Friday, January 12, 2018
MICHAEL E. MEYER
An Impish, Principled Lawyer Who Heads the County Bar
He’s a Lover of the Law, Baseball, and Hot Dogs—but Hold the Ketchup!
hen Michael Meyer was a young boy growing up six blocks from Chicago’s Wrigley Field, he wangled a job with an enviable reward.
After games, he and his brother would sweep the stands for 35 cents per row, plus a ticket to the next game.
“My brother would hold the seat up, and I’d sweep the trash out from under it,” Meyer says. “Of course, this was before child labor laws prohibited that sort of thing,”
But that was far from Meyer’s only connection with the Cubs. In 1974, Meyer got a call at his Los Angeles law office from none other than Mr. Cub himself, the legendary former player Ernie Banks. Banks, referred to Meyer by a mutual friend, asked the lawyer to represent him in endorsement deals. The only problem was, Meyer is a real estate lawyer who knew next to nothing about endorsements. But Banks insisted.
And so began both a professional relationship and a friendship that lasted more than 40 years until Banks’ death in 2015.
Meyer was even tapped by Banks to play in several Old Timers games at Wrigley Field, where long retired Cubs players took on teams of wanna be/never-were baseball players in charity games.
On the Field
“What a great experience!” Meyer gushes. “How many people can say they played at Wrigley Field, let alone with Ernie Banks and some of the other Cubs greats?
To this day, Meyer remains a supremely loyal Cubs fan. His downtown Los Angeles office is decorated with Cubs memorabilia, as is his Manhattan Beach home. His cell phone ring tone is “Go Cubs Go,” the unofficial Cubs’ anthem. But, unlike many fellow Chicago natives, he doesn’t hate the White Sox.
“You can be a fan of both,” he says with a chuckle.
And Banks isn’t Meyer’s only contact with a baseball legend. He met the Dodgers’ Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson in 1952.
“I had just finished sweeping two rows at Wrigley Field and asked him for his autograph,” Meyer recounts.
In 1994, he was introduced to Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson.
Meyer notes that realtor John Cushman, chair of Cushman & Wakefield, invited him and others to have lunch with her when the Jackie Robinson Foundation—which provides scholarships, internships, mentoring and other services to low income students—was considering opening a Los Angeles office.
Then with the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro (now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman), Meyer arranged for the foundation to have the use of three offices within the firm’s space. Rachel Robinson asked him to join the foundation’s board—a post he holds to this day.
Though he grew up with a father who was a lawyer, Meyer didn’t originally see himself in a role in law. As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Meyer was initially pulling three Fs and a D, when his father paid him a visit at his dormitory. He recalls his father saying:
Depicted above is the guest bathroom at the home of Michael and Catherine Meyer decorated with Cubs memorabilia.
“I love you no matter what, but you need to buckle down and study. Pick something to work toward and do it.”
And so he did. He studied social work, with a goal of helping to improve people’s lives. But reality intervened during a summer job in Michigan.
“I just found it very frustrating,” he says. “It dawned on me that I probably wasn’t going to be able to make a meaningful difference in these people’s lives, and so I started to think about other ways to be involved in public service.”
After his father’s freshman-year pep talk, Meyer’s grades had improved dramatically, and he was accepted for admission at the University of Chicago Law School. In a pattern of industriousness that would carry on in his law career, he started getting to the law library at 6 am each day to study before classes, would leave school about 5:30 each afternoon to work that evening in a legendary Chicago bar, Chances R—so named, according to lore, because the owners said, “Chances are, we’ll go bankrupt.”
Meyer’s task at the bar was to check IDs at the door and “manage” the waitresses and cooks.
In law school, he boasts, he never missed a class.
“I am one of the few people who loved law school,” he says—adding: “and still love practicing law.”
Tutored on UCC
One of his professors, Grant Gilmore, was one of the early drafters of the Uniform Commercial Code.
“He talked to me at Chances R when he came in for drinks,” Meyer recalls.
And what they talked about was the UCC. The County Bar chief says:
“The UCC had just been adopted around that time, and nobody really understood it or knew much about it. Thanks to my professor, I probably knew more about the UCC at that time than just about anybody practicing law. He not only taught me about the code, but about the politics and philosophy underlying each provision.”
That knowledge later helped him get a job with a conservative California law firm, Lillick, McHose, Wheat, Adams & Charles (which later merged with Pillsbury). The button-down partners were quite surprised when the self-described “long-haired hippie with flowers on his car” showed up for work.
He spent his time outside of office hours campaigning and raising money for the 1968 presidential run by liberal Democratic U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, side-by-side with the likes of women’s movement activist Betty Friedan. But his work ethic and UCC knowledge kept him in the firm’s good graces.
