Fall 2020

Lawrence Garcia

In Practice

Lawrence García, ’95: Moving Detroit’s Legal Team in New Directions

By James Weir

When the mayor of Detroit asked Lawrence García, ’95, to lead the city’s legal department, he jumped at the opportunity, knowing it would challenge him professionally and give him a meaningful platform to influence the trajectory of Detroit.

“The law department has always had a lot of bench strength and excellent lawyers, but historically you haven’t heard people worried about going up against the office—whether it’s in litigation or in business dealings. One of my goals has been to see the office become more respected as an organization of lawyers,” says García. “I wanted to see more cases tried, claims and payouts go down, and people’s opinion of the law department go up.”

In 2017, the year before García became corporation counsel, the Detroit law department tried zero cases—out of around 500 claims resolved that year in state or federal court. In 2019, the department tried seven cases, and before the pandemic intervened, the department was on track to try 14 cases in 2020.

“It’s important to demonstrate that this office has the ability to articulate a position and stick to it, without caving, and win the case at trial,” says García. “The department is 11-0 since I took the job, including one loss that was reversed on appeal. I’m proud of that record.”

García, Detroit’s first Latino city attorney and the first Latino to serve in the mayor’s cabinet, was initially drawn to the law during a philosophy of law class at Duke Law School, where he was auditing a class for credit toward his undergraduate philosophy degree.

“My favorite professor also taught at the law school, so I decided to enroll in the graduate course and remember thinking, ‘Boy, if this is what law school is like, then sign me up.’ I got to Michigan Law and quickly learned it was not quite that,” laughs García. “But my experience in Ann Arbor was great, and all these years later I still have the sense that that was the smartest group of people I have ever been a part of.”

After graduating, García clerked in the Saginaw County 10th Circuit Court before entering private practice in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, where he litigated cases primarily related to medical malpractice and insurance defense. He discovered a love for the courtroom early on, and went on to become one of the youngest lawyers to be admitted to the Michigan chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates in 2015.

García left St. Clair Shores and moved on to similar positions in Lansing, Michigan, and metro Detroit, before starting his own firm, García Law Group, in 2012, which was the first Latino-led firm in Michigan. García expanded the breadth of his practice beyond insurance defense and became more professionally involved with the Latino community, building on his long-standing volunteer work and advocacy in the area, particularly around youth education and mentorship. He also held leadership roles in the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan.

“I found joy in practicing the way I wanted to practice, and I was able to hire young and talented Latino lawyers who didn’t have the same connections in the legal world that many law school graduates do,” says García. “We represented a lot of Spanish-speaking clients pro bono or at reduced rates on all types of matters, including divorce and custody work, and even criminal defense. It was very gratifying work, and I had a great time learning new areas of the law.”

He adds, “I have always enjoyed growing and learning, and my current role has made me a more well-rounded person, and a better lawyer. I’ve moved around a lot in my 25-year career, and through those experiences I have learned how to better serve others. Looking forward, there’s a lot more law to learn, and a lot more I can provide as an attorney.”