On most days, attorney Eric Dobrusin is out of the office. But he’s not far. In fact, he’s right across Lawrence street working at the Alleycat Cafe in downtown Pontiac. You’ll find him dressed casually, working on a laptop and chatting with clients.
It’s a way for the intellectual property attorney to clear his head, connect with the community and work with a brand of clients who are looking for a law firm that operates a bit outside the norms of the corporate legal world.
Dobrusin’s firm purchased the building at 29 West Lawrence in 2004. They’ve been going strong ever since, weathering the city’s ups and downs over the past 13 years.
“In 2004, we were excited because at the time the city was showing some signs of resurgence,” recalls Dobrusin. “The building that we moved into had just recently been renovated. It’s a beautiful building with nice architectural details and a lot of character and charm that we weren’t able to find in conventional office space in the surrounding suburbs.”
He says the firm was looking to “break out of the the traditional box” that intellectual property attorneys and the legal profession, in general, are put into—wearing suits and working in fancy buildings with lavish surroundings.
“There’s nothing wrong with that; I have enjoyed doing that before, but I wanted to do something different,” says Dobrusin. “I wanted to do something that my clients could relate more with. Most of our clients are industrial or startup companies that are doing things in their basement, and when they come to our office, they feel very comfortable. It reminds them in many respects of either their factory, their warehouse, or their basement because we have a lot of attributes of that in the architecture of our building.”
The downtown resurgence Dobrusin saw back in 2004 sputtered out as Pontiac, and the nation weathered the financial meltdown of 2008. But the firm remained invested in downtown Pontiac through it all and is now looking at an upside as the city once again is headed for redevelopment.
Recent notable investments include the opening of MadDog Technology in Pontiac’s Riker Building and Auch Construction’s planned new headquarters on the site of a former downtown GM factory. The restaurant and bar scene is heating up as well, with SLOWS BBQ Pontiac and two new breweries, Exferimentation and Fillmore 13, opening on Saginaw within the last several months.
“Throughout that downturn period we tried to remain busy, and we did,” says Dobrusin. The firm currently employs 12 attorneys in the Pontiac office. “We managed to weather that, and when things started to come back, we started to see signs of activity and investment. I’ve been here almost 13 years, and I still marvel at how other people haven’t jumped in as quickly as perhaps I did because of the potential that the city offers.”
For Dobrusin, that potential includes existing infrastructure and the “gorgeous old buildings that are in very good condition.” He sees massive promise here.
“You look at what’s happened in Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Birmingham, and you continue up the Woodward Corridor, there’s no logical explanation why this shouldn’t be happening in Pontiac as well with additional investment,” he says.
The biggest challenge, according to Dobrusin, is a willingness for investors to take a chance.
“You have to be willing to take a risk and invest,” he says. “There are other people doing it; we did it. If there were even just 10 or 15 more businesses like our business, you would suddenly see a vibrancy in the city; you’d see foot traffic all around. You’d see a lot of the activities that are attracting people to other urban centers.”