Hitting the high notes


Singer serves as staff  counsel at State Farm

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In high school, Claudia Boonenberg began studying with a classical voice instructor who taught her to love opera.

“Something about the challenge of singing in foreign languages and in a style that is incredibly difficult to learn and perform well, really attracted me – I’ve always loved a challenge,” she says. “I’ve also always been a rather ‘old soul,’ so I just loved how ancient and enduring opera and the classical arts are. I wanted to be a part of that legacy.”

After majoring in classical voice performance at the University of Michigan, Boonenberg earned her Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Classically trained, she learned and performed opera roles from works by Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, art song by Schubert, Wolf and Debussy and sacred music by Bach, her personal favorite. She spent several summers studying opera and performing in Italy.

“So much of success in music performance is based on pure luck,” she says, explaining why she studied law. “I wanted to get into an area where I could work hard and see results come out of that work. I also wanted to make more intellectual use of my mind.”

An alumna of Detroit Mercy Law, she praises the law school faculty, and stays in touch with many of her former professors.

“Without exception my professors were – and still are – some of the most intelligent and thought-provoking men and women I’ve ever met,” she says. “They also cared deeply about the student body, and it showed.

“They have all been examples of how to express arguments and ideas in a civil and respectful way while maintaining integrity. The thing I enjoyed most about law school was speaking with them, arguing with them and learning from them.”

Boonenberg was a member of the Law Review, and Moot Court, her first exposure to oral argument.

“I loved it – it confirmed my desire to be a litigator,” she says. “Law Review did a lot to hone my research and writing skills. The combination of the two contributed toward giving me a fully rounded and educational law school experience. I also made friends and connections that will last my whole life. Most importantly, I had fun.”

An internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and clerkship positions rounded out her legal education with invaluable hands-on experience.

“Law, after all, is a ‘practice’ and I feel strongly that you have to actually do it to get good at it,” she says. “I enjoyed getting the chance to write briefs that would actually be used in court, prepare witnesses who would actually be questioned and watch cases unfold from filing of the complaint all the way to trial and to apply all the things I was learning in school.”

Wanting to keep some kind of performance aspect in her work, she was drawn to litigation.

“Being in the courtroom and at trial has many things in common with performing – you need poise, confidence and an ability to think on your feet,” she says. That’s the most difficult and the most rewarding part of what I do.”

A member of the Litigation Section of the State Bar and the Women Lawyers Association, Boonenberg first worked in private practice in the Detroit area before recently starting a job as staff counsel at State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. in Southfield.

“I enjoy the people I work with,” she says. “I love coming to work every day and being surrounded by people who really want to be there. I love being part of a team that truly comes together for a common goal – successful results for our company. I’m also given a lot of responsibility and trust on each file and I really enjoy that.”

A native of Clifton, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., Boonenberg now lives in Dearborn with her husband, John, and one-year-old daughter, Nora.

“I love playing with Nora and watching her discover the world,” she says.

Boonenberg is very involved at Guardian Lutheran Church in Dearborn, where she participates in the church choir and is active in the music program. She enjoys reading, music of all genres, and “attempting to play golf.” A history buff with a particular interest in the Civil War, she also appreciates local history.

“Detroit is a city with a great history,” she says. “I love driving or walking around, seeing the old buildings and wondering about the people who may have frequented them back in the ‘50s or ‘60s.

“I also love how passionate the people in this area are about the place they live. You feel you have something in common with everyone from this area, because we all love Detroit, and that makes it feel warm and welcoming.”