Raising visibility, building credibility New DMBA president outlines goals for coming year


By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Attorney Elizabeth Jolliffe forged a new path when she switched from corporate litigation to career coaching three years ago. Now she's eager to use those coaching skills in her new role as president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association.

"I want to help all of our members with their practice of law, regardless of whether they're with a large firm or solo practice," said Jolliffe, who coaches attorneys seeking a career boost. "I want to support them with whatever they need, whether it's networking or practice development or formal guidance."

Jolliffe has been an Ann Arbor resident since she enrolled as a freshman at the University of Michigan in 1982. But she feels a strong kinship with the city of Detroit because it's where she worked for nearly 19 years before becoming an entrepreneur.

She's particularly proud to head the 175-year-old DMBA, Michigan's oldest bar association and the third oldest in the country. Though membership has waned with the population over the years, many distinguished attorneys were members of the DMBA, including Frank Murphy, who went on to become a US Supreme Court Justice, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, and Wallace Riley, who also became head of the American Bar Association.

Jolliffe says members appreciate the intimacy of the 800-member DMBA. Some have told her that the Oakland County Bar is so huge, they may not know more than a few people at an event.

"Whereas if they go to a DMBA event, they can see the same people over and over again and begin to feel it's a community," says Jolliffe, who also appreciates the diversity of the membership.

Jolliffe was a summer associate at Hill Lewis (now Clark Hill) in Detroit while a University of Michigan Law School student. After graduating in 1989, she stayed with the firm for nearly 19 years as a commercial litigator, specializing in helping companies resolve business litigation and reduce risk.

But she became dissatisfied with the work. Even litigators don't get to take a case to trial as often as people think, she said, noting that in 20 years, she reached trial less than 10 times.

"I wanted something more challenging," she said. "I wanted something where I was using all my skills."

Like a lot of people, she started wondering what it was she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

In an "ah-ha moment," she realized she'd love to coach people. After hiring a coach herself, she decided she could do it.

For the past three years, she's worked as a career coach for lawyers, counseling them over the phone from her home on Ann Arbor's old Westside.

One client was a college junior who agreed with her lawyer-parents that she was probably not law school material. But after talking with Jolliffe, she realized it was exactly what she wanted to do.

Jolliffe tells would-be law students to carefully consider why they want to go into the profession to make sure it's the right decision. She tells people that being a lawyer is nothing like TV because everything takes longer in real life, and much of it would never happen at all.

In addition to her busy career, she enjoys spending time with her large extended family, including 10 nieces and nephews. A former saxophone player in the Michigan Marching Band, she still loves Michigan sports, hosting tailgate parties, and walking through the Saturday Farmers Market and throughout the city.

Almost all her clients are lawyers and nearly all her extracurricular activities involve the Bar, which is made up of clients and potential clients. In addition to the DMBA, she's involved with the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan; the Washtenaw County Bar; and the State Bar of Michigan.

She wants to do for the DMBA what she does for her clients: raise visibility and build credibility.

"I feel really lucky that I get to be in this position," she said. "I get to support members of the profession not only individually, but also through the strength of the DMBA."

Published: Thu, Aug 4, 2011