Former litigator forms non-profit in honor of dear friend, colleague

by Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

Fascinated by her friends’ studies while they were in law school, Dana Bennett decided to pursue the same career path.

“Law helps in any facet of life or other profession,” she says. “You’re learning how to be an analytical thinker and writer and you become better at reading a room and public speaking.”

While attending Wayne State University Law School, Bennett was awarded Best Oral Advocate at WSU, Best Oral Advocate at the 6th Circuit regional moot court competition, and Best Oral Advocate at the national moot court competition.

When she became an associate attorney at Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C., Bennett worked primarily in their Lansing office in the general litigation and workers' compensation practice groups. During that time, she also mentored new attorneys and worked with the United Way. When Bennett became a partner at the firm in 2009, she practiced primarily in their Farmington Hills location.

She would eventually leave the firm to focus on her family. In 2011, when her dear friend and former Foster Swift attorney, Jackie Bayley, passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 34, Bennett formed a nonprofit organization with former Foster Swift attorney, Eleanore Schroeder and mutual friend Kari Haddrill, the Jacqueline E. Bayley Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research and Awareness (JEBF).

Schroeder, now an attorney with Vandeveer Garzia P.C. in Troy, says she and Bennett worked for the same firm in different locations.

“Jackie headed up the associates committee and planned these amazing outings and trips for the associates,” she says about meeting Bennett socially through work. “I immediately appreciated Dana's frank, dry wit. She also possesses this unique duality of being both a pragmatist and dreamer.” 

“When we formed JEBF, I knew these qualities would foster a good working relationship between the two of us. We can usually laugh our way through anything, which, when you're forming a nonprofit without any prior knowledge, is very important.”

She credits Bennett with working tirelessly on the JEBF annual silent auction to make the night feel elegant and special while cutting all costs possible and raising significant funds for the foundation. 

The skills Bennett learned in law school continue to serve her well as she sits on the board of directors for the organization.

“You have to try to persuade people to support a cause they might not know that much about and you have to show them where the money will go for the ultimate goal to help better and fund our fight,” she says.

Bennett’s passion is palpable when describing her friend who was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer just months after receiving a clean bill of health from her OB/GYN.

“She was a true renaissance woman. She was exceptionally good at living life. She was our lifestyle guru,” says Bennett.

“All of her friends really admired her style, strength and fortitude. She had the ability to control a situation and fix a problem. She was bilingual and could do calligraphy. She was an accomplished attorney who could tile a bathroom and make an exceptional dinner.”

For anyone forming a nonprofit, Bennett has some wisdom to share.

“You need to have a clear vision of what you want and you can’t be afraid of paperwork,” she says. “You have to have patience and be willing to persevere.”

The JEBF has had significant success early on.

“We have received meaningful support from Foster Swift, and from Collins, Einhorn, Farrell, and Ulanoff, P.C., the firm where Ms. Bayley was working at the time of her diagnosis,” says Bennett.

In addition to fund-raising dinner parties hosted by their supporters, the foundation hosts an annual golf classic and a silent auction. They have also received support from the Oakland County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and from Operation Give.

The JEBF has established a trust at Karmanos Cancer Institute and an endowment at the University of Michigan.

“We are also funding specific medical research at U-M aimed at creating an early detection test for ovarian cancer. Presently there is no such test,” says Bennett.

Their mission is based on correspondence from Bayley to her family, friends and colleagues shortly after she received her diagnosis:

“As I learn more about this disease, I am frightfully concerned about how little research, particularly diagnostic research, is available."

That’s why their work is so important.

“The JEBF continues working to fund the medical research Ms. Bayley knew was desperately needed and could have saved her life,” Bennett says.

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