A sidebar with Reginald G. Dozier

By: Douglas Levy in News Stories | November 16, 2015

He’s the president and CEO at one of the country’s oldest minority-based law firms, but there was a time when Reginald G. Dozier provided a different kind of law-based service.

Dozier, of Lewis & Munday PC in Detroit, started his career in law enforcement, working at the Detroit Police Department. He rose in the ranks to become a sergeant and later the commanding officer of the legal advisor unit.

The thing is, he never aspired to be a police officer.

“My lifetime aspiration since about the age of 4 was to be an attorney,” he said. “But in my senior year in high school, there were two police officers that worked nearby the school. They were younger officers who walked the beat and they were two cool guys.

“At that point it became clear to me that you could be a police officer and be a cool guy.” Dozier said with a laugh.

Today, he handles commercial, corporate, labor and employment and municipal litigation. He spoke with Michigan Lawyers Weekly about his time on the beat, being a law firm leader, and whether he’s related to another Dozier from Detroit.

What’s the greatest challenge of leading a law firm?

When you’re an attorney at a law firm, everybody at that firm is an accomplished person. Everyone is pretty intelligent. So one of the things required as its leader is being able to get buy-in from all of these intelligent people. Sometimes that can be a little more difficult than an average [work] setting. We generally don’t have conflict, but to avoid it you try to get buy-in with most of the things you do. We have a board meeting every month and a lot of the ideas for the pathway are hashed out there. And even if it’s your idea, you still have a consensus. Another challenge to law firm leadership is juggling the business of the firm while also being a person who’s a service provider.

Lewis & Munday is one of the larger minority-owned law firms. Nationally, is the number of such firms growing?

From my anecdotal perspective I see there are numerous minority law firms across the country. Our firm is part of an organization called NAMWOLF, the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms, and I regularly attend conferences with them. Our firm is 43 years old, which is very rare for minority law firms.

What are the next steps for your firm?

We want to continue our outreach within the business community. We’re very well-placed and interested in being part of the resurgence of Detroit. We have the capabilities of working on any real estate project out there, and have been involved in almost every major real estate project for more than 40 years. We were involved with the Chrysler plant on Detroit’s east side and the Poletown GM plant as well as the stadiums.

How did you land in the police department?

At 19 years old in the summer between my sophomore and junior year at Howard University - I graduated high school at 16 - I decided to come home and work. At that age there weren't a whole lot of things you could do to make money, so I applied for the police department. They didn’t call me until September that year and I told them I wasn’t interested because I was back at school. But after a semester, I decided to take the job and worked for 22 months before being laid off and going to the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I then worked at a prison for five years, and during four of five years I was in law school.

Is there a corner or a district in Detroit that gives you a sense of sentimentality?

When I was working at the department at 19 I worked in the mobile mini station unit. We had a van and several of us would get in it, they’d roll us out to an area that needed attention and we’d walk beats from there. I was on the east side mobile mini station unit and we’d spend a lot of time in the Harper-Chalmers area.

Did you find that becoming the commanding officer of the police department’s legal advisor unit was the best of both worlds?

It was sort of natural. In 1985 I was recalled to the police department because of federal order from Judge [Horace Weldon] Gilmore ordering the laid-off police officers back to work. At that point, I graduated from law school and went back to the department. And Brenda Edwards, a sergeant who recently died, found out I had just graduated from law school and was about to take the bar exam. She made sure I was someone who didn’t go back on the street or a precinct but was able to be an attorney in the legal advisor section.

And it was fun. It was good to be able to give advice and be able to watch the news or look on the street and see your advice being followed and implemented by officers. I was 27 or 28 years old and I had been an attorney for more than a year, and here I was supervising another attorney as well as some law students who were working in the division.

Did this help with your municipal law practice?

Yes, that’s safe to say. In the legal advisor unit we litigated for the police department, we did the FOIA requests, we gave on-the-spot legal advice, we would teach at the police academy and we provided legal advisor updates, some of which were adopted by police departments across the state. And people would assume that because I was working for the police department I knew a lot about criminal law. I knew some but what I was really ingrained in was all civil law, like civil rights matters and governmental immunity.

Seeing your surname, are you by chance related to Lamont Dozier of Motown’s famed Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team?

Everybody asks me that. But to my knowledge I am not. The ironic thing is, the son of Lamont Dozier is named Reginald Dozier - but it’s not me. (laughs)