Wayne alumnae 'Super Panel' offers advice from life experience

By John Minnis

Legal News

Everyone needs a mentor, especially young lawyers just graduating law school.

With that in mind, Wayne State University Law School alumnae, all accomplished lawyers, agreed to offer advice and experience to young women at the Women in the Law Super Panel Discussion, sponsored by the Wayne Law Alumni Association on Thursday, May 13, in the Law School's Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium.

"The law alumni are increasingly trying to offer more activities for the alumni," said Law Alumni Association President Suzanne Johnson.

Professor Anne M. Burr, director of legal writing and research, welcomed the guest panelists and students.

"As a graduate of Wayne Law myself," Burr said, "I was gratified to see how many Wayne alumnae are Super Lawyers. It is a diverse and accomplished group."

Panelists -- Wayne Law alumnae all -- were Margaret Raben, '86, partner, Gurewitz and Raben PLC; Angela Davison, '02, associate general counsel, Amcor Rigid Plastics; Aleksandra Miziolek, '80, director of Dykema Gossett's automotive industry group; Anne MacIntyre, '93, president, Community Central Wealth Management; and Judge Nancy Edmunds, '76, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.

Moderator Kim Yapchai, '93, director of corporate ethics, Masco Corp., added, "What we want to do is to connect with each other and the student body. I said to myself, 'What would I have done with such an opportunity when I was a student?'"

She asked the panelists how many of them knew when they were in law school that they would end up where they are today. No panelist raised a hand.

"You never know what is going to happen," volunteered Raben. "I started law school at the age of 39 as a mom."

She said she thought she was going to go into land law, but as a student she got a job with noted criminal attorney Harold Gurewitz. She found out later that she got the job because she was the only one who applied.

"He's now my law partner," Raben said. "I never thought I would be doing criminal defense work. When I graduated, I was not formed. Do not turn down any law opportunities. Frankly, grab the first thing that comes along."

Moderator Yapchai said a woman told her once that a career is not a path but a journey.

MacIntyre, the attorney-turned-banker, spent two years in Dykema Gossett's Ann Arbor office before starting her own firm specializing in labor law. In 2002, she made a career change by entering a training program with Merrill Lynch. Today she is head of wealth management and the trust division for Community Central Bank.

"There are other ways of using your law degree than being an attorney or judge," she told the students. "A law degree is the best education you can have for business."

Yapchai admonished the students to be confident and to market themselves.

Judge Edmunds was asked what her typical day was.

The federal judge said she tries to be up by 5:30 a.m. so she can get to the gym to workout. She handles pretrial work before and after court, which is typically held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Edmunds said she enjoys cooking and watching the Detroit Tigers.

"I really believe in professional networking," Edmunds said. "Make it a point to develop professional contacts. I find it really opens a lot of doors for you along the way. Someone once said, 'Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.'"

Yapchai added, "We don't' know what's out there. We don't know what we don't know."

Miziolek, who as a member at Dykema was instrumental in the completion of a complex, $7 billion transaction that involved the survival of Visteon, said, "In this downturn, relationships is what it is all about."

She said the most valuable trait as an attorney is the ability to talk to people and connect the dots.

One woman in the audience asked about juggling family and work and how she could network with men when she doesn't play golf.

"You don't have to play golf," Edmunds said. "You can go to the dinner afterward." The federal judge said she belongs to several book clubs, which is something she enjoys and provides networking opportunities.

Davison, who is general counsel for a subsidiary of the world's largest plastic bottle maker, urged young attorneys to "be true to yourselves. Know where your strengths are. I'm not a golfer. I'm a terrible golfer. I don't even drive the cart very well. Go where your interests are. Do things you can be enthusiastic about and that put you in a good light."

Miziolek does a lot of her networking at soccer games. "There's always someone who has a need for a lawyer," she said.

"It's not the end of your career," Yapchai said of starting a family.

Raben said that as a mother and attorney, she became the "go-to" person among parents. Concerning networking, she recommended looking up the State Bar of Michigan to find a group that is in your area and start attending its meetings.

A 58-year-old doctoral student asked what the cut-off age was for starting school. The panel was unanimous: "You're never too old. Go for it."

MacIntyre, the attorney turned investment banker, added, "You have to have a thick skin and do what you want to do."

A student with 15 years in finance with General Motors said she graduates Monday and wanted advice for her career change.

"It has been a boon to my career," said Davison, the former engineer, of having an occupation prior to becoming an attorney. "It's definitely going to make you more appealing to a certain group of employers."

Miziolek added, "The finance background is very valuable. You have a good package to offer."

Judge Edmunds was asked if she sees a difference among attorneys who have had previous professional backgrounds.

"I can tell people who have had experience in other fields," she said. "You can see it especially in trial work. I do hire law clerks every year, and I find law clerks who have experience in other areas have been very effective for me. Work experience, that maturity, is invaluable."

Moderator Yapchai quickly added for students who have gone straight through college to law school that lack of work experience "does not mean you should chuck it all and throw in the towel."

"I went straight into law school," she said. "You have to know what your strengths are."

The Super Lawyers were asked whether mentors are important.

"I have had a lot of mentors," MacIntyre said. "I played professional beach volleyball. My coaches were my best mentors. Teamwork-building activities were very helpful."

Raben said her No. 1 mentor was the man who hired her and who is now her partner.

"Everyone needs someone you can call to ask the question," she said, "even if you have a solo or small practice. Over the years, I have become the mentor, god help us. Everyone needs a mentor. You don't have to do it yourself, unless you're a glutton for punishment."

Yapchai said she was once told that mentors are "people who have already made all the mistakes. You can learn from them."

Edmunds said her primary mentor today is Eugene Driker, the man who gave her her first job.

"If I could be the lawyer he is," she said. "These (mentors) are all people who helped me when I screwed up, and you are going to screw up. Everyone needs someone to help pick them up."

Miziolek said women and men respond to mistakes differently.

"The tendency of women is to say you are the worst attorney ever and you want to confess to everyone in the world. When it happens to a guy, they don't even acknowledge it. Don't traumatize it. Don't do a mea culpa."

Judge Edmunds said the legal profession is much different from when she graduated law school in 1976.

"It was unusual for a woman to go to law school back then," she said. "No one is saying, 'Don't give me that girl lawyer.' The doors are wide open now."

Miziolek added, "Once you've proven your mettle, all those issues are gone. We're not there yet completely, but we're getting there. More men hire attorneys and they gravitate toward men. Playing golf definitely helps."

The panelists were asked how they keep their work life balanced.

Edmunds, who had two children while with Dykema Gossett, said, "Simplify, simplify. Do what you have to do and let someone else do what you don't have to do. Hire someone to clean your house if you can afford it. Transfer to the local office for shorter commutes. Ask for those things."

MacIntyre advised the would-be attorneys to learn to say no.

Miziolek agreed that a short commute helps but added, "A Blackberry has been my saving grace. People (clients) don't necessarily know where I am."

"Our biggest savior," Yapchai said, "is our sitter. She keeps us sane."

Davison said, "Relax. I don't think we have to fear it. You will find solutions."

She hired out her laundry. "I literally hadn't done laundry in nine weeks," she said.

Raben, who has lived through it all and is now a widow and empty-nester, said, "Sometimes we do it to ourselves. We tell ourselves we can do it all."

She recommended women have outlets, like music, exercise, reading, prayer and time with loved ones.

"Make sure you give some time to yourself," she said. "Make yourself job one. Work will suck every minute out of you if you let it."

That said, Raben said that when she lost her husband, she found herself all alone.

"Work became my savior," she said.

Published: Tue, May 18, 2010