By Kurt Anthony Krug
To Ilana Ben-Ze’ev, the new assistant dean of students at Wayne State University Law School, worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair.
“It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere,” said Ben-Ze’ev (pronounced “ben-zev”), 55, of Huntington Woods, where she lives with her husband Abraham, 66, a Wayne State alumnus.
She heard that phrase when she was a first-year law student at Emory University in Atlanta, where she graduated in 1983 with her juris doctorate, and plans to say that to the incoming first year students at Wayne State Law School.
“If you get into trouble, come find us right away,” said Ben-Ze’ev, who has two children, Jonathan, 22, and Leora, 19. “We’re here and we’ll see work with you to get whatever help you need. It’s smart to know when you need help,” she said. “This job is very satisfying because we can help students find solutions.”
Ben-Ze’ev came on board as the assistant dean of students in late May after more than 29 years of practicing law, replacing the late Michele Miller.
She spent the last 12 at Bodman, one of Michigan’s largest law firms.
Originally, Ben-Ze’ev, a native of Providence, R.I., was interested in going into the mental health profession after earning with a degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.
“There are lots of legal issues involving group homes and mental hospitals. I thought it would be interesting to combine psychology and law. It never happened, but that was my impetus for studying law,” explained Ben-Ze’ev.
Her first job out of law school was in construction litigation. When she moved to Michigan, Miller Canfield offered her a position working in commercial real estate law and she “never looked back.”
However, her reason for a career shift was that she wanted to do something different, yet still remain in law.
“There’s a lifetime limit on the number of loan documents you can draft and I was there,” joked Ben-Ze’ev, who also practiced finance and development law.
While she enjoyed her work, she found that mentoring new lawyers at the firm gave her the most satisfaction. She also chaired Bodman’s Diversity Committee.
“I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do?’ I enjoy working with people. I learned I like administration and programming, having been on the Diversity Committee. I didn’t want to teach per se, but I did want to work with students using my legal background,” she explained.
She wanted to a job that allowed her to be professional and creative – and being the assistant dean of students fit that bill.
“It allows me to be all those things. It’s a good fit for me,” she said.
WSU Law Dean Robert Ackerman said in a statement that Ben-Ze’ev’s legal background “will certainly contribute to her effectiveness in serving our students and enhancing the sense of community at Wayne Law.”
Ben-Ze’ev’s duties include programming, counseling students, and providing academic support for students.
“Our office provides a wide range of services, and my job is broad-based,” said Ben-Ze’ev. “Our goal is to be the one-stop shop for students. My job is helping them get through law school. I want them to be happy and still standing at the end. This is not the easiest time to be in law school, nor to be starting out as a lawyer. Students need a hand and together with a host of other law school services, we’re here to provide that.”
Ben-Ze’ev didn’t feel any pressure taking the place of Miller, a beloved figure who died last year.
“I do feel conscious about the high level of quality and expectations for student support she established. We shared certain values. She was an incredible, giving person,” Ben-Ze’ev said of Miller.
After nearly two months into the job, she has no regrets.
“Some of my friends have told me, ‘This job is so you.’ People who know me say it’s a good match. Two months in, I’d say it is,” she said. “Practicing law used my talents; this job uses my talents and my gifts.”
By Kurt Anthony Krug