Get to Know Toi Dennis

By Teressa Killeen
Washtenaw County Bar Association

Toi Dennis is a staff attorney for the Crime Victims Legal Assistance Project (CVLAP)-Elder Justice Initiative in the Ypsilanti office of Legal Service of South Central Michigan.

Previously, Dennis was a solo practitioner and managed her own firm, Law & Mediation Offices of Toi Dennis, in both Wayne and Washtenaw Counties where she practiced probate, estate planning, social security, employment, criminal and personal injury law.

Dennis was also appointed Counsel for the 36th District Court, was the Legal Project Team Leader in areas of complex civil litigation, was an Adjunct Professor at Baker College and served as a Mediator with the Wayne Mediation Center.

Dennis is a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washtenaw County Lawyers Committee and the Washtenaw County Bar Association, the chairperson of the National Organization of Legal Service Workers, UAW Local 2320 and a past president and member of Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association.

Dennis received her B.S. from University of Phoenix, a Masters (ABT) in Human Resources from Central Michigan University and both a Masters in Dispute Resolution and J.D. from Wayne State University and School of Law. She has been practicing law for 12 years.
Did you always know you wanted to be an attorney?
Yes, I always wanted to be an attorney, but I allowed my family to talk me out of it after I graduated from Cass Technical High School. I was the first person in my family to obtain a college degree and therefore did not have very much guidance. My family thought I would do better in business. Hence the bachelor’s degree in business administration.

What area of the law do you like the best and why?
My dream job out of law school would have been in-house counsel at some organization. I concentrated a lot on employment and labor law while I was in law school. But apparently God had other plans. I now practice Elder Law, which I love. My great-grandparents raised me, and I have a special place in my heart for elders.

Tell us a little about your family.
I have a husband of 29 years who is a retired Technical Operations Manager and now works part-time as a bus driver for Ann Arbor Schools. We have three adult children, a son and two daughters in that order, one granddaughter and a grandson on the way. My son graduated from Oberlin College with a chemistry degree and is now an Operations Manager at a waste treatment plant. My middle daughter is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Rosalind Franklin University and is a physician’s assistant. And my youngest daughter is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University and is an MSW.
We are also raising a soon to be 5-year-old whom we have cared for since she was 8 months old. She is not biologically related to my family, but we love her as if she were. She is super smart and already reading. I expect great things from her as well.

What is the biggest challenge facing you as an attorney today?
My biggest challenge as an attorney is not having enough resources to help everyone who needs me. As a legal services attorney, my salary is funded by grants and donations. There are many people in need of free legal services, but we can only help so many because of lack of funding. Hopefully, society will make access to justice a priority someday and see that everyone who needs free legal services can obtain them.
What is your favorite movie or book?
I don’t have a favorite book. I read fantasy romance novels as a distraction from real life. I like movies that make you think about the issues that still affect us, for example: “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Crash (2004)” and even “V for Vendetta.”

Describe a perfect day off.
Just a day? I need at least a week: lying in the sun by a lake, ocean or even pool, reading a fantasy novel, getting a massage and being waited on hand and foot.

What are some favorite places you have visited?
Puerto Rico, Belize, Aruba, Venice and the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Santorini, Greece.

What’s the greatest gift we can give ourselves?

Favorite part of your job?
Being part of an organization of likeminded individuals; helping elders who have been victims of crime, abuse or exploitation, and helping elders retain their autonomy.

What causes are you passionate about?
Diversity, equity and inclusion and elder abuse.

Any words of wisdom to pass on to new lawyers?
Follow your dreams, not money. Do what makes you happy so it doesn’t feel like work.

Reprinted with permission from Res Ipsa Loquitur, courtesy of the Washtenaw County Bar Association

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