Michael Downey is a legal ethics lawyer and founder of Downey Law Group LLC, a law firm devoted to legal ethics, law firm risk management, and the law of lawyering. Michael regularly represents lawyers, their clients, judges, and other professionals in high stakes and complex civil litigation and disciplinary proceedings. Michael also serves as outside general counsel to numerous law firms.
His past experience as a legal ethics and law firm risk management counsel includes:
- Preparing opinion letters on conflicts of interest, lawyer advertising and solicitations, law-related businesses, and law firm mergers
- Conducting law firm compliance audits and reviews on client intake, matter risk management, legal billing, and business development systems and practices
- Defending lawyers in disciplinary proceedings including responding to bar complaints, litigating cases before disciplinary hearing panels, and arguing cases for lawyer-respondents before the Missouri Supreme Court and Illinois ARDC Review Board
- Defending a sitting judge before the Missouri Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline of Judges
- Representing lawyers in sanctions and contempt proceedings
- Prosecuting disqualification motions against lawyers, prosecutors, and judges
- Counseling law firms and legal departments on privilege issues and assisting with privilege reviews
- Advising law firms and lawyers regarding legal and ethical issues that arise in client terminations and law firm departures and dissolutions
- Preparing and revising law firm partnership agreements to incorporate new governance, partner compensation and risk management provisions
- Providing expert testimony and legal counsel on legal ethics, legal malpractice, and legal fee and billing issues
The litigation matters Michael handles often garner considerable media attention, particularly from the legal press. Michael has completed formal training in media relations, and often assists clients in preparing and implementing public relations strategies for high-visibility, high-stakes matters.
An experienced litigator, Michael has represented lawyers and other clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts. Prior to focusing his practice on professional ethics, he handled complex class action, employment, environmental, and product liability cases primarily for global consumer products, pharmaceutical and refining companies. Michael continues his involvement in such complex litigation matters, including serving as lead counsel, assisting in strategy preparation, and handling specific aspects of complex civil matters relating to legal ethics, sanctions, and privilege issues.
Michael has also served as an expert witness — testifying primarily on legal ethics, lawyer malpractice, and legal billing — in cases pending in Missouri, Kansas and the District of Columbia.
Teaching, Writing & Speaking
For the past decade, Michael has taught legal ethics and law firm practice as an adjunct professor at Washington University School of Law. He has also taught professional responsibility as an adjunct professor at St. Louis University School of Law. He has presented on legal ethics more than 600 times, including for global corporations and law firms, throughout the United States as well as in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Michael's first book, Introduction to Law Firm Practice, was published in 2010. He has contributed chapters to three other book-length publications, and published more than 200 articles in publications including in the ABA Journal, National Law Journal, For the Defense, and the Missouri Bar Journal. He has served as a regular ethics columnist for the National Law Journal, ABA’s Litigation and Law Practice magazines, and the St. Louis Lawyer, and received a Distinguished Legal Writing Award from the Burton Foundation in 2013 for an article on lawyers’ ethical limitations on communications with the media.
Popular and legal publications frequently quote Michael as an expert on legal ethics and law firm practice issues. He has been interviewed more than 75 times, and has been quoted in the New York Times, WSJ Law Blog, National Law Journal, ABA Journal, Illinois Bar Journal, Missouri Lawyers Weekly, St. Louis Post Dispatch, and St. Louis Business Journal. He has also been interviewed by several local television news programs and by NPR’s Talk of the Nation.
Michael has served on and chaired national, state, and local bar association committees focused on legal ethics and law firm practice issues. Notable posts include:
- Member of the Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors, 2017-present
- Member of the ABA Standing Committee on Professional Regulation, 2016-2019
- Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division, 2013-14
- Member of the Technology Working Group for the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, 2010-13
- Chair of the Ethics & Technology Committee in the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, 2006-09
- Chair of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Professional Conduct, 2008-09
- Member of the Missouri Bar’s Ethics 2005 Committee, 2005-06
- Member of the Missouri Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising, 2004-06 and 2007-09
- Ethics columnist for Litigation magazine, 2011-present
- Ethics columnist for Law Practice magazine, 2014-2018
- Ethics columnist for the St. Louis Lawyer, 2003-present; regular columnist, 2012-18
- Former hearing officer for Missouri lawyer discipline cases
Michael graduated first in his class from Washington University School of Law in 1998 and spent 1998-99 clerking for the Honorable Pasco M. Bowman, then Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Michael also earned a graduate certificate in Law Firm Management from George Washington University in 2006. The Hildebrandt Institute coordinated and provided instructors for this program.
In 2013, Missouri Lawyers Weekly named Michael a 2014 Most Influential Lawyer as the “go-to legal ethics counsel in Missouri.” Michael has also been named a “Top 50 Lawyer in St. Louis” by Super Lawyers in 2015-16 and 2018-20.
Prior to law school, Michael taught Latin and Ancient Greek and coached soccer and chess at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, a public school in St. Louis County.