Meyer thought he wanted to practice First Amendment law when he graduated from law school. He spent a few years pursuing that interest, but became disillusioned when he discovered that he wasn’t so much fighting to defend the media’s right to publish matter such as the Pentagon Papers, but was mostly censoring gossip columns for items that might get his media clients sued for libel.
“I didn’t like being a censor,” he reflects. “My personal philosophy is more in line with [the late U.S. Supreme Court] Justice [Hugo] Black, who said there should be no limitations on speech.
“I didn’t care for making the world safe for gossip,”
Meyer describes himself as a libertarian, which for him means that he’s socially liberal, but thinks government should largely stay out of people’s lives. In his law practice, he says, it means he treats everyone as equal.
“It would never occur to me to treat anybody differently based on their gender or religion or sexual preference,” he relates.
The July/August Issue of Los Angeles Lawyer shows Meyer in his law office.
Grandfather Was Janitor
His grandfather, he says, was a janitor.
In the July/August edition of LACBA’s “President’s Page,” he comments:
“My grandfather came to the United States from Minsk, Belarus, a place that was conquered by Russia, Germany, and a few other countries from time to time. He could not speak English. He worked as a janitor; saved his money; sent for his wife, brother, and sister; learned to speak English; and became a successful businessman. He taught me how to treat people, and to this day I keep a picture in my office of him in front of his pushcart. When I complete a big deal and people ask me how I cope with the pressure, I point to that picture of my grandfather and explain that he had pressure, not I.”
Meyer says he would rather nudge his clients and opponents to “do the right thing” than to force the issue through litigation.
“I do believe you can get clients to do the right thing on almost any issue if you’re good at what you do,” he comments, declaring:
“Persuasion is a big part of being a lawyer.”
In the 1970s, before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act took effect, he persuaded his firm to re-think its policy of firing women who needed time off in later stages of pregnancy. Meyer had an assistant who he had spent many hours training, and whose work he found valuable.
“It was sort of selfish on my part,” he recollects. “I had a lot invested in this person, and I didn’t want to lose her.
“I thought ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose her because she got pregnant.’ ”
So, he convinced the firm that it was better for business to allow these highly trained assistants to come back after giving birth. It changed its policy—and, he notes, other local firms soon followed.
Meyer got into his current area of focus, commercial real estate, when he was asked to represent some Asian shipping companies looking for office space in Los Angeles. When he reviewed the first lease that his clients were offered, he was aghast at the onerous terms to which the clients were expected to agree, he recounts, relating that at first, his protests fell on deaf ears.
“The leasing companies would tell me my clients should agree to these terms because Big Company A and Big Company B had agreed to them, and who were my clients to protest?” he notes.
The leasing companies even tried to make an end-run around Meyer to his clients, telling them that their lawyer was just trying to pad his bill by arguing about “standard” terms. But the clients trusted Meyer, and once he explained why the terms were so bad, they authorized him to continue to fight for a better deal.
As it happened, he had once played dominos with Robert Williams, general counsel to First Interstate Bank (now Wells Fargo), which was named as one of the big companies that had agreed to such lease provisions. Meyer telephoned him, read the lawyer some of the provisions that troubled him, and asked if it were true that the bank had agreed to such terms. Williams—who remembered Meyer—seemed surprised, but said he wasn’t directly involved with negotiating leases for the bank. He promised to check with his associates who handled leases and get back to Meyer.
Big Break Comes
A day or so later, Meyer recounts, the general counsel (now deceased) called him back and said:
“How would you like to represent the bank on all of our leasing matters?”
Apparently, Meyer says, the bank had agreed to some unfavorable terms, and the general counsel realized that such sloppiness was bound to come back to bite them sooner or later. And so Meyer took over all of the bank’s lease negotiations.
“And that’s how I got my first big American client in the real estate business,” Meyer says.
Meyer has gone on to become one of the nation’s top commercial real estate attorneys, with a focus on leases for leading companies, banks, and law and accounting firms. According to the website of his firm, DLA Piper, Meyer has worked on behalf of the City National Bank headquarters lease (525,000 sq. ft. in Los Angeles), Sempra (300,000 sq. ft. in San Diego), Nestle USA headquarters lease (205,833 sq. ft. in Arlington, VA), ICM Partners headquarters lease (111,591 sq. ft. in Los Angeles), and Holland America headquarters lease (185,087 sq. ft. in Seattle). In November 2016, he won a $5.6 million dollar fair market rental rate arbitration award for Capitol Records.
Seeks LACBA Position
Meyer last year won in the first contested Los Angeles County Bar Association election in 25 years to become its president-elect. He says he was inspired to run by “people he admires.”
