Giving back to the students and the profession is important to me.
Gary Spicer, ’69
Born in a one-room house in rural Tennessee, Gary Spicer had no expectations of ever attending college—let alone building a career as attorney to some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment.
The Grosse Pointe attorney’s client roster has included the likes of Conway Twitty, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Ernie Harwell. He’s represented seven of the Detroit Tigers 1984 World Series team, including Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell. He also spent several years teaching sports and entertainment law at MSU College of Law, and donates funds to support a scholarship for students pursuing a career in the field.
A member of the Circle of Friends Benefactor’s Club, Spicer has donated to his alma mater for more than three decades. “Giving back to the students and the profession is important to me,” he says. “I have been fortunate in my career, and I want to continue to support this area of law that has been so good to me.”
Fellow lawyers have stated that he has “the most interesting boutique law practice in America.” Spicer adds, “I’ve had the privilege of representing some of the greatest players of all time.”
Spicer, who attended high school in Lincoln Park after his male relatives moved north to work for Ford Motor Company, became the first in his family to earn a diploma. His decision to attend college “was a fluke,” he says: three weeks after visiting a friend who had enrolled at Adrian College, Spicer matriculated. He was a good student, and worked in a local factory and the college’s kitchen to pay his tuition bills.
A job at General Motors after graduation gave him the chance to pursue an MBA at Wayne State University. He then took a job with National Bank of Detroit, putting himself through law school at night.
“For me, law school involved leaving difficult jobs at 5 o’clock and fighting traffic to get downtown,” Spicer says. “I’d have to wait for holiday breaks to catch up and study for exams. It was stressful.”
His hard work quickly paid off. After a colleague at the bank asked for Spicer’s help representing General Motors executives, Spicer—then 29 years old—became one of two lawyers representing GM’s president and eight other executives in matters involving tax planning, mergers, and acquisitions.
Around the same time, Spicer bought a farm in Tennessee and set up a law office in Nashville, to which he commuted for a few days each month. He began working with musician Ronnie Milsap, and soon was retained as general counsel to country music star Conway Twitty and the Oak Ridge Boys, relationships that lasted 5 and more than 30 years, respectively. He also has represented Pam Lewis, the former manager of Garth Brooks, for more than 25 years.
“I took my corporate legal background and applied it to the entertainment world,” Spicer says. “I treat my clients like corporate executives—not as entertainers or athletes.”
In fact, Spicer wrote a book, Surviving Success, to help his clients think like businesspeople and navigate the challenges that fame and fortune present. He works closely with them to help them realize their financial goals—including giving back. He’s managed 13 foundations for his clients, facilitated Ernie Harwell’s donation of memorabilia to the Detroit Public Library, and helped clients donate millions of dollars to MSU and other institutions.
Spicer himself is a dedicated booster of education and other causes. In addition to his generosity to the Law College, he funds a scholarship at Adrian College, where he was a trustee for 12 years. Spicer serves as a board member for five corporations and as a trustee of 13 charitable foundations. He also was inducted into the Lincoln Park High School and Adrian College athletic halls of fame.
Spicer has also raised six children, four of whom are U.S. Marines. His daughter, Katie Spicer Hegg, attended MSU Law on a fully funded Marines law scholarship—one of two in the whole Corps—and was chosen to be the Class of 2010 student commencement speaker. Katie’s husband, Jason Hegg, also is a 2010 Law College graduate.
“I have been so blessed that I’ve tried to be like an education evangelist,” he says. “My grandfather could not read or write. My father died during my first semester in law school. Education was important to them. They would tell me to get the best education because, as they said, ‘no one can take it away from you.’ I’m very happy that I chose the academic route.”
A version of this profile originally appeared in the spring 2011 issue of Amicus, published by the MSU College of Law.