Medical malpractice attorney makes good use of nursing degree


 By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
At an early age, some people look toward the future with an eye on a career in the medical field. Others aspire to careers in law.
But Lynn Foley had no such ambitions while growing up. But, through circumstance, family events and brotherly influence, she ended up in both. Now, Foley, 55, of Brighton, proudly displays two degrees on her office wall—one in nursing and the other in law.
And she’s parlayed those two distinct professions into a successful career as a plaintiff’s attorney in medical malpractice cases as co-founder and partner at the Livonia law firm of Cochran, Foley, & Associates.
Foley was born in Detroit in 1957 and graduated from high school in 1976. Before graduating, she had no idea what she was going to do with her life. 
“I was 17, and who knows what you want to do at that point,” she said. 
She had developed an interest in journalism and writing through her father, Michael Foley, who worked at a now-closed downtown Detroit newspaper. Her father had always wanted to become an attorney, too. So at an early age, she had already felt a small tug towards journalism and the law. 
But it all came crashing down when her father died. And he was the bread-winner of the family. 
“We were financially strapped,” Foley said. 
She, her mother, Shirley, and two brothers, Michael and John, were left alone. Michael, who was in medical school, and is now a doctor, began “looking out for me,” she said, and suggested she enter nursing school. 
“He was trying to help me find a career and make sure I’d get a job and be able to support myself when I got out of school,” Foley said. “I thought, ‘OK, that sounds good.’ I was always interested in science, and I loved studying about the medicine, and all the different diseases, and it all sounded so fascinating.”
So, in 1976, Foley entered the University of Michigan School of Nursing. At first, the book learning portion of it was great. But as she became more involved in the clinical part of nursing around her third year, she started thinking maybe nursing wasn’t for her.
She graduated magna cum laude in 1980 with a bachelor of science in nursing, but well before that, Foley started thinking about getting into some specialty field of nursing. 
“Nursing was never my first passion, and as I was completing nursing school, I started to look for other options,” she said.
Just before graduating, she met her future husband, who was in law school, as was her other brother, John, who is now a family lawyer in the greater Detroit area. 
“And I thought, ‘OK, maybe I’ll think about law school.’”
Foley got a job at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, working as a medical-surgical nurse, handling neurology and urology patients, but decided to enter Wayne State University Law School in the fall of 1980. 
“I enjoyed the aspect of helping people (in nursing) and I loved learning about it, but I wasn’t really into the blood and guts of it,” she said.
Foley had an adjustment period. 
“In nursing, everything’s black or white, answers are right or wrong or multiple choice,” she said. “But in law school, you’re writing essays, arguing different points, and there really isn’t always a right answer. You could see (a problem) both ways.
“It was a challenge because in the first year, you’re adjusting to a new way of thinking like a lawyer,” Foley said.
But by her second and third year, Foley got it. 
“I was fully integrated into the new way of thinking, and it wasn’t much of a problem after that,” she said.
Something else occurred. Foley said she developed a “passion” for law. 
“It became very exciting, to be able to combine my nursing background with the law,” she said. “I find it’s a great way to help people now. Instead of helping people by being a nurse, I’m still fulfilling that instinct to help people, but in a different way.”
Foley attended law school full time, and worked as a nurse on weekends at various hospitals through an agency, filling in shifts where she could pick up the work. 
And then she discovered medical malpractice work, which was a great way to meld the two disciplines. After graduating in 1983, Foley landed a job at the Southfield firm of Meklir, Schreier, Nolish, & Friedman, and found a mentor in Sherwin Schreier. Foley saw other law school graduates having a difficult time finding jobs after law school. 
“But with a nursing background, it made me stand out from the pack,” she said.
Schreier taught her a lot about medical malpractice cases, his specialty, and took to Foley because of her familiarity with medical issues, cases, lingo, procedures and practices. 
“It was a perfect fit,” Foley said. 
Often he would summon her for help with a case by walking around the office calling for “Dr. Foley,” according to Foley.
Foley worked there for 10 years, getting referrals for some cases from her old law school friend, Terry Cochran. In 1994, the two decided to open their own firm. 
For the past 19 years, Foley, a senior partner, heads the medical malpractice department there. She also handles product liability claims against the manufacturers of faulty medical devices. The firm also has a satellite office in Flint, and handles a wide variety of personal injury cases.
She is married to John Ayaub, a tax attorney. They have three children—Michael, Katelyn and Caroline—and live in Brighton.
Foley’s clients have been rewarded with her expertise. Foley has particular interests in cases involving women’s and children’s health issues, especially birth trauma cases. She won more than $16 million in a birth trauma cases several years ago in Wayne County Circuit Court, and negotiated confidential multi-million dollar settlements in cases involving babies born with Spinal Bifida and Down Syndrome, and for a man who suffered brain damage when bleeding in his abdomen was not properly diagnosed and treated.
Foley has been active in medical malpractice issues and groups as well. She’s a member of the Birth Trauma Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, and has served as an executive board member of the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) and a board member of the Negligence Section of the State Bar of Michigan. She has also published articles on a wide variety of medical malpractice issues.
“There are just a lot more hoops you have to jump through,” Foley said of medical malpractice cases in Michigan. “The point is that a lot of restrictions were put on med mal cases that made it economically unfeasible to pursue a lot of cases that we used to be able to pursue.”
For instance, caps in some cases are currently set at $433,400, no matter how horrific the injury suffered by a plaintiff. In many cases, clients have been told that expenses in the case could equal more than any amount that could be won.
“Michigan is one of the toughest states in terms of the laws we have in place to regulate what kinds of cases can be filed,” Foley said. “And that’s a bad thing, because there are a lot of people out there who have suffered injuries, but there’s no way for them to get compensation because of the court system and the law and the legislators.
“As a nurse, you have to be a multi-tasker, taking care of emergencies, lots of patients, stay abreast in field, keeping educated and well read,” Foley said. “The same is true for medical malpractice cases—you’re handling many files at once, prioritizing, keeping up with the education, and staying organized.”
Nursing and the law are her perfect fit. 
“I’m constantly learning about medicine, and I’m able to use that in a different way to help people.”
Foley said there are more lawyers with nursing backgrounds now than when she started, and one lawyer on her team, Eileen Kroll, is also a nurse. 
“This business can be tough, stressful and contentious, but I enjoy it,“ Foley said.
“When you accomplish the goal of helping someone, it’s a very gratifying feeling, and that’s what keeps me going.”


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