Meyer says he believes one of the biggest problems the association was facing, was waning confidence by its members due to unwarranted secrecy. Its financial records were secret. Members could not even obtain copies of the bylaws. He ran on a pledge of transparency, as well as fiscal responsibility.
LACBA was eating into its reserves, losing about $1 million a year, yet giving away money to charitable projects and forgiving indebtedness.
Backed by the newly formed Council of Sections—the creation of which flowed from frustration of the association’s sections with the perceived non-responsiveness of staff to their needs and an effort to regiment them, along with what was regarded as arrogance on the part of then-President Paul Kiesel and then-Chief Executive Officer Sally Suchil—Meyer defeated the Nominating Committee’s choice, Senior Vice President Michael K. Lindsey, by a vote of 1,273 to 448.
Council-backed candidates won the other three officer positions as well as the five trustee spots for which the reform group put up candidates. (Two Nominating Committee selections for trustee seats were embraced by the council and two Nominating Committee nominees were, through happenstances, unopposed.)
As president-elect, Meyer automatically ascended to the presidency on July 1 of last year.
In recent years, members of the Board of Trustees were expected to merely sign off on decisions made the night before, behind closed doors, by members of the LACBA Executive Committee, comprised of elected officers, officers appointed by the president, the immediate past president, and the Barristers’ president and president-elect. That’s ended. The Executive Committee has not met even once since Meyer became president; he says that trustees now “own their vote.”
Meyer is also a board member of the New Otani America Corp., and the L.A. Building Owners and Managers Association, where he is on the executive committee.
In addition to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Meyer sits on the boards of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, the L.A. Police Foundation, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation, the Boy Scouts of America of Los Angeles and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities Foundation.
Married to Lawyer
Meyer is married to attorney Catherine D. Meyer. They met when Michael Meyer was at Lillick McHose.
Meyer is pictured in LACBA’s 1978 “Centennial Pictorial Membership directory.”
“Mike interviewed me for a summer internship when I was a second year law student,” Catherine Meyer says, noting that she got the internship and was later offered a position as an attorney, which she accepted.
“We didn’t start dating until long afterwards,” she notes.
After they were wed—35 years ago—both remained at Pillsbury until he left in 2003 to go to DLA Piper—where he is managing partner of the Los Angeles office. Catherine Meyer remained with the firm where she started her legal career, and is now a senior counsel handling cases involving data protection, privacy and cyber law.
Footsteps Not Followed
They have four grown children, none of whom has followed the parents into the legal field.
Nevertheless, the father says, he is proud of all of them. He notes that daughter Kellie is studying speech pathology at Northwestern University and works with children who have autism.
“Can you imagine?” he asks. “That takes such a tremendous amount of patience and caring.
“I couldn’t do what she does.”
He tells of their other children:
“Mollie, who is at USC business school and working at a start up in marketing, Patrick who is working at wealth management at Bank of America, and Linda who graduated from Washington University of St. Louis and then got a Masters at Claremont and does consulting work for various school systems.”
He says he has no hobbies other than hanging out with his family, but does admit to a mischievous streak. He offers the following example:
“A guy came into my office one day delivering flowers. They were for my suite-mate’s secretary. Apparently, it was Secretary’s Day, but nobody had reminded me.
“When she came back, she exclaimed all over the place about how wonderful it was of him to get her such nice flowers. I said, ‘Yeah, but he’s cheap. They’re probably used flowers.’ She seemed flummoxed. ‘Used flowers?’ she says. ‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘You can buy flowers that have already been used for like a funeral or something. By law, the seller has to put a little ‘U’ on the stem in black ink.’
“So she pulled a few stems out of the vase, and sure enough, there’s a ‘U’ on each one. When he came back she let him have it about how cheap he was and how long she’d been with him and how could he buy her used flowers? He never knew what hit him.
“Of course, I had put the ‘U’ on the stems before she got back from lunch. They both forgave me, eventually. Took a few days, though.”
Can Be ‘Difficult’
At his Dec. 18 installation as LACBA president—which would normally have been held in June, but that’s another story (relating to an effort to derail the 2017 election results, thwarted through litigation)—Meyer admitted: “I can be difficult.”
He recited that a friend once asked his wife if she had ever considered divorce and she shot back: “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes!”
Did she actually ever say that? “No,” Catherine Meyer responds, “it’s a joke he thought was funny and adopted it.”
Her actual feelings?
“Michael is my best friend. He has a good heart, strong character and a wicked sense of humor that keeps us all on our toes!”
There is, however, one bone of contention between them. She puts ketchup on her hot dogs.
Meyer, a hot dog aficionado—he likes the frankfurters with the skins on them, so that juice oozes when the devourer takes the first bite—has a rule. It’s based on the custom of the Windy City, religiously observed at Wrigley Field, and is his personal credo:
“Never, ever put ketchup on a hot dog!”
