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Family law attorney spearheads the WAJ

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Lana Panagoulia succeeded John Bredell as president of the Washtenaw Association of Justice (WAJ), formerly the Washtenaw Association of Trial Lawyers, in an awards night held May 20 at Barton Hills Country Club. She will serve a two-year term.

"During that time I hope to grow our membership and expand our significance and impact in the legal community" she says.

A member of the WAJ for eight years, Panagoulia recommends membership in WAJ to new lawyers, as well as the state and national chapters of the Michigan Association of Justice and the American Association for Justice.

"Our members are some of the best attorneys in the state and country. We all support and mentor each other," she says. "We're trial lawyers at heart. We advocate on behalf of the injured and weaker members of society and work to ensure people have a fair chance for justice through the legal system. It's an honor for me to be a part of WAJ and MAJ. Some of my closest friends are members."

A family law attorney and the owner of Lana Panagoulia Law, PLLC, in Ann Arbor, Panagoulia was previously a teacher, and was encouraged to apply to law school by Professor Nicholas Beltos, a longtime family friend who sensed her aptitude and passion for justice and those less fortunate. She earned her juris doctor, cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she was associate editor of the law review.

"I was finishing my master's in teaching and I applied to law school, got in, and never looked back," she says. "I studied hard and I was fortunate to get several scholarships including one from the Ford Motor Company and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan."

She was drawn to family law based partly because of her interest in the rights of parents and children and by her natural inclination to nurture and care for people.

"I loved teaching and when I became an attorney I realized those skills were naturally complementary to the practice of law," she says. "After I interned for the child abuse and neglect division of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, Justice Marilyn Kelly and later for Judge Darlene O'Brien, Judge Nancy C. Wheeler (Francis) and Judge Donald Shelton, it felt like family law was the right practice for me."

Panagoulia, who worked in two Ann Arbor law firms before hanging out her own shingle, is known as caring but direct.

"The law is not as glamorous as it appears sometimes in the media," she says. "It's really about sensitivity, communication, an entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance and tenacity. I've learned a lot about running a business but in the end it's all about empathy for our clients and a comprehensive understanding of the law and court rules."

A member of the Women Lawyer's Association of Michigan, she is a member and the outgoing president of the Michigan Hellenic Bar Association, and a member of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, where she served as co-chair of the Family Law Section for three years, during which time she organized seminars about bankruptcy and divorce, in addition to same-gender law issues in Michigan.

She served on the Young Lawyers Advisory Board for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) and has lectured on managing client expectations and other family law issues.

"We learn from our clients the facts and our clients learn from us the law it's a partnership," she says. "Our clients actually sometimes discover what it is they really want through speaking with us, feeling they've been heard, feeling respected, and having discussed options. Constructive communication is essential. I really enjoy teaching clients as well as other lawyers these skills hoping they implement them into their daily lives."

Panagoulia speaks four languages and is an avid traveler. Her parents immigrated to Ann Arbor specifically because they loved the University of Michigan and wanted their children to attend.

"Now they are proud U of M grandparents," says Panagoulia, a Pioneer High School graduate and University of Michigan alumnus. "My daughter is an incoming U of M freshman and I am a proud mother!"

Panagoulia, who originally worked in television and print media, says she enjoys the small town feel, big city mentality, and cultural diversity of Ann Arbor.

"Even though I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, I always can find something new and exciting to do."

In her leisure time, she enjoys going to the gym, exercising with friends, jogging out in nature, spending time and shopping with her daughter, goddaughter, mother and sister, and attending St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, where she volunteers at the annual Greek festival.

She has also enjoyed volunteering at Greenhills School and the Women's Tennis Team.

"I will miss doing that very much as my daughter is graduating. Hopefully she will continue as an ambassador to the school and I can continue to help. We feel so fortunate to be part of the Greenhills community."

Panagoulia also has other interests.

"If I had more time and unlimited resources I would support a free legal clinic for the wrongfully accused," she says. "I also envision creating or reestablishing a self-sustaining farm and accommodations for the homeless and those plagued by substance abuse.

"I believe it's important to teach and reinforce the concept of keeping busy, promoting a positive self-concept in our weaker members of society by conveying the basic human value that we are all important and relevant human beings no matter if we are wealthy or poor, uneducated or educated, weak or strong."

Published: Mon, Jun 29, 2015

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