Born in Romania, lawyer is living American dream

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Investigations and analysis in title insurance cases aren't quite in the realm of "CSI" - but they sometimes come close, according to Lavinia Biasell, a specialist in this field and a partner at Maddin, Hauser, Wartell, Roth & Heller in Southfield.

"When I get a new title file, the first thing I need to do is figure out what happened - how was the title error created, and how can I fix it," she explains. "I also enjoy the title insurance coverage cases I handle. Title insurance seems to be a big mystery to the general public. Most people get a policy when they buy their house, but they don't really know what it's for."

Her law career has its roots in the Eastern European neighborhood in Detroit where she grew up, where English was a second language for pretty much every family on the street. Biasell was an advocate before she knew the meaning of the word.

"I witnessed a lot of what I perceived to be injustice against these people because they didn't understand the language and the process," she says. "When I was a child, I spoke better English than my parents. I often made telephone calls, attended meeting and appointments, and spoke for them and others in the neighborhood. Becoming an attorney was a continuation of what I was already doing for friends and family. It was my way of ending the injustice for the people in my life."

Biasell was born in Romania where her father was an ironworker and her mother a seamstress - with education that ended after elementary school. In communist Romania, the child of a laborer had no chance of aiming higher. Wanting a better life, Biasell's parents immigrated to the United States in 1979, when she was a baby.

"My parents came here with less than a hundred dollars in their pockets and without knowing any English," she says.

Her parents settled in Detroit, where Biasell attended Detroit Public Schools.

"Even though my parents are not educated, education was always very important in our house," she explains. "They had high expectations when it came to report cards. My mom used to pay us a dollar for every 'A' we got. It was a great incentive."

The only one in her family to attend a four-year university and then earn a post-grad degree, Biasell earned her bachelor's degree from James Madison College at Michigan State University in social relations, with a double major in women's studies; and her J.D., magna cum laude, from MSU Law.

"Within 5 minutes of meeting my parents, you will learn their daughter is a lawyer, and now a partner at a law firm-- they are very proud," she says.

Her four brothers are all successful at IT jobs, and her older sister works for a consulting firm.

"All six of us are successful at our work," Biasell says. "My parents are extremely proud of all of us. They came to this country so their children could succeed and live the American dream--and we are all doing that."

Biasell met her husband Christian when both were students at MSU Law, and studied for the bar exam together. The two make their home in Rochester Hills with Fiona, 4, and Harrison, 2.

"They're a handful at this age, but being with them makes me happiest," she says.

In mentoring women law students, Biasell often is asked how she juggles a family and a career. Her answer: "With a lot of support. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful nanny who loves my kids like they were her grandkids, and an attorney husband who understands the stresses and requirements that come with practicing law," she says. "The most important component to the balance for me, however, is the place and people I work with. I'm always surprised at how many women law students won't even consider working at a firm, because they don't think it's possible to have a family. You need to find the right firm."

After Fiona's birth, Biasell reduced her schedule to four days, with the help of partner David Hart, who also does title insurance work.

"David has three kids and his wife is also a lawyer. He's been a great mentor and friend at the firm," she says.

Reducing her work week did not impact Biasell's track to partnership; and she also was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2012.

"Maddin Hauser is the perfect fit for me," she says. "That's my message to women law students --find a firm that will allow you to balance your life in a way that makes you happy. They do exist!"

Biasell is also a strong advocate for women surviving domestic violence. While at MSU, she underwent an intense training program, and helped a woman who left an abusive relationship--and who was in hiding with her son--to get a job, find free or low-cost clothing and household goods, and obtain access to social services; she also helped the woman through a divorce.

Biasell also helped some family members create the nonprofit Life Remodeled, an organization building and donating homes to low-income families. Life Remodeled, which has turned into a statewide initiative, also offers financial counseling and other services. She lends her legal expertise when the organization acquires real property, which is donated, often by municipalities. Life Remodeled then leases it to a family while they undergo counseling, before deeding it to the family.

"I assist in preparing the paperwork to facilitate all of that," she says.

Actively involved in bar programs, Biasell enjoys serving as co-chair of the Bench-Bar Culinary Challenge Committee, 14 women lawyers and judges who are planning the 6th Annual Culinary Challenge set for June 12 in Huntington Woods. The event will raise money for Alternatives For Girls, Crossroads For Youth and the WLAM Foundation Scholarship Fund. Judges and lawyers compete for the title of Best Chef in dessert and appetizer categories, with attendees voting for their favorites.

"Last year, more than 200 people attended the event, including more than 40 judges, and we raised over $20,000 for the charities," she says. "It's a casual, fun, backyard affair with lots of good food and wine--and not to be missed!"

Published: Mon, Apr 29, 2013

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