Like Mother, Like Daughter

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Mothers and daughters team up in law practices

By Sheila Pursglove

Not only was Michele Kelly pregnant during her studies at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law – her daughter Ryan was born during exam week.

“Apparently this early exposure sparked an interest in law,” Michele says with a smile. “I determined that when Ryan was about 3 she would be one of the smartest people I would ever meet, and that is very true even today.

Michele and Ryan now work together at Kelly & Kelly, P.C., a law firm Michele and her husband John opened in Northville in1988 to service clients throughout southeast Michigan where they make their home. John practices estate planning, probate and business law, and Michele practices in family law and criminal law.

“When both of your parents are attorneys who own their own law firm you spend a lot of time hearing about cases as well as spending time in the office,” Michele says.

Ryan started out working as a young teen answering the phone and also doing the billing.

“When I was a teenager I used to answer the phones when the secretary went to lunch,” Ryan adds. “One day someone remarked how young I sounded – I told them I should sound young, I am only 13.”

Ryan joined the family firm as an attorney in 2008 after earning her undergrad degree from Michigan State University then graduating cum laude from UDM Law, where she was involved in national Moot Court competitions. She also earned the highest grade in her class in Family Law, Civil Procedure, Federal Income Taxation and Civil Law.

“Ryan and I are a wickedly good team often working together on cases, especially complicated matters,” Michele says. “I’m very proud of her – she is not only an attorney, she chose to pursue a challenging area of law, high conflict divorces.”

Ryan’s practice covers all areas of family law including divorce, paternity, child custody and support, focusing on high conflict cases. She also handles criminal matters that often intersect in her family law cases.

Like her mother, Ryan is involved in many activities and organizations. Selected on multiple occasions to “Michigan Rising Stars” by Super Lawyers Magazine and as a Top Lawyer by DBusiness Magazine, she serves on the Family Law Advisory Board and Young Lawyers Advisory Board for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE), and is the current President of the Women’s Bar Association of Oakland County.

“My mother has never been just a lawyer, she also is a wife, a mother, a business owner, serves on boards of directors both in and out of the legal field and finds time for her many other interests,” she says. “Working to achieve a balance in my own life is something I want to model after my mom and her career.

“I’ve learned so much about practicing law from my parents which can never be taught in law school,” she adds. “Law school doesn’t teach you how to handle a tough judge or challenging clients. I’m incredibly thankful for the unique experience of practicing closely with both my parents and learning from their experience and skills.”

The Kellys’ son Mike – another UDM alum – is also a member of the team, a second year attorney working in primarily criminal law. The couple’s son Jack owns Imagine Landscape and Design, and their youngest daughter Megan is a realtor with the Patti Mullen Team.

“A mother is only as happy as her least happy child,” Michele notes. “Thankfully everyone is happy, healthy and productive.”

Michele is hopeful that one or more of the grandchildren – there are three to date – will show an interest in law.

“It would great to see our firm continue as a legacy for our family – we’ve spent many years having a sterling reputation in the community,” she says.

Already working to spark an interest in law in her almost-two-year-old daughter, Ryan jokes that she is teaching Paige vocabulary that includes the words “work,” “office” and “billable hours.”

Mother's Day will be celebrated with brunch at Walnut Creek Country Club with all four children, spouses and grandchildren.

“No one has to cook or clean up so it’s perfect,” Michele says. “I’m hoping to spend the rest of the day on an adventure, maybe kayaking or a hike.”

Pauline Woll, who practices law with her daughters Jessica and Allison, will celebrate Mother’s Day with all three generations together – Pauline, her children and grandchildren, who range in age from 4 to 15.

“A third generation of lawyers is certainly a possibility, but it’s too soon to tell,” Pauline says.

Pauline became a lawyer after enjoying careers in teaching and real estate. In the 1980s, as a single mom of three young children, she entered Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law) determined to provide a life of quality for her family by helping others in need.

“As kids, we received an award from the Detroit College of Law for putting up with our mom’s busy schedule while in law school,” Jessica says. “Our mom was a fantastic role model for us. After getting divorced, she picked herself up by her bootstraps and went back to school. She’s an inspiration to us.”

Both the Woll girls, and their brother, entered the field of law. After earning her undergrad degree from the University of Michigan, Jessica attended Wayne State University School of Law – and after graduating in 1993, she and Pauline founded Woll & Woll, P.C., in Southfield, focusing on family law. The firm moved to its current location in Birmingham in 2014. Jessica is now the managing partner.

After witnessing the success of her mother and sister in securing victories for clients, Allison – who, like Jessica, earned her undergrad degree from U-M – followed her mom’s Spartan footsteps and earned her J.D. from MSU Law before joining her mother and sister at the firm.

“Mom is very creative and a wonderful artist and writer,” Allison says. “She taught us to look at the world through a creative lens and to use those skills in the practice of family law.”

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