In Memoriam: Michael P. Brennan

In his words, Michael Patrick Brennan realized at a young age that he was not going to make it as a hockey player, so he enrolled in Aquinas College in Grand Rapids with the goal of becoming a doctor. He soon discovered that he did not have the right temperament for medical school either, so he adjusted his plans again and took a job with a local law firm. He then came across intellectual property law and was thrilled to discover that he could combine his scientific background with a career in solving complex challenges. This propelled him to attend law school at the University of Detroit.

Mike came to Harness Dickey in the fall of 1984 after working for three years as in-house counsel with The Procter & Gamble Company. His passion for unravelling legal problems and knowing how to anticipate the needs of his clients allowed him to flourish as a member of the litigation team. Through tenacity and dedication, he steadily built a reputation among his clients and colleagues as one of the best IP lawyers in Michigan. His hard work allowed him to become a Principal with the firm in 1987. Mike handled disputes in courts across the country for roughly twelve years before he shifted his practice to strategic counseling and risk management for some of the firm’s largest clients.

Beyond his responsibilities to his clients, Mike was always a champion for the firm itself. For nearly 35 years, he proved repeatedly that he was a tremendous leader and guiding force behind the firm’s continued success. Most compellingly, he was elected to the firm’s managing group, the Administrative Committee, only five years after joining the firm and only eight years after graduating from law school. He served on the Administrative Committee and then on its successor, the Executive Committee, from 1989 until the day he passed away. There were very few important, firm-wide decisions that Mike was not a part of during that time.

Harness Dickey experienced tremendous growth under Mike’s leadership. The firm maintained only a single office from when it was founded in 1921 until Mike joined it in 1984. Today, in addition to its office in Metro Detroit, Harness Dickey has offices in Metropolitan Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. The number of attorneys has also risen from about 30 when he first joined to more than 100 today. At the time he passed away, Mike was helping to lead nearly 300 attorneys and staff.

Throughout the firm’s expansion, Mike saw that it held onto its guiding culture, which he described as “enjoying what we do, doing it well, and adding value for our clients.” His cultural philosophy could have been the reason why so many of his clients stayed with him for so long — he had an average client relationship of 18 years and worked with some for more than 30 years.

Mike also proudly served his legal community. He taught a course on licensing and negotiations at the University of Detroit Mercy and was a founding member of the Intellectual Property Law Institute, a consortium of U.S. and Canadian law schools that worked together to offer advanced courses on intellectual property. The IP Law Institute ensured that students would have more access to IP classes, thereby helping to promote future generations of great IP attorneys.

For the staff of Harness Dickey, Mike was the firm’s humble and humorous leader. While serving as emcee of the annual holiday staff party, he would frequently recite his familiar chorus, “If you have any complaints about tonight’s event, please write it on the back of a $100 bill and hand it to my assistant, Ronda.”

For Mike Brennan, following a career path into the law instead of hockey or medicine turned out to be an unbelievably rewarding decision — and not just for him. It is with immense gratitude and sadness that Harness Dickey says farewell to a leader, a mentor, and a friend.

In lieu of flowers, the Brennan family has asked for donations to be made to St. Frances Cabrini Clinic in Detroit (http://www.cabriniclinic.org/).