Vicari Leads GR Bar

August 29, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Matthew L. Vicari was well-groomed to take on the role of president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association this past July: He has served as vice president and president elect of the bar association, and prior to that served a three-year term on the bar's board of trustees. 

That's the usual succession scenario for the local bar, Vicari pointed out: A member is voted into office first as vice president and serves in that role for one year, then serves as president elect for a year before moving on to a one-year term as president. 

As president, Vicari is the overall "face" of the organization. He chairs the monthly board of trustee meetings and the monthly meetings of the executive committee, which is a subset of the board of trustees.

Vicari also works with GRBA staff on committee sections of the bar, as well as other initiatives such as the Justice Foundation, the charitable arm of the GRBA that serves the community by funding programs that promote or provide legal services to the disadvantaged, improve the administration of justice, and educate the public in legal matters.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association's 1,400 members include practicing lawyers, non-practicing lawyers, law and paralegal students, and legal assistants sponsored by a practicing lawyer.

Vicari is a member of Miller Johnson and chairs both the firm's litigation section and its Fraud & Embezzlement Recovery Practice Group. In his trial practice, he represents corporations, executives, professionals and other individuals in an array of commercial disputes and fraud recoveries, as well as criminal matters involving corporate, governments and individual crimes. 

While Vicari was at Alma College majoring in business, his father and older brother encouraged him to continue with his education after college. He said he had always liked the law and had even given some thought to a career in law enforcement. He took his family's advice, took the Law School Admission Test, and three years later graduated cum laude from the University of Detroit School of Law.  He received a number of awards during his law school years, including American Inns of Court, Justice Frank Murphy Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu National Jesuit Honor Society, National Order of the Barristers and Senior of the Year. Vicari was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1990.

He joined Miller Johnson's litigation practice group right out of law school. He's been with the firm 18 years now — 19 years if his work as a summer associate with the firm is factored in. 

"I knew I was probably best suited to litigation, and part of that is because I'm fairly competitive," Vicari recalled. "I played college football and college baseball, and I thought of trial work as a way of 'combat.' You don't wear helmets or hit anybody but you go to court and joust in a different format."

Vicari still takes to heart the lesson taught him years ago by Jim Brady, an early mentor: "Your word is your bond."

"When you get into court and argue on behalf of a client, you have to make sure you're candid with the court because your word is your bond," Vicari said. "You don't want to overstretch arguments or make arguments that aren't supported by the facts. The other thing Jim Brady taught me was that you treat everybody in the system respectfully and civilly, whether it's opposing counsel, the judge or the judge's staff."

Vicari was instrumental in establishing Miller Johnson's Fraud & Embezzlement Recovery Practice Group in 2002, and to his knowledge, it's one-of-a-kind in West Michigan. The practice group includes attorneys who specialize in labor and employment law, plus debtor, creditor and bankruptcy lawyers in addition to litigation attorneys.

Fraud and embezzlement cases involve employees or former employees who have embezzled, so there are aspects of employment law that have to be considered, he explained. Those kinds of cases also involve companies and individuals that may find themselves in a receivership or bankruptcy, which is why the practice group draws on the expertise of its members in that specialty area. These cases are normally "fire drills" because the attorneys go into court to try to freeze assets of individuals who've embezzled or committed some fraud, Vicari said.

"That initiative was born out of the practice I do in the criminal defense world because, normally, there's a parallel criminal investigation going on, and because I know the players in that arena, we then get into the civil world by filing a civil suit also to try to freeze assets."   

What attracted Vicari to Miller Johnson initially and what continues to cement his loyalty to the firm today are "its people, the atmosphere and culture," he said. 

"The other important aspect is the reputation of our firm based on its founding members. The people here are very friendly, but we're also hard working. We tend to have a more open door culture, while other firms have a more formal feel. The other aspect is our focus on family: The firm encourages people to take time with their family."

In addition to the Grand Rapids Bar, Vicari is a member of the American Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan, Federal Bar Association, Catholic Lawyers Association of Western Michigan and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. LQX

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