Two years ago, the County Bar was routinely incurring annual operating deficits, dipping into its reserves to pay its expenses, ignoring the sections, and losing members who had concluded that the Bar was too expensive and irrelevant. At the time, LACBA operated in almost total secrecy, refusing to divulge financials, or even basic governance documents. That lack of transparency and communications led to a major rift between the Sections and LACBA.
After LACBA ignored the concerns of the sections, a number of section leaders decided to formally challenge the Bar’s elected leadership through a contested election.
To lead the reform ticket, we wanted a distinguished lawyer, well respected in the legal community, who had a broad inclusive vision, and who had the management experience to run the Bar on a fiscally sound basis.
And most of all, we needed someone with the courage to step forward, to challenge the status quo, and who was unafraid of a public fight.
A number of us had served with Mike Meyer previously, and we knew him as a man of integrity, courage, sound judgment and civic unselfishness. Mike was our unanimous choice. The Bar was in crises; it needed a President with a steady hand and we knew Mike had the leadership skills to take the steps necessary to weather the storm, and rebuild LACBA to the historic prominence it deserves.
Charles E. Michaels
Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel of Laaco Ltd.;
Former President, Los Angeles County Bar Association
We of the Los Angeles County Bar Association are fortunate to have Michael Meyer as our President for 2017-2018. Having suffered through a loyalist rebellion, a challenged election, and even litigation, our Association needed a leader who would promote healing while remaining true to the pledge to implement fiscal responsibility, restore respect for our Sections, and establish transparency in all of our affairs. Michael has done just that. He has embraced the challenges of his position by leading from within. His leadership style is soft-spoken, honest, and humble. The Officers and Trustees marvel at his unfailing ability to encourage dissent, while always guiding us toward consensus. If ever there was a perfect choice for new leadership, it was Michael.
The work of the Association requires a commitment to participate in more meetings than one could imagine. Curious it is, however, that Michael often tells us how much he detests meetings. Yet there he sits, with a Chicago smile on his face, embracing his role as the leader of the new Association.
As a diehard fan of his beloved Chicago Cubs, during the season he can be found at Dodger Stadium for a few innings of baseball, with a glass of wine in one hand, and an order of tater tots in the other.
Little did I know that his expertise extends to college football as well. When my alma mater was highly ranked early in the year, Michael ventured that his alma mater, Wisconsin, would prevail in the match-up in Madison. A dinner at a fine restaurant, wives included, was at stake. Suffice it to say that Michael and Cathie were my guests soon thereafter. He was a gracious winner that evening. And isn’t that just who he is. Gracious, polite, and humble - and a true winner. We are all the better for it.
A Founding and Senior Partner, Brot & Gross, LLP,
Michael Meyer is the right man at the right time. I was introduced to Michael almost a year ago. I was told that if I were to run for president elect of the LACBA, I needed to make sure Michael was comfortable serving with me. I asked Charles Michaels and John Carson what I needed to really know about Michael. They said one word: “honorable”. They then explained that he had a strong moral compass and wanted to do the right thing. In the last seven months he has shown that over and over again. Now, his actual physical office is another thing altogether! His encyclopedic knowledge of baseball makes me feel as if I have never seen a single game.
Founding and Managing Partner, Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP,
Mike Meyer’s track record of professional success is well known. What may be less well known is his indomitable spirit. At a time in his life when he had earned the right to reflect on his success, he took on the formidable task of leading the LA County Bar out of its downward spiral and onto a path to success. He has done so with a quiet strength and a focus on bringing people together. Under just 6 months of his leadership, the LA County Bar has begun to transform itself. His commitment and dedication are unparalleled, and he does it all while being the ultimate gentleman.
Partner, Holland & Knight LLP,
Mike Meyer is a guy you want to know. That’s because besides being a great lawyer, he is just a lot of fun.
Many years ago when I was just out of law school, Mike took me to meet a client at the race track where we had lunch. It was a hot day, and I hung my suit coat on my chair. At the end of lunch, I picked up my coat and a load of silverware fell out of the pockets.
Mike looked at me. “What?” he asked as the waiters and client stared. “You have to take the silverware? Don’t we pay you enough?” Then everyone broke out in laughter.
That was the first of many pranks he played on me—and I reciprocated. We just had fun. And as a mentor, I still remember Mike going to a meeting of tenants and watching him take over the discussions to put his client in the best position, focused on achieving a successful result. He;s simply an exceptional lawyer and a terrific guy.
Managing Principal/CEO, Reuben Raucher & Blum,
Mike Meyer is an awesome excellent lawyer and one with a strong commitment to social justice. We are fortunate to have him in our community.
Frank L. Ellsworth
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company