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Contentious cases send attorney solo

John Bursch parts ways with Warner Norcross, but both parties remain supportive.

October 7, 2016
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A former Warner Norcross & Judd attorney hung up his own shingle in August.

John Bursch left the firm where he’s spent almost the entire two decades of his career — minus three years he spent as Michigan solicitor general — to start Bursch Law PLLC, a boutique law firm focused on appellate cases.

Bursch said he already has a full docket.

“In the month of October alone, I will be arguing four Michigan Supreme Court cases, a Sixth Circuit case and a U.S. Supreme Court case,” he said.

Bursch said leaving Warner behind wasn’t an easy decision, but it became necessary for him to be able to take on the types of cases he most enjoys.

“Warner is a great firm. They are second largest in the state right now, I believe, but one of the problems of having a firm of that size is you represent clients in almost every conceivable industry and on every possible issue,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, I’d had an increasing number of conflicts with other Warner clients that was prohibiting me from being able to bring in the types of cases that I wanted.”

For example, last year, Bursch represented the state of Michigan in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in what is known as the gay marriage case. He presented oral arguments on the state’s behalf defending the Michigan Marriage Amendment, which banned same-sex marriage in Michigan over a decade earlier.

“When I defended Michigan in the same-sex marriage case in the Supreme Court, that is a perfect example,” he said. “That was one where Warner had clients and lawyers who had strong views on both sides of that issue. That was one they decided as a firm they could not take, although they allowed me to pursue the case on my own while I remained a Warner partner, and I am very grateful for that.”

Bursch said he will continue to work with his former Warner colleagues on cases.

“I have a lot of excess work that I don’t have time to get to,” he said. “My friends at Warner will be a huge help on a large portion of my docket.”

He also said he plans to represent states as part of his appellate practice, which will provide him with another great resource.

“With the states, I have the benefit of collaborating with attorney general offices and their staff,” he said.

Bursch said while he likes helping individual clients achieve justice, the cases he prefers to work on are ones with broad implications.

“What I love about these cases is they really make a difference,” he said. “These cases that get to the Michigan Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court, they are the ones that have an impact on everybody in the state or in the country.”

On Oct. 31, Bursch will argue his 10th case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He is representing Star Athletica against competitor Varsity in a copyright case involving cheerleading uniforms. He said it is a complex case that has been described as a “thorny mess” in the area of copyright law.

“It is about the copyrightability of the color blocks on cheerleader uniforms,” he said. “This case will have a huge impact on how copyright protection is extended to not only garments but all types of objects across the country.”

He added, “I love the intellectual challenge of taking the really hard cases and arguing them. A case doesn’t get to the state or federal Supreme Court stage unless the issue is really hard. If it had an easy answer, it wouldn’t have made it there.”

Bursch said he is not too concerned about who will be appointed to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by the death of Antonin Scalia.

“The composition of the court is something that concerns my practice a great deal, but I believe that in most of the cases I take up there, the legal issue cuts across political and philosophical lines, at least if I am doing my job, it should,” he said. “Ultimately, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat that ends up in the White House appointing justices, I should be able to frame an argument that they will understand and follow regardless of the side of the political aisle they or the issue happens to be on.”

Bursch said in addition to his appellate work, he also is working on two trial cases.

He filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tesla last month against the state of Michigan, and he will be defending the state of Indiana’s ban on fetal tissue possession and sale against a lawsuit filed by the University of Indiana.

Bursch said he is excited about being an entrepreneur and said West Michigan is a “great place to start a business.”

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