Matter of policy

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Attorney worked in corridors of power

By Sheila Pursglove 
Legal News

Before La Toya McBean entered the legal profession, she worked with the movers and shakers on Capitol Hill. 

“I’ve always had an interest in law and government,” says McBean, now an attorney with Howard & Howard in Royal Oak. “Growing up, law was the only profession I envisioned myself contributing to until I also developed an interest in government during college.”

After earning her undergrad degree in political science from Stony Brook University in New York, McBean decided to defer law school for a few years and pursue public policy first in order to understand the legislative world. She earned her master’s degree in public policy from Regent University, and when an opportunity arose to work with legislators and executive branch officials, she headed to D.C. for dual internships at the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Senate in the office of then-Senator George Allen.

She then worked as a staff assistant in the personal office of Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, then-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. When a position opened up on the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, McBean landed the job. 

“I coordinated hearings on some of the most controversial national security and criminal justice issues at the time, including nine hearings on the USA Patriot Act,” she says. “Every day was an exciting day on the Hill, but two historical events stand out — when Ronald Reagan and Rosa Parks were lain in state and in honor, respectively, in the Rotunda.” 

Next up was a move to the Big Apple and three years as a policy analyst on the Justice Reinvestment Project for the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The team worked with, and at the invitation of, governors, state legislative leaders and state Supreme Court judges to develop nonpartisan criminal justice policies tailored to reduce the size of prison populations and improve public safety. McBean managed the project in Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. 

“What I enjoyed the most was the exposure it gave me to state governments and being able to see policymakers at their best in a collaborative environment,” she says. “But although I had a very bright future with this project, I couldn’t ignore my desire to one day become an attorney.”

Her work on the Justice Reinvestment Project first brought her to Michigan — where she started part-time classes at the Auburn Hills campus of Cooley Law School while working full-time as a project director of the Inner-City Neighborhood Project, an offspring of the Justice Reinvestment Project. She worked with the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency to implement this project in Detroit, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Grand Rapids. Reducing crime and unemployment rates among high-risk parolees and revitalizing neighborhoods were the goals of the project.  

“This work was particularly rewarding because, for the first time, I got an opportunity to not only work with the people most impacted by the justice system, but also to help them revitalize the very high-crime neighborhoods they once victimized,” she says. 

The demise of the project after two years due to funding problems was a blessing in disguise, allowing McBean to focus on law school full time and her new career in the law. 

“I was quite ready to make the transition to law full time and very excited about finally stepping into the profession I felt called to,” she says. 

Earning her juris doctor, cum laude, from Cooley Law, where she served as the Scholarly Writing Editor for the Cooley Law Review, she enjoyed interacting with, and learning from, the Cooley Law faculty and administration. 

“They are fully committed to the success of their students and went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure I was prepared to practice law with confidence,” she says.

During her final year in law school, she clerked for Judge Mark Randon of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (during his tenure as Magistrate Judge) and Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Appeals. 

She also had the opportunity to work as a summer associate at Howard & Howard — an eye-opening experience for someone from a public policy background and limited previous exposure to the business community. 

“During my summer clerkship, I worked on both corporate and litigation matters but I naturally gravitated to litigation because of my judicial clerkship experiences during law school,” she says.

McBean — who was honored as a 2013 General Motors Scholar by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan; and in 2012 with the Damon J. Keith Award from the Wolverine Bar Association and the Trailblazer’s Award from the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association — joined Howard & Howard last year. 

Concentrating her practice in commercial and corporate litigation, every day brings a new learning experience.  

“I enjoy being challenged and have grown tremendously since joining H&H and serving the business community,” she says. “The firm offers new associates like me opportunities to be mentored by some of the best attorneys in the state. I’ve learned so much from my mentor and ‘unofficial’ mentors who took me under their wings to teach me litigation skills and how to succeed at the firm. The firm’s culture is conducive for learning, and it’s rewarding to work on complex litigation matters at such an early stage in my legal career.”

After working in high crime neighborhoods, McBean also appreciates the firm’s commitment to giving back through its Community Reinvestment Fund. 

“I feel tremendously blessed to be part of the H&H family,” she says.  

A native of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, McBean moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., at the age of 6 and grew up there. Interested in politics, community service, religion and health and fitness, she also enjoys traveling abroad — she has visited Romania, Thailand, Myanmar, and South Korea, and spent a year teaching in China. She sits on the Loan Committee Board of Matrix Human Service’s Ways to Work Program, a community development program in Detroit coordinated by financial institutions.  

She also volunteers at her church, Auburn Hills Christian Center, and previously volunteered on political campaigns. Her new weekly hobby is swimming, and she also enjoys participating in 5-km runs/walks, and dining out in downtown Royal Oak where she now makes her home.