Retired attorney recalls early days for women attorneys in Michigan

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Karen Kulik was sworn in as an attorney in 1975, there were less than 150 women lawyers in Michigan.

“The real pioneers – whom I am still grateful to, such as Judge Marianne Battani, former Justice Maura Corrigan, Carole Chiamp and Julia Darlow to name a few – were paving the way for the rest of us,” she says.

“It was important not only to know what we were doing, but to act and look as professional as possible in order to have credibility and be taken seriously in what was then a man’s world,” Kulik says. “Amazingly, back then there was no such thing as a ‘business suit’ for women – it was a real challenge to find dresses that were appropriate for the courtroom. That’s why it’s disconcerting to me now, to see women attorneys go into a courtroom or even a deposition dressed like they are going to the mall. My favorite saying is, ‘Business casual is the beginning of the end of Western civilization!’ Even though it’s no longer 1975, women lawyers should still strive for a professional appearance.”

Kulik, selected by her peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers in America for the past four years, earned her J.D. at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. After a year working at the
Misdemeanor Defender’s Office, she was in private practice before spending 33 years as in-house counsel for AAA of Michigan.

“I loved being a trial attorney,” she says. “There’s nothing quite like the drama and excitement of a trial. I also enjoyed negotiating and believe it’s my one of my real strengths as an attorney.”
At AAA, Kulik handled a large number of brain and spinal cord injury cases, gaining expertise in these areas. She has also served on the Conference Committee of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan for the past 12 years.

Grateful to be able to retire from full-time legal work at age 62, Kulik currently works two days a week as a Project Consultant at Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers in Livonia.

“I’m not practicing as an attorney, but using my knowledge of No Fault and Insurance Claims to assist in any way I can, both internally and interacting with insurance companies,” she says.

“I enjoy the fact that I can still have contact with my former life without all of the pressures and deadlines.”

Kulik volunteers at an assisted living facility, where she spends time with residents, primarily those who have few other visitors.

“I first did this as a requirement of a geriatrics class I took in college,” she says. “I realized back then that there was a real need for this kind of volunteer work. Life took over after that, and I never seemed to have the time – now I do.”

The Detroit native has been married for 34 years to Mike Bukowski, a CPA who is beginning to wind down his practice. The couple’s son, Arthur, lives and works in Traverse City, and their daughter, Allison, is in Washington, D.C.

“I love being able to visit them without having to clear my calendar and take vacation days,” Kulik says.

Her favorite hobby is decorating her Grosse Pointe Park home for all four seasons and holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

“Christmas is the biggie,” she says. “I do every room in my house. Every picture comes down, every throw rug comes up – I put up five trees, a large village, and even a Christmas shower curtain! My friends laugh, but I’m really just a collector of holiday ‘stuff.’”