Setting the stage: Acting stint serves as springboard for legal career


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Matt Bower, who studied theater as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, notes there are a lot of “soft” skills that translate well between theater and the law.    

“To be a good actor requires professionalism and hard work, as well as good listening and communication skills, which are helpful in most professions,” said Bower, lead attorney in Varnum’s Ann Arbor office. “More importantly, I think creativity is an underrated skill in the law. Creative thinking is essential to problem solving, which is a big part of what lawyers do.”     

An enthusiastic thespian in high school plays, Bower was reluctant to pursue theater as a college major — but quickly changed his mind after landing a role in a student production in his first week at U-M. That spring, he auditioned for and was accepted into the U-M Department of Theatre & Drama. 

“I had no misconception I’d spend the rest of my life as an actor but I loved the community, intense training, and intellectual rigor of the program,” he said. “I wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up but studying theater seemed like more fun than pursuing an English or history degree.”    

After graduation, the neophyte trouper moved to New York City to explore a career in the theatre while supporting himself with a job at a law firm.    

It was a serendipitous choice. Starting off doing document review for complex litigation, Bower was promoted to paralegal within a year.    

“I loved the people I was working with and found the work challenging and intellectually rewarding,” he said. “One day, one of the attorneys I was working with asked, ‘When are you applying to law school?’ A light bulb went off.”    

Bower went on to earn his law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School Of Law in New York, where he was the Editor-in-Chief of the intellectual property law journal.

He practiced law in New York and most recently with a small Michigan firm, prior to joining Varnum in 2013, where he started in Detroit before moving to the Ann Arbor office.   

Bower, whose kudos have included being named to Detroit Techweek 100, Michigan Super Lawyers-Rising Star and Michigan Lawyers Weekly Up and Coming Lawyers, specializes in corporate law, venture finance, and intellectual property, (primarily, copyright, software, licensing, trade secrets, publishing, and new media); and represents a wide range of emerging and middle market technology companies.

“Early stage Software-as-a Service — SaaS — companies probably make up the majority of my technology clients, but I also work with companies in manufacturing, automotive, advanced materials, pharma,
medical devices, and media,” he said.    

“Working with entrepreneurs is wonderful because they are so passionate about their product or service. It's a great feeling supporting people like that and helping them grow their business and achieve their dreams.”     

Bower, whose cases include eye-popping sums in the millions, says he is continuously amazed at the innovative products and services that come through his office.

Some recent examples include a company providing environmental testing using drones, a company producing bamboo composite materials, and a company providing property-level data analytics for cities and counties.    

Bower and his Ann Arbor colleagues recently settled into new “digs” at 101 N. Main Street, directly across the street from the Washtenaw County Courthouse.

The move comes three years after Varnum opened an office in Ann Arbor’s historic Kerrytown district, and five years after establishing a presence in the college town.

Varnum has sister offices in Detroit, Birmingham, Novi, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Grand Haven.

When Varnum looked to expand its Ann Arbor office, it was important to continue to be downtown.

“It's wonderful being in walking distance to the courthouse, Main Street amenities, and even said. “In addition, the larger space will help us keep up with our growing head count in Ann Arbor. We have seven attorneys working out of the office now, with room to double that number.”

A member of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, Bower would encourage other legal eagles to join WCBA.

“It’s important to serve our community and WCBA provides great opportunities to do that,” he said.

A native of Birmingham, Bower and his family — wife Lisa and children Ben, 15, Owen, 12, and 8-year-old twins Lily and Noah — moved to Ann Arbor in 2018, where in his leisure time, Bower enjoys movies and running and participates in at least one 200-mile relay race each year.     

His creativity continued to thrive with previous service on the board of directors for the Michigan Youth Arts Association and Creative Many Michigan, an advocate for arts and art education that closed its doors in May 2019.

He is currently looking for a new organization to get involved with.   

Bower is happy to be back in Wolverine territory.

“My family and I have made some great friends,” Bower said. “We also love the access to a ‘big city’ arts and culture scene but in a small town package.”


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