As a firm, and as individuals, we have been rooted in the culture, industry, and economy of metro Detroit, and Michigan more broadly, for well over a century. Kerr Russell is a fixture in Michigan’s legal landscape, our own focus is set on helping our clients take on challenges and seize opportunities in order to fuel their success. Clients who face the relentless challenges posed by the global, fast-moving economy require legal solutions that keep pace with the demands of their businesses, and we deliver.
In a profession where people make the difference between success and failure, Kerr Russell is among the very best. We devote all of our energy, skills and considerable resources to protecting our clients and accomplishing their goals as quickly and economically as possible. Our firm consists of intelligent and creative problem-solvers who apply ingenuity and fresh approaches to legal challenges, regardless of their size or complexity. We utilize state-of-the-art technology to serve our clients in the manner they expect—in real-time and at the cutting-edge.
While many lawyers merely interpret the law, Kerr Russell’s attorneys help to shape it. We have handled cases related to the most significant developments in business and health care law in Michigan. Our trial lawyers are frequently involved in some of the most notable commercial cases in Michigan, as well as in other jurisdictions.
Kerr Russell is respected for our high standards, the quality of our work, and our professional ethics and integrity. What most distinguishes our firm, however, is our uncompromising adherence to delivering superb client service. We keep our clients informed every step of the way and we are always available. No matter the day or hour, our clients can always reach us—wherever in the world they are. Whether the matter involves a domestic company wishing to conduct business in some other region of the world, or a foreign company that desires to establish business operations in the United States, Kerr Russell stands ready to help.
We are proud of our nearly 150-year history and the perspective it brings to our practice. We would like to think that our founder, James Keena, would recognize, in the modern Kerr Russell, a firm that has successfully adapted to change while respecting and honoring its past.
Kerr Russell traces its origins to 1874; the year young attorney James T. Keena entered the practice of law. The son of a ferry ticket agent, Keena had served in the Union navy during the United States Civil War, and had earned his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1873. Following law school, he joined the existing law firm of Atkinson, Atkinson & Trowbridge in Detroit, Michigan.
Keena recognized the opportunities that presented with the changing times, and with that, he and his colleague, Luther S. Trowbridge, founded Trowbridge & Keena in 1876. Trowbridge, a former Union Army General, served as Judge Advocate under General George Custer at San Antonio, and also became Treasurer of the Detroit College of Medicine. Keena quickly gained prominence in the banking and business communities, serving as attorney to the Peoples’ State Bank, and was director and chief counsel of the Standard Life and Accident Insurance Company.
The firm’s early clients included some of America’s most successful industrialists and financiers. Among them was Henry Ford, whom we represented in acquiring land for the Ford Rouge Plant. We also helped form many of the early banks in Detroit. Our early partners provided thought leadership and counsel to many, and helped to structure the business agreements that spurred manufacturing and trade in our region and across the country.
1930 – 1970
In the 1930s, the firm drew on its roots in banking, real estate, and business to expand its legal service offerings, and the multidisciplinary practice that is Kerr Russell today began to take shape. This timeframe saw the addition of Donald N. Sweeny to the firm, following his service as the president of the First Wayne National Bank. (The firm still possesses a sheet of uncut US five dollar bills carrying Sweeny’s signature as bank president.)
Our ongoing relationship with the medical and dental professions began in the 1940s. Lester Dodd, a former president of the Michigan Bar Association, and a member of the firm since 1918, began representing organized medical associations affiliated locally and statewide with the American Medical Association. As our proficiency in the legal areas related to medical, dental and other health care interests grew, the firm became an early leader in related insurance matters, managed care issues, and the multifaceted group of legal disciplines which ultimately were recognized as the field of health law.
The law firm continued to grow and flourish over the next several decades and subsequently went through several name changes as new partners were added.
Named partner, Stewart Kerr, who joined the firm in 1947, was previously the head of the US Justice Department’s Antitrust Division office for Detroit, where he had successfully prosecuted key antitrust and War Price Act cases during World War II. Kerr was among the founders of the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Law Section in the early 1950s and the State Bar of Michigan’s corresponding group later that decade. Kerr is credited with helping to write the US antitrust laws, and his leadership established the firm in the complex field of antitrust practice. He served on the prestigious US Attorney General’s Antitrust Commission in the mid-1950s, and continued to be involved until his retirement. Later generations of attorneys within the firm have followed Kerr to become members of the ABA Section’s national governing council and committees, and chairs of the State Bar’s Antitrust and Trade Regulation Section.
