Law Department

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The Law Department is headed by the Corporation Counsel and the Deputy Corporation Counsel, who must be attorneys licensed to practice law in Michigan. The Corporation Counsel, his or her deputy and the Assistant Corporation Counsels handle all of the legal matters on behalf of the City of Detroit and its departments and agencies.

The powers and duties of this position include:
  • Defending all actions or proceedings against the City
  • Representing elective officers, appointees, and employees in any action or proceeding involving their official duties
  • Prosecuting all actions or proceedings to which the City is a party or has a legal interest
  • Acting as City prosecutor to prosecute violations of the City Code
  • Provide written legal opinions on all subjects upon requests submitted by the Mayor, by the City Council, or by any department director or agency head
  • Preparing or approving leases, deeds, contracts, or other papers as may be required by the Mayor, by the City Council, or by any department or agency
  • Drafting proposed ordinances and approving all ordinances as to form
  • Processing claims filed against the City
  • Prosecuting cases involving delinquent City income and property taxes
  • At the discretion of the Corporation Counsel, employing outside attorneys as Special Assistant Corporation Counsels on particular matters or proceedings
  • Other duties as may be provided by law, the City Charter, or ordinance


The office of City attorney existed in 1825, but it was not created by ordinance until March 8, 1837. To ensure greater legal certainty in City proceedings, the office of city counselor was created by an act of March 12, 1861. The city counselor’s duties were chiefly advisory; the act stipulated that the city counselor and the city attorney were to cooperate in all procedures.

On May 4, 1895, the city attorney and city counselor offices were dissolved to establish a Law Department. The act gave the Mayor power to appoint a corporation counsel, subject to the approval of the City Council. Under the act the, city counselor then holding office was to be retained as corporation counsel until the appointment of his successor (on the first Tuesday of June 1896). John J. Speed was the first city counselor and corporation counsel under the provision. He served until June 30, 1896.