Featured 'Speaker': Attorney finds her niche in court appellate work

By Brett DeGroff

Legal News

To Liisa Speaker, it makes sense she ended up as an appellate attorney. She has long had the bookish bent required of appellate work. But as the founder of Speaker Law PLLC in Lansing, she is required to draw upon many more qualities as well.

Speaker returned to Michigan after a judicial clerkship and stint with a large law firm in Texas. She did construction and commercial litigation with a couple Lansing area firms for almost four years. The experience as a trial attorney, pouring over cold records, still sticks with Speaker.

"There really is a lot of work that goes into trying a case," Speaker said. "Between all the depositions, prepping witnesses, and motion practice, there is a lot that goes into it."

But appellate work was always where Speaker's heart was, and by the end of her time with other local firms, Speaker was bringing in more than enough business to keep herself busy, so she struck out to form her own firm.

"I think my dream job is working in an appellate boutique," Speaker said. "But there wasn't one in the Lansing area."

Forming her own firm broadened the scope of her practice beyond construction work. Speaker said that as an attorney in construction litigation firms, she was naturally thought of as a construction attorney. But as the owner of an appellate boutique, Speaker is considered by clients and attorneys for a wider range of work.

"It opened the floodgates," Speaker said.

Although Speaker considers herself a generalist, the bulk of her practice consists of family law, personal injury, and probate matters. Family law cases are the part of Speaker's practice she finds the most challenging as well as the most rewarding. Although in considering all her varied areas of appellate practice, most of her cases really do come down to helping families, whether it is an auto accident case or probate appeal or a custody case.

"Those might be the only cases where I wake up thinking about them," Speaker said. "I think about the family and how what I do is going to affect them, particularly the kids."

Speaker is a mother herself, with daughters Isadora, age 4, and Evangeline, 2. She said this experience informs how she approaches family law cases and relates to clients.

"In a lot of these cases there are just so many things an appellate court can't fix," Speaker said. "The most they can do is fix the legal errors the lower courts made."

Much of this was apparent to attorney Edward Jackson who has litigated against Speaker.

"I was very impressed with her professionalism and her presentation to the court as well as her briefing," Jackson said. "She was very organized in her pleadings and in oral argument."

Jackson also commented on Speaker's collegiality and noted that since their case, he has referred work to Speaker.

Getting a referral from an attorney she previously faced is a point of pride for Speaker. Another point of pride is the two peremptory reversals she has obtained from the Michigan Supreme Court. She pointed out that a peremptory reversal requires five of the court's seven justices to agree on the result.

"It doesn't happen very often," she said.

Speaker is also the chair of the State Bar of Michigan's Appellate Practice Section. She has served on the council since 2005, and has been an officer since 2007. Getting involved with the Appellate Practice Section is another factor Speaker credits with jump-starting her practice as it allowed her another avenue to connect with fellow appellate attorneys.

Speaker Law is still a lean operation, with just one additional attorney, Steven A. Hicks. Hicks focuses primarily on personal injury, insurance, premises liability, and governmental immunity matters.

Published: Fri, Jun 22, 2012

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