Named partner, Bob Russell, steadily grew the firm’s trial practice and held a reputation of being an outstanding litigator. His many achievements include serving as one of the faculty founders of the Wayne Law Review after graduating with honors from the University of Michigan Law School. There was scarcely a major case in federal or state court in the Detroit area during Russell’s forty-plus years in the courtroom that did not find him listed among the counsel of record. Russell also served as President of the Detroit Bar Association in the early 1970s.
1970 – 2000
From the 1970s through his retirement in 2004, Dick Weber instrumentally lead the firm’s growth and expansion into many different practice areas, including health care, automotive and construction. Weber is an honors graduate from Wayne State University Law School, Senior Editor of the Wayne Law Review and a Trustee of the Michigan State Medical Society Foundation. At Kerr Russell, he is described as “a pillar of our firm, one of the most respected attorneys in the community.” He was also regarded as our firm’s “moral compass, who instilled in lawyers the proper priorities in terms of serving the client first, the firm second and the individual attorney, third.”
Also in the 1970s, the firm incorporated (and still serves) what is today one of the largest insurers of professional liability risks in the country. At that time, no one had formed a mutual insurance company in Michigan in twenty years. The chosen format became a model followed in other states. Kerr Russell now proudly represents medical and dental professionals locally and statewide. Consequently, key Michigan health legislation and appellate matters vital to the health care field often directly reflect input from the firm’s attorneys.
The world, the practice of law, and the law firm founded nearly 150 years ago have changed dramatically since that time. Like our founder, however, we remain a firm that recognizes the opportunities inherent during change.
Today, Kerr Russell provides high-quality, sophisticated services to a wide range of businesses and individuals in virtually all major areas of the law. Our clients include the brightest start-ups, businesses headquartered around the globe with multinational manufacturing facilities, and offshore captive insurance companies. Many of our attorneys are certified public accountants as well as lawyers, and other members of our legal teams hold advanced degrees, certifications and specific training in their areas of specialty. The comprehensive nature of our practice means we can handle any legal issue; our size affords us the flexibility to be nimble, and to serve clients efficiently and at a reasonable cost.
Kerr Russell’s allegiance to Detroit dates back to our founding in 1874, well before the city assumed its place as one of the country’s primary hubs for business, culture, finance and transportation. Our founders and early partners helped guide Detroit to prominence; today, our firm and our later generations of attorneys remain steadfast in our loyalty to the people and the institutions of our great city and the state of Michigan.
Kerr Russell has long been designated a “Michigan Centennial Business,” an honor awarded by the Michigan Historical Society for ‘providing continuous service to the people of Michigan and for contributions to the growth and vitality of our state.’ As one of Michigan’s oldest law firms, we accept this distinction with pride. However, we are ever-mindful of our profound responsibility to support the community that has provided so much to us and to our families for nearly 150 years.
The list of charitable, cultural, civic and legal organizations Kerr Russell supports financially and through innumerable hours of volunteer and pro bono service is long and notable. We choose to highlight only a few here, as representative examples of our established and continued interest in the welfare and well-being of our friends and neighbors:
- Our lawyers have held or currently hold positions of leadership within local, state and national bar associations. One of our attorneys is currently the president of the Detroit Bar Association; a role two other Kerr Russell attorneys have held. Two of our attorneys sit on the State Bar of Michigan Representative Assembly, a policymaking body formed in 1971 by the Michigan State Bar Board of Commissioners. Positions on the Assembly are prestigious appointments, reflecting an attorney’s high ethical standards and his or her ability to represent diverse viewpoints in deciding matters of policy for the state bar. Many of our attorneys have also served as the chairperson on several State Bar section councils.
- Many of our attorneys devote their time and expertise to charitable and community endeavors, including advising non-profit boards that provide a range of services and funding to assist our city and state’s underserved populations.
- The firm has won many awards for pro bono service, including the State Bar of Michigan’s 2014 Circle of Excellence at the Excellence Level, among others.
- Kerr Russell is heavily involved with The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, which for 30 years has worked to make positive, long-term change to enhance the lives of people in the southeast region of our state.
Kerr Russell’s commitment to the community extends past service. We understand the privilege and societal responsibilities carried with the practice of law. Thus, we understand the importance of providing legal services to the underserved, civic, and charitable organizations that comprise our community. When we accept a pro bono matter, we commit our same values and standards of excellence that apply to the work we do for every client.
Our Member attorney, Michael (Max) A. Sneyd, manages our pro bono practice and is advised by Kerr Russell’s executive committee. If you are interested in pro bono representation, please email Max by clicking on the email button below.