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Attorney’s consulting 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 juggling responsibilities as an attorney and mother of four children.

The firm 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 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 Sam, who is now 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 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan.

“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 is a product of 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.

After graduating from U-M, Connolly enrolled in law school at the University of Detroit Law School, her father’s legal alma mater. During a summer there, she met a U-M Law School graduate, Steve Lemberg who 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.

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