Degree: Psychology and Women’s Studies
Current location: Chicago, IL
Year graduated: 2008
Student Organization Involvement: Dance Marathon (4 years - Development Coordinator in '07-'08), DoRAK (4 years - Executive Board member for 3 years), Michigan Italian-American Association (2 years - founding member in '06, Vice President in '07-‘08), Phi Alpha Delta/Kappa Alpha Pi Pre-Law Fraternity (3 years - pledge class president, '05-‘06, member '06-'08), North-American Summer Service Team (2 years - Site Leader, '06-'07, member '08)
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: After college, I immediately attended law school. During law school, I worked as a law clerk at a personal injury law firm, commercial real estate litigation firm, and my law school’s Fair Housing Clinic.
DL: I operate my own law firm in Chicago. I represent a variety of clients in commercial litigation and real estate transactions and litigation. Mostly, I represent individuals and small businesses in contract, property, and construction disputes. I’m also a licensed real estate broker in Illinois.
KC: What made you want to go into this specific field within law?
DL: I’ve always been told that I would make a great trial lawyer since I was a little kid – I always tried to negotiate with my parents and siblings, am very extroverted, and I’ve always liked public speaking. At Michigan, I had a quarter-life crisis because I realized that I didn’t know what it meant to be a lawyer, even though I had always said that’s the career I wanted. I talked to the LSA pre-law advisors and researched different types of law by visiting law firms (i.e. criminal defense, family law, and civil litigation firms, to name a few), conducting informational interviews with lawyers, and reading about the differences between transactional and litigation attorneys. I went to lawyers’ offices to ask about what they did as transactional attorneys or as litigators. I learned that transactional attorneys never appear in court; these lawyers include tax attorneys, estate planning lawyers, and those who represent buyers and sellers in real estate transactions.
I also began observing court hearings, which were very informative. Almost all hearings are open to the public, and I’d never experienced a court hearing before—spoiler alert: it is nothing like the courtroom dramas on TV! During law school, working at a personal injury firm helped me realize that I don’t like practicing that type of law. When I left that job for a position with a commercial real estate litigation firm, I realized that I loved the new subject matter. My time as a law clerk also taught me that being a litigator requires a lot of reading and writing—two things that I enjoy. While a typical week may involve hours of legal research followed by 8+ hours of drafting a particular motion, I usually only spend 7-15 minutes presenting and arguing that motion in front of a judge.
I got a job during my first year of law school (which a lot of people don’t do, but I highly recommend it!), working at a law firm. The work was in personal injury and medical malpractice. I ended up not really liking that – it was not that interesting to me. At the time (2009), the whole market had crashed, and I thought to myself, “Now that all of the real estate laws are being redone, I should see what a job is like in that sector.” So I applied only for jobs that were in commercial litigation, real estate, and banking, and I ended up getting an awesome office job with a commercial real estate litigation team. I worked there until 2010, but the reason I left was that they told me they weren’t going to be able to hire me in a year when I graduated.
KC: How did you get to the point of owning your own firm at such a young age?
DL: The legal industry was in turmoil in 2011 when I became a lawyer – the legal industry was hit hard by the recession and never fully recovered. There are many more lawyers than jobs in many cities, including Chicago, which created an atmosphere where young lawyers often feel overworked and underpaid. During my time working at law firms from 2009-2014, I did not see adequate opportunities for career growth, nor was there much incentive for me to obtain my own clients while continuing to work for someone else.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to open my own firm, once I saved $25,000.00 for working capital. I intended to open my firm for 6 months and try to turn a profit, but if I failed, I would seek alternative legal employment. Luckily, my firm has been profitable every year since I started in August 2014 and continues to grow each year! At first, it was very daunting to start and run the business on my own because I handle all of the billing, logistics, marketing, website maintenance, and actual legal work. To keep overhead costs low, I have a virtual office and do not employ a secretary or paralegal; it’s just me. Now, I love every aspect of owning a small business, and I firmly believe that opening the firm is the best decision that I ever made.
KC: How did Michigan influence your professional career?
DL: I feel like I am a better person, a better lawyer, and was a better law student because I attended Michigan. We Wolverines have such a well-rounded and holistic education, and the mentorship from professors, advisors, and alumni is amazing. I went to law school in Chicago, and many of my law school peers went to other colleges. In class, I noticed that many my Michigan peers and I were better public speakers than most of our classmates, likely because we took classes at Michigan that required us to give both individual and group presentations in front of our peers. Further, the diversity that I experienced in my liberal arts education at Michigan was incredible – so many people in law school had never taken a psychology class or heard of Women’s Studies, for example. My Michigan education made me more aware of everyone’s diverse experiences, especially because I had the unique opportunity to meet students and professors from other countries.
KC: What advice would you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?
DL: Never be afraid to send an email, make a cold call, or ask someone in person for help and guidance. Whether you seek help deciding whether you want to be a lawyer, or guidance about starting your own small business, simply asking is the first step. Through asking for help from others—professors, mentors, alumni, and even strangers—I discovered that people truly enjoy sharing their knowledge and personal experiences with me.