Upper ranks: New Macomb County Bar Association president takes her volunteer service to a higher level

Attorney Lori Smith took the oath of office at the annual meeting of the Macomb Bar Association in September but officially began her term as president in July. In July 2023 when her presidency of the Macomb Bar concludes, she will begin a one-year term as president of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, Macomb Region.

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Lori Smith freely admits that she is not one to sit on the sideline, whether over the course of her 14-year legal career or in the community service realm.

“Helping out is much more my bag,” says Smith, who in July was sworn in as the 94th president of the Macomb County Bar Association. “I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from being involved in worthy causes. It’s my way of expressing my appreciation to all those who’ve encouraged me and have been such a blessing in my life.”

Early evidence of her zeal took place as a teen-ager when she tried out for the wrestling team – the boys’ wrestling squad at Utica High School.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I was a real tomboy growing up and didn’t like taking ‘no’ for an answer,” says Smith, who was raised in the Macomb County city that borders the busy M-59 corridor. “Unfortunately, my time as a wrestler proved to be short after I suffered a broken ankle in practice.”

While the injury sidelined her dreams of becoming a key member of the wrestling squad, Smith did make her presence known on the softball diamond as well as the basketball and tennis courts in high school, developing a reputation as the ultimate “team player,” a label that she has worn proudly in each of her volunteer service roles.

“I’ve always felt a sense of duty to be involved in community activities, to contribute to the well-being of others, especially those who need a helping hand,” says Smith, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Walsh College in 2003.

Her involvement with the Macomb County Bar began when she was appointed to an opening on its Foundation Board, the charitable wing of the organization. She eventually rose to be president of the Macomb Bar Foundation and still serves on its board of directors.

“It gave me a good taste of the bar’s work in supporting legal aid programs and legal education projects in the area, and the importance of attracting support from inside and outside the legal community,” she says.

A shareholder and family law attorney with O’Reilly Rancilio in Sterling Heights, Smith joined the firm earlier this year in a homecoming of sorts.

“My roots are in Macomb County, but until this year I have spent much of my career working out of Oakland County,” Smith relates. “So, joining O’Reilly Rancilio served as a great opportunity to help the firm build its family law practice while at the same time allowing me to work closer to home.”

Before deciding to pursue a legal career, Smith spent 10 years in the advertising industry, working for Ross Roy that later became BBDO Detroit, one of the top ad firms in the Detroit area in its prime. Her interest in the legal field was sparked while taking a business law class at Walsh.

“I commented to a family member about how I was considering going to law school and I was told it wouldn’t be possible to work full time and go to law school full time,” Smith relates. “That was pretty much the final nudge that I needed because I do not like being told what I am capable of doing. I truly believe that you can accomplish anything if you put in the time and effort required to do so.”

Smith’s road through Cooley Law School became choppy after her first year when the nearby Auburn Hills campus was faced with ABA accreditation issues, thus forcing her to attend classes in Lansing on weekends.

“It wasn’t ideal, but the weekend program offered me the flexibility I needed to work while attending school,” she says. “It was a tough few years, juggling the demands of work with my law school studies. Coffee at Starbucks became my best friend.”

While in law school, Smith served an internship with the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, setting the stage for her “leap of faith” following graduation in 2008. 

“I started as a solo practitioner working in criminal defense and I was connected with an attorney in Macomb who needed help with family law, so I just started helping her with it,” Smith explains. “I just kind of fell into it. I appreciate being able to help clients and their families through difficult times. It’s stressful, but it seems like I’m also giving something back along the way and that’s what I like.”

After three years as a solo practitioner, Smith was offered a job with the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) in Southfield, where “I got an education in family law in the context of trial by fire,” she says.

The job served as a steppingstone to an opportunity with Lippitt O’Keefe & Gornbein, a Birmingham firm founded by the late Norman Lippitt, a renowned trial lawyer and former Oakland County judge who died last year.

“I became a partner pretty quickly and really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the outstanding attorneys there,” says Smith.

All the while, Smith was devoting her spare time to a series of worthy causes, including the Friends of the Macomb County Veterans Treatment Court, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Jefferson House, the Miss Amazing program, and as a coach for the Northeast Adaptive Recreation (NEAR) Softball League for young adults with disabilities or special needs.

“I derive so much enjoyment from my involvement with those organizations,” says Smith. “It energizes me and gives me a greater appreciation for the challenges others face in life. It’s an enriching experience to help out, and it’s my way of expressing gratitude to all the people who have given me a boost.”

One of three children, Smith is part of a large extended family.

“My mom (Marilyn) was one of 14 children, while my dad (Michael Sr.) had eight siblings,” says Smith. “I have so many cousins that I’ve lost count. But I love them all dearly”

Her relatives turned out in force for Smith’s installation ceremony as president of the Macomb Bar, an event that took place September 15 at the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site in Shelby Township. It was a festive occasion and launched a year in which Smith hopes that the Macomb Bar can be a difference-maker in the lives of its members.

“After what we experienced during the pandemic, I want to help us reconnect by once again holding the social activities and programs that have been such a part of our history,” Smith says. “We all missed those opportunities to engage with others and to help support one another within the legal community. That will be a focal point of my time as president.”

She is particularly excited about the Macomb Bar’s new Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which she expects to gain traction quickly under the leadership of attorney Esse Tuke.

“She’s a real dynamo,” Smith says of Tuke. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what that committee and the other committees will be able to accomplish in the year ahead.”

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