Focus, Government, and Law

Solicitor general eyes Warner return

He argued eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

November 29, 2013
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John Bursch said he will not miss the daily commute to Lansing when he leaves his post as Michigan’s solicitor general and returns to private practice in December. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife and their five kids.

Bursch took up the solicitor general post in 2011, and when he rejoins Warner Norcross & Judd Dec. 9, he will have argued eight cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, a number that makes him unique in his profession.

Bursch argued five criminal cases, a case related to telecommunication fees, and the Michigan Constitutional Amendment case barring the use of sex and race in public university admissions. In December, he will argue a case dealing with tribal sovereign immunity.

“In Michigan, I don’t think there is another attorney in private practice who has argued more than one case in the U.S. Supreme Court, and I’ll have eight, so it really is an extraordinary experience,” he said.

In fact, most attorneys don’t have the opportunity to file a single brief in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There is really an art to writing the petition to the Supreme Court where you ask them to take a case, and also an art to arguing there, with the nine justices asking an average of 100 questions during the one-hour argument,” he added.

“With that experience, I hope to have a very high-level, sophisticated appellate practice, one that goes even beyond Michigan’s borders — more of a national practice — because that experience is so unique.”

Bursch began his career at Warner fresh out of law school and a judicial clerkship. While he was there, he started the firm’s appellate practice.

“So much now lawyers are specialists and they’ll focus on some micro-niche area and have expertise in that, but when you are an appellate lawyer, your expertise is in the court system itself and going to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and all the funny processes and rules that apply to those proceedings,” Bursch said.

“If you are familiar with those, you can really take up any subject matter at all, and so before at Warner, I had a very broad practice when it came to different areas and I’m sure that will continue to be the case.”

He noted one challenge he will face is rebuilding his roster of clients.

“I started at Warner fresh out of law school and my judicial clerkship, and I built up a stable of clients that grew to be quite large by the time I left. I transitioned all those clients over to other attorneys and many of them have great working relationships with them now, so I need to start building my book of business from scratch again.”

Bursch noted that relationship-building is something he has missed while he has been working for the state.

“When you prevail in a case in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the people, you don’t get to pick up the phone and then call somebody and tell them about the case that you just won the way that you do when you have a private client,” he said.

He argues his final U.S. Supreme Court case Dec. 2.

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