Profile in Brief-- Rita Kostopoulos Fresh Start

By John Minnis

Legal News

Unlike the movie, Warren attorney Rita Kostopoulos' story doesn't end with a "Big Fat Greek Wedding." She had already been married and divorced before starting college.

"At age 32," she recalls, "I found myself wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life."

Working at her family's Greek Coney Island, Kostopoulos put herself through Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in management (cum laude) and then through Wayne State Law School.

"I always found it a fascinating field," she says when asked why she went into law.

At age 39, Kostopoulos found herself a proud member of the bar. She clerked for Macomb County Circuit Judge James Biernat for a year and looked for a full-time position - and she looked and looked.

"I looked for quite a long time," she says, "but I couldn't find an opening. I thought it was my age."

Working out of her home, she took whatever cases she could through family and friends. Her determination paid off. In 2004, she founded her own firm, Kostopoulos & Associates, and now has five attorneys, and two offices, one in Warren across Van Dyke from the General Motors Technical Center and the other in St. Clair Shores.

"At the time I was very disappointed," she says of the days when she couldn't find a job with a firm. "Now I'm glad it turned out that way."

Originally, the firm took whatever cases came up. In 2004, they began doing bankruptcy cases. Dubbed "The Fresh Start Center Law Firm," Kostopoulos & Associates sees clients seven days a week, Saturdays and Sundays being especially busy.

"It helps them eliminate debt and get on their feet again," Kostopoulos says of her bankruptcy clients. "It's a fresh start."

Now the 47-year-old self-made lawyer's talents are being called upon to revitalize the Hellenic Bar Association, which had gone somewhat dormant since its founding in 1958.

Founded by George Cholack, James G. Pyrros and Theodore Souris, the Hellenic Bar Association was created as a way for Greek lawyers to get together. One of the bar's early successes was getting Souris on the Michigan Supreme Court. Appointed and elected in 1960, Souris, at age 33, was the youngest justice to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court and the first Greek.

Other prominent Hellenic Bar Association members include State Reps. Andrew Kandrevas and Bob Constan, noted labor arbitrator George Roumell, Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Athina Siringas involved in the Kwame Kilpatrick restitution matter, Wayne County Circuit Judge Eric Cholack, District Judges James Plakas and James Kandrevas and Grosse Pointe Farms Councilman Louis Theros.

As its president, Kostopoulos hopes to renew interest in the specialty bar for attorneys of Greek background. She plans to have a Web site and more events. "We're hoping to bring it back to its glory," she says.

The Hellenic Bar Association will also focus on helping establish the Hellenic Museum of Michigan in the historic 1906 Emery Leydon Ford House at 67 E. Kirby across from the Detroit Institute of Arts and in the heart of the Detroit Cultural Center.

The Hellenic Museum of Michigan will showcase the story of Detroit's Greek immigrants and will participate in Wayne State's Greek studies programs. The building will also be available to Greek organizations.

"There are quite a few Greeks in Michigan," Kostopoulos says. "The Greeks are a lively bunch,"

No doubt, beginning with their energetic leader.

For more information on the Hellenic Bar Association, contact Kostopoulos at (586) 574-0916 or e-mail her at kosto1@comcast.net.

Published: Thu, Dec 3, 2009