Reaching the finish line: Attorney's triathlon focus is a plus in the courtroom


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Preparing for an Ironman event is like preparing for litigation, notes triathlete Michelle Alamo, an attorney with Dickinson Wright in Detroit.

“Anytime you set goals; develop, re-evaluate and adjust your plan; and push through to the finish line, you’re honing skills necessary to succeed in the courtroom,” she says. “It requires commitment and dedication to an end goal, and a desire to be and do your best – the same skills I use when approaching any new case or issue on behalf of a client.”

A specialist in complex business and IP litigation, who in September completed the Ironman Wisconsin event, Alamo is not sure if Ironman training helps her as a lawyer or vice versa.

“I do think to be a successful lawyer, you have to be well-rounded and able to adjust when things do not go exactly as planned, and training has definitely helped in that regard,” she says.

Training for an Ironman requires extreme mental focus, a skill required of good lawyers, she notes.

“It also requires time management skills as you balance hours of training on top of other work and personal commitments; and it requires learning new subject matter areas, from how to train effectively for all three disciplines of an endurance event, to what to eat and drink during a 12-plus hour event,” Alamo says.

Always athletic, Alamo took up running four years ago, completing her first half-marathon in 2010, and first sprint triathlon the following year.

When a close friend wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday this year by competing in an Ironman, he invited her to join him.

“I’m so glad I accepted his challenge,” she says. “I’ve met a number of inspiring people, many of whom have turned into great friends, and I’ve developed countless wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.”

Ironmen-in-Training must be physically and mentally ready, she notes.

“It’s like studying for the bar exam – you develop your training plan and strategy, stick to it, put the time and miles in, and then trust you’ve done what was necessary and that your plan will work.”

Words can’t describe the thrill of completing an Ironman event, she says.

“When I watch the video of me coming down the finish chute in Wisconsin, the thing I notice first is my smile – not only because my plan had worked and I’d accomplished exactly what I’d set out to do, but also because I had so much fun along the way.”

Crossing the finish line was only a small part of what made the day special, she adds. It was inspiring to see hard work and dedication pay off for so many, from her friend who completed his “bucket list” item at age 50, to the oldest competitor completing his Ironman No. 12 at age 75; from professional triathletes passing her on the run course, to triathletes finishing with seconds to spare before the midnight cut-off; from those racing in memory of family members to those racing to raise funds for a cause.

“It was truly inspirational on every level,” she says.

Alamo got her start in athletics in her hometown of Waverly, N.Y., where in high school she participated on the swim, basketball, and softball teams, while keeping up her studies and graduating as class valedictorian. She also excelled at math and science, logic and problem solving that naturally led to a degree in engineering.

“Coming from a very small town – we don’t even have a red light – my guidance counselors and teachers steered me to engineering, and since that seemed like a challenge, I said ‘why not,’ even though it wasn’t my first love,” she says.

She spent five years at GMI Engineering & Management Institute in Flint, (now Kettering University), while interning at the former Delco Products, now part of Delphi.

“It was a great experience on many levels,” she says. “I was very fortunate, being able to experience college life as well as life as a real engineer.”

Although she enjoyed post-grad work as a full-time GM engineer, working on the then-emerging vehicle control module, deep down she yearned to emulate actress Susan Dey’s iconic lawyer Grace Van Owen in the NBC drama, “L.A. Law.”

“Law school was always on my radar and when it came time to make my next engineering move or go to law school, I went for it – and I’ve never looked back,” she says.

Fulfilling a long-time dream, she earned her J.D., summa cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“I loved law school,” she says. “Reading and dissecting cases, the Socratic method, legal writing – it was all fun.  I think working as a full-time engineer before returning to law school gave me a slightly different perspective than some of my fellow students who went straight from undergrad to law school.”

With her engineering background, people encouraged her to take the patent bar and practice patent prosecution; and she spent one summer in law school writing patent applications.

“But, although interesting, it just didn’t seem to satisfy that ‘L.A. Law’ urge I had inside of me,’” she says.

Intellectual Property litigation was a perfect fit, allowing her to keep learning about new and different technologies, while putting her problem-solving and strategic skills as a litigator to good use.

“The more complex and challenging a case, the more fun it is for me,” she says.

Clearly it was the right career choice. A litigator in federal courts in antitrust, patent, and e-discovery matters involving the automotive, telephone, and insurance industries, the Rochester resident has racked up kudos that include Michigan Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, and Top Women Attorneys in Michigan.

Professional goals over the coming months include growing the Defense Research Institute (DRI) Intellectual Property Committee, where she was recently appointed Vice Chair; and adding a couple of key clients to her IP litigation and counseling practice area.

Her personal focus is training for Ironman Chattanooga, set for September 27, 2015. Benefitting the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, the event includes a single-loop, 2.4-mile downstream swim in the Tennessee River; a two-loop, 56-mile bike course with farmland and mountain views; and a two-and-a-half loop 26.2-mile run course through downtown Chattanooga, the South Side, Riverview and the North Shore.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge, and will be pursuing my personal goal of breaking the 12-hour mark,” Alamo says.