most proud?
I have been married 20 years and have three really good kids. If that is not enough, I coached an undefeated chess team when I was a high school Latin teacher, before law school.
Who was your mentor and what made him or her so influential?
I have had a lot of great mentors. Some that deserve mention are Dorsey Ellis and Dan Keating of Washington University School of Law (in law school), Jim Jones at the GWU Law Firm Management Program, John Galvin of Fox Galvin (as a young litigator), Mark Robertson and Tom Grella (in the ABA Law Practice Division), and Anthony Davis of Hinshaw (as a young ethics lawyer).
What is the most vivid moment or experience in your career?
In Missouri, serious lawyer discipline cases regularly go to trial, and either party may appeal the results as a matter of right to the Missouri Supreme Court. I have had the privilege of representing dozens of lawyers in discipline cases, tried perhaps 20 cases, and argued nine to the Missouri Supreme Court and two to the Illinois ARDC Review Board. Standing up in an appellate court to argue for a lawyer’s right to keep his or her license to practice is a huge responsibility and a great honor, and I know I will be peppered with questions from the bench for the entire duration of the argument.
I have also testified numerous times as an expert witness. Recently, this meant undergoing two days of cross-examination in an arbitration arising from a law firm breakup. It was very exhilarating, but also quite exhausting.
Of the law-related projects or initiatives you’ve worked on in the past year or so, what has you the most excited or shows the most promise?
I started Downey Law Group LLC, a law firm devoted to legal ethics and the law of lawyering, approximately one year ago in February 2015. The firm has had a great year. Also, after spending more than 15 years in a large law firm, I am now my own boss, can walk to my house and all my kids’ schools from my office, have been home for dinner more in the last year than I was in the previous 15 years … and am doing well financially. We use a large variety of fee arrangements, and work every day to try to treat the client like they should be treated and want to be treated. It is all very rewarding.
What is the most engaging law-related thing you’re doing right now?
I am trying to finish up my second book — my first was on law firm practice, and this one is on legal ethics. I am also preparing to hold a CLE and reception to celebrate a successful first year with my own firm. It is very exciting.
And I will be a co-Vice Chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2017, which should be wonderful, but will also be a lot of work.
Get to know the rest of the Fellows by visiting the Recent Inductees page and by browsing the Fellows Directory.