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Connolly and her husband, Steve Lemberg, are the proud parents of four high achievers: daughter Annie, a U-M alumna who is pursuing a master’s degree at the prestigious Ross School of Business; son Tom, a computer science grad from Harvard who is CEO of Curebase, a digital health care company that he founded in San Francisco; Joey, an M.I.T. grad who is a software engineer for Google; and Sam, who graduated first in his class from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and is an attorney with Honigman in Detroit.

Attorney’s business helps pave way into top schools

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As a personal injury litigator for more than 20 years, Barbara Connolly tasted victory from both sides of the courtroom, successfully defending claims against major insurance companies before transitioning to work on behalf of plaintiffs who suffered from the negligence of others.

That willingness to seek a 360-degree view of a certain field in the law is now paying dividends for Connolly in a growing business venture as the founder and CEO of College Choice Counseling, a firm she launched in 2002 while she was juggling her responsibilities as an attorney and mother of four children.

The firm, based at 950 E. Maple Road in Birmingham, offers educational consulting services to families of college-bound students. Connolly’s initial focus in helping students gain admission to elite colleges across the country has since mushroomed into a host of related services, including academic and ACT/SAT tutoring, essay and research paper training, study skills advice, as well as tutoring for admission exams to law school, medical school, and business school.

The idea for her business began somewhat innocently enough when her oldest son, Sam, a Cranbrook High School grad, was in the midst of his college admittance process, a journey that saw him gain early admission to Yale and admission to other Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth, Penn, and Brown. With such choices, he opted for another select school instead – Harvard.

“As Sam and my other children began entering high school, I kept hearing a great deal of frustration from other parents about how difficult it had become to navigate the college admissions process, particularly involving the elite schools,” Connolly explained. “I discovered that it can be a very byzantine experience, which was a fate that I wanted to avoid when it came time for my children to seek admission to college. In effect, that served as the impetus to start my business.”

And her oldest child, a Harvard alum who now is an attorney with Honigman in Detroit, helped provide the blueprint.

“Word got around about my son’s success in getting admitted to all those elite schools, which led to me being regularly invited out to lunch by total strangers who were interested in how we did it,” Connolly said of her path to becoming a paid educational consultant.

“To enhance my skills in this field, I became an Admissions Application Reader at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business,” she added. “I also became a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP).”

Along the way, each of her four children gained admission to various Ivy League schools and other premier colleges, including M.I.T (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the University of Michigan, where Connolly’s daughter, Annie, was a Hopwood Award winner for her special writing talent.

“I founded my business in 2002,” Connolly related. “At that time, my business operated, as did my law practice, as a side enterprise to my most important career of being a full-time parent of four children. In 2014, when my last child left home to attend college, I became more available to families and students, and began to serve them under the
business name of College Choice Counseling.”

Connolly, who grew up in Livonia, is a product of Ladywood High School and the U-M, where she earned a degree in general studies with a concentration in English literature. Her father was a Detroit attorney for 40 years and served as her legal mentor.

“He practiced in the Guardian Building downtown and was fully engaged in every aspect of the law as a general practitioner,” Connolly said of her father, who originally planned to enter the Catholic priesthood.

Her mother, a native of Canada, also had plans to enter the Catholic ministry before meeting her future husband in Detroit.

“She had two brothers at U of D Law and eventually decided to get married and to raise a family,” Connolly indicated. “As it turned out, she and my father took on ‘parenting’ as their mission in life.”

After graduating from U-M, Connolly enrolled in law school at the U of D, her father’s legal alma mater. During a summer there, she met a U-M Law School graduate, Steve Lemberg, at a pool party that came with delayed gratification.

“Two years after that party, he finally got around to calling me for a date,” Connolly said of the beginning of a courtship with her now husband. “When I asked him what took him so long, he said, ‘I’ve been busy.’”

Evidently he was, as Lemberg was in the process of launching a career that began as an attorney and CPA at Coopers & Lybrand, and has included executive assignments as CEO, COO, and CFO of a number of companies. Most recently, he served as CEO of Entertainment Publications, leading the company to a “successful exit” after acquiring it out of Chapter 7 proceedings. He currently is managing director of Bates Street Partners, a firm that specializes in tax and finance work. For good measure, Lemberg recently became the director of his wife’s company.

That company has been in a growth mode over the past few years, according to Connolly.

“Since I really began to devote my energies full time to the business, we’ve experienced rapid growth,” Connolly said. “I have assembled a talented team of more than 30 counselors and tutors. Most of them are in their 20s and 30s, and they bring an enormous amount of talent and energy to the business. I learn from them each and every day. They are helping deliver results for students across the country as they seek the college and professional school of their choice.”

In March, before the pandemic gained steam, Connolly opened a new space – The Library – for her counseling and tutorial staff. The space adjoins her current headquarters on E. Maple Road in Birmingham.

“The Library is dedicated to being a quiet, intellectual space where CCC counselors and tutors can collaborate to help students develop an appreciation for math, science, literature, and art – learning,” Connolly exclaimed.

As part of her civic-mindedness, Connolly has a history of volunteer service, most recently serving from 2016-18 as president of the board of the Fredrick Douglass International Academy, a not-for-profit charter school in Oak Park. In July, she will extend a helping hand to the Community House in Birmingham, a nonprofit that has been financially impacted by the pandemic.

Together with the Birmingham Community House, College Choice Counseling will present “College Application Success” on July 15, 22, and 29, according to Connolly, who will be the primary instructor. 

“The program will be via Zoom and allow Q and A,” Connolly said. “We will cover getting ready to apply, completing the common application, and essay writing. All proceeds will benefit the Birmingham Community House. For more information, visit https://communityhouse.asapconnected.com/#CourseID=225277.”

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