Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 18, 2016

Attorney Alix Michel carves out niche in the law, finds work rewarding

Alix Michel is one half of the legal team of Michel & Ward, a civil litigation firm located in the Business Development Center on Cherokee Boulevard. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Attorney Alix Michel says the end of the world is drawing near. And the evidence is irrefutable.

“People are supporting a billionaire for president,” he says, “and lawyers are getting hugs.”

Michel laughs, more at the latter notion than the former one. His joke plays off the misperception that attorneys are generally unlikeable. But with people like him populating the Chattanooga Bar, the maxim seems as outdated as the law books that line the shelves of many firms.

When Michel and his business partner David Ward launched Michel & Ward in 2013, they intended to develop a practice that offered representation on civil matters but focused on issues related to the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Although their expertise in the latter area was in demand nationwide, they had handled a variety of litigation matters during several years with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, and in the process had developed a reputation as legal problem solvers.

So when Michel & Ward opened its doors at the Business Development Center (BDC) on Cherokee Boulevard, its proprietors continued to address an assortment of issues for their clients. Today, Michel calls the firm a litigation boutique.

“We wound up developing a different niche than we had intended because of the people who came through the door,” Michel says. “They had unique problems but the common theme of needing someone to represent them in court.”

Michel and Ward handled each case as though it were their only one, giving their clients their direct numbers and telling them to call at any time. “When someone places their representation and their anxieties in our hands, we take that seriously. We’re with them every step of the way,” Michel says. “They give us the hugs when we receive a result because they know we were invested in their case.”

Ward, who’s located on the other side of a room divider in their one-room office space, pauses his work to credit Michel for earning the grateful embraces. “Alix is good at that,” he says from behind the partition. “He keeps our clients happy.”

Although Michel and Ward have developed a civil litigation niche, they’re still doing their part to combat the prescription drug abuse problem. In addition to speaking at seminars about the legal issues surrounding prescription drugs, they take advantage of every opportunity to educate health care providers, insurance companies, and the public on the latest developments and to suggest strategies for addressing them. Michel is glad to be able to serve his community in this way. “It’s a rewarding part of our practice,” he says. “We feel like we’re making a difference.”

Michel does not – or cannot – talk about his practice without mentioning Ward. It’s not his work, it’s their work, and it’s not his business, it’s theirs. They started on the same day at Chambliss, literally stepping onto the elevator together, and now spend their days ensconced in their office at the BDC, Michel hunkered over his desk on one side of the divider, Ward working busily on the other. There’s no wall between them and no paralegals or legal assistants to disrupt, so communication is as easy as tossing a question and the answer over the partition. Between tasks, the conversation frequently turns to politics or sports.

“We’re here for ten or eleven hours a day, which is more time than we spend with our families, so we have a lot of fun,” Michel says. “Isn’t that right, partner?” Ward answers in the affirmative without missing a beat on his keyboard.

Michel has traveled a long way to practice law in Chattanooga. He was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and went to Fordham University in the Bronx. His aspiration at the time was to be a doctor. His first chemistry class cured him of that ambition. Members of his family, including his aunt, encouraged him to become an attorney instead. He readily redirected himself and excelled academically, earning a full ride at the University of Miami School of Law. “They steered me in the right direction,” Michel says of his family.

Michel practiced in Miami until 2005. At that time, he and his wife, Alicia, decided to move north, where they hoped to raise their daughters in an environment that would be better for them. Michel needed work, and Chambliss needed senior lawyers, so the family chose to make Chattanooga their home.

Several big pictures of Michel’s family occupy the wall in front of him as he sits at his desk. Their prime location makes glancing up at his wife and their two daughters – Megan, a college student, and Amber, a teenager – an easy endeavor.

Michel is a committed family man who spends his spare time doing the things his wife and daughters enjoy, so an evening off might consist of a movie or dinner out. The rigors of running a business leave little time for such pleasures, however; even his Saturdays are consumed by speaking engagements. “Remember Joe the Plumber? During the [2008] presidential election, he said owning a business isn’t easy,” Michel says. “Holy moley, was he right. When you own a business, you have a lot on your plate.”

That said, Michel understands the importance of decompression. To relax, he keeps up with the world of NASCAR and watches the New York Mets. Both seasons are just getting underway, making him a happy man.

Imagining Michel being anything but upbeat is difficult. It seems to be part of his disposition, in spite of the weight on his shoulders. Perhaps his satisfaction with his niche in the law, or the way he chips away at the prescription drug epidemic, is part of why. Or maybe the life he’s made with his family has placed an irrepressible smile on his face. Also, as a Mets fan, he has a lot to look forward to this year.

Then again, it might be the hugs that come at the end of a hard-fought case. Michel surely deserves every one. “We’re doing well, aren’t we partner?” he says to the man on the other side of the partition. Ward answers in the affirmative.