Leading role: Outgoing College of Law chair earns high marks

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In a world full of uncertainty, “trust is the new currency,” according to the former chair of the Michigan State University College of Law Board of Trustees.

The comment comes from the heart of Linda Orlans, a MSU Law Board trustee for the past 10 years including the last three as chair.

Orlans, who in 1987 earned her juris doctor degree from the former Detroit College of Law (now MSU Law), has built much of her business success on the foundation of that five-letter word, using it as the launch pad for a group of companies in the mortgage banking and real estate industries. She is a firm believer in the time-honored saying that “trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

Top MSU officials placed their trust in Orlans to lead the law school board during a period of transition in legal academia and the profession at large.

“Linda provided invaluable leadership to our law college,” said Joan Howarth, recently retired dean of MSU Law, in a prepared statement. “She helped us better integrate with the broader MSU campus, and she has been one of our most passionate advocates for recruiting new students and engaging alumni. Moreover, time and time again she has shown by example how lawyers can make a positive impact in their communities.”

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, who widely praised Orlans during a recent board gathering, echoed the remarks.

“Linda Orlans is a remarkable woman who has applied tremendous analytical ability, leadership vision, and passion for the institution to her chairmanship of the College of Law and her support of the university,” said Simon. “I’m very pleased she will remain on the college’s board.”

A Detroit native, Orlans is the founder and executive chair of Orlans Associates, PC; Orlans Moran, PLLC; Atlantic Law Group, LLC; and The Orlans Group, which is comprised of eTitle Agency, Inc.; eVantage Services; and Towne Auction.
Together, the firms and Orlans Group companies operate in more than 20 states and employ more than 500 staff members, including some 60 attorneys.

“My time as chair has been both professionally rewarding and a genuine joy,” Orlans said. “I watched my alma mater change from a local law college to a Big Ten university, and I have seen thousands of faces of bright young lawyers walk across our stage at commencement over the years. As much as we have grown, I still see vast potential ahead of us.”

The positive outlook also applies to her group of companies, led by a second generation entrepreneur, her daughter Alison Orlans, a University of Michigan alum who received her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Alison is a natural leader, who as president and CEO has been instrumental in our growth over the last decade,” Orlans said of her daughter.

A graduate of Wayne State University, Orlans has a history of community and charitable work that for years has stretched across metro Detroit. She has served on the board and as fund-raising chair for the Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan, and was a founding member of the Beaumont Hospital Foundation’s First Words Society. She also has served as legal counsel and a board member for Beyond Basics, a community support group for disadvantaged children and their families in Detroit and Pontiac. She likewise has been involved in spreading HOPE, an acronyms for Home Ownership Preservation Enterprise, an organization dedicated to preserving home ownership in Detroit.

At MSU College of Law, where she has been a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, Orlans kicked off the school’s “Empower Extraordinary” campaign with a $1 million donation via a charitable bequest.

To have the wherewithal to make such a gift would have been nothing more than a dream for Orlans when she embarked on her law school studies in the mid-’80s. She began her law school journey 10 years after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State and only upon “finally paying off all of my student loans,” Orlans acknowledged. It would be another decade before Orlans mustered up enough money “to repay my law school student loans.”

Orlans, in a phone interview with The Legal News, said that she inherited a strong work ethic from her father, Gene, who labored in a Detroit area factory most of his career despite losing his eyesight from the effects of glaucoma. Her mother, Clara, was a stay-at-home mom, helping inspire her children to give of themselves for the good of others. Upon graduation from Wayne State, Orlans landed her “first real job” after “walking up and down Gratiot” with resumes in hand, getting an opportunity with an insurance company where she would toil for the next decade.

It was not an overly exciting work experience, but she made the best of it.

“I spent a lot of time reading contracts and finding all those exceptions and exclusions that helped the company save money,” Orlans told a group of MSU law school students during a commencement address nearly a decade ago. “But I was denying claims to hard-working people that were a lot like my mom and dad. At the end of the day, I felt I was doing more harm than good.

“Going into the law was a way for me to help people . . . not hurt them,” Orlans said in her commencement remarks. “I worked in a large firm right out of law school. But it wasn’t until I got involved in real estate law and started my own title company that I really found the satisfaction I was looking for.”

But it was two years out of law school before Orlans discovered the importance of another key lesson on the sometimes bumpy road to success.

Relationships count, even for a young associate working 80 hours a week in an effort to “make my mark,” according to Orlans.

She soon began “reaching out to other people . . . to learn from their experiences . . . to help them when I could . . . and to do a better job of understanding the world around me.”

Orlans has made even greater use of that lesson in building her businesses, making a concerted effort to “get to know” those who work for her companies and “see their lives improve.” She finds such a commitment “enriching and rewarding,” just as she does when fulfilling her role as a community servant.

“Of all of my years of fighting and winning battles, nothing comes close to feeling as good as giving something back,” Orlans said. “If you give something of yourself . . . in the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts.”

While she recently closed a career chapter as chair of the MSU College of Law, Orlans said she “is excited as ever” about work and has no plans to retire. In fact, she is particularly enthused about continuing to impart the message of “entrepreneurship,” especially as it applies to those entering the legal profession.

“As I get older, it becomes more and more apparent that being positive is the key to success,” said Orlans, whose husband, Birmingham attorney Gerald Padilla, specializes in litigation. “But I wasn’t always this upbeat and optimistic.”

And then her brother, Jim, helped light the way.

“When I was still in my 20s and working in insurance, Jim was fresh out of high school and working in a small factory,” Orlans related. “We started a little maintenance company cleaning offices at night. We saved until we had about $5,000 . . . a lot of money back then . . . and bought our first rental property.”

The brother-and-sister team lost money on the property and Orlans swore, “I’d never own a piece of real estate again.”

Her brother sang a different tune, calling it a “great opportunity to learn about rental real estate” and the joys of such things as cranky water heaters, leaky roofs, and squirrely renters.

“I’ve never seen anyone in my life get so excited about learning how to fix an old toilet,” Orlans said with a hearty laugh of her beloved brother.

His optimism paid off. Big time.

“He now buys and renovates as many as 100 properties a year,” Orlans said of her younger brother. “And all this has happened because he managed to stay positive. I learned from my brother that if you stay positive and pick yourself up when you fall down, success is not always immediate, but it is certain.”
 

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