Wayne Law alumna earned master of laws degree to enhance career

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Attorney Shirley Kaigler has handled estate planning for many — from high-profile clients such as Rosa Parks to hospice patients in need of pro bono services.

A 1993 graduate of Wayne State University Law School’s master of laws program in taxation, she is a partner with Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss PC and immediate past practice group coordinator of the firm’s Estate Planning/Wealth Planning/Probate Group. She also focuses her practice on elder law, special needs issues and retirement planning.

Kaigler, who lives in Southfield, is a past president of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Foundation Inc., which honored her with a Trailblazer Award, and an oft-awarded Michigan Super Lawyer. Michigan Lawyers Weekly named her a Leader in the Law in 2014, and Hour Detroit magazine named her among the Top Women Attorneys in Michigan in 2015.

She’s proud of her work for civil rights icon Parks and of her work handling legal matters for Detroit’s Motown Museum in connection with former Beatle Paul McCartney’s restoration of the historic piano there. But she’s also proud of her less high-profile work.

“It has been rewarding to assist with preparation of estate planning documents for philanthropic individuals who have accumulated modest wealth that include financial legacies for various causes they care about, and hospice patients who are putting their legal and financial matters in order for those they will leave behind,” Kaigler said.

She grew up in Detroit, one of five children of a middle-class family with strong values on education, the church and work ethic. She began her college education at Eastern Michigan University and transferred to Wayne State.

“I always wanted to improve the quality of life for those who were faced with emotional, physical, psychological, financial or medical challenges,” Kaigler said. “Initially, I thought becoming a social worker was the way to serve. In my senior year, as I learned more about the field of social work and compared it with the practice of law, I felt I could have a greater positive impact in the lives of others by going to law school.

“I felt that my knowledge of the legal system would be the best way to empower and achieve the most sustainable outcomes for those who were powerless, underserved or vulnerable so they could address the challenges they faced.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree with distinction from Wayne State and went on to graduate from the University of Michigan Law School.

She worked for Arthur Young & Co. (now Ernst and Young) in the taxation department, and, then, as she and her husband, Dr. Darnell Kaigler, became parents, she made a tough decision.

“I made a choice early in my professional career to move into the ‘mommy track’ to raise my family, so I resigned and opened my own practice, which allowed me to work a flexible schedule while maintaining a presence in the law,” Kaigler said. “I knew this would limit the amount of experience I could get in my chosen area of practice. That was troubling for me. I did not want to be left behind by my peers in position and knowledge when it was time for me to re-enter practice on a full-time basis.”

So, she attended the master of laws program in taxation at Wayne Law.

“What made it easy for me to go back to school was the location of the campus and LL.M. class offerings,” Kaigler said. “The access to excellent professors and coursework in the evening was ideal.”

In 1996, she joined Jaffe.

Kaigler has been active over the years in many civic and cultural organizations, serves as a member of the Black United Fund of Michigan Advisory Board, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan Legal Financial Network and Oakland County Bar Foundation, and served as immediate past president of the Greater Wayne County Chapter of Links Inc. and on the executive committees of the boards of trustees for the Southfield Community Foundation and the Council of Michigan Foundations.

“I enjoy community work and the people who are committed to community service,” she said. “They tend to be compassionate, innovative and generous in spirit. I believe in the adage that we make a living by what we get, and we make a life by what we give.”

7 questions with Shirley Kaigler

Q: What memories stand out for you from your LL.M. studies at Wayne Law?

A: Classes were relevant, dynamic and addressed real-life issues. Many of the students were working as attorneys, in business or for governmental agencies. They were more mature and focused, so our discussions were centered on best practices and problem-solving using the legal system to resolve specific client problems. Rather than using the Socratic method, professors encouraged this kind of discussion and team learning.

Q: Who are some of your role models and inspirations?

A: My parents — They had a long-term marriage and love of family, were hard-working and persevered in spite of all the racial discrimination experienced by people of color in the 1950s and ’60s.
Cass Tech High School business teacher Mrs. Forch taught me to strive for excellence in my work product, and English teacher Mr. Lewandoski helped me to develop excellent writing and communication skills.
Detroit Court of Common Pleas Judge Jessie Slaton was a mentor during law school — extremely important because she was the first lawyer I ever met personally and was an African-American woman — she was confirmation that I could do it.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas and U.S. Rep. and presidential candidate Shirley Chisolm of New York for their oratorical skills, intelligence and commitment to civil rights.

Q: What advice can you offer beginning law students who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

A:
First and foremost, be committed to the principles of the law — excellence, integrity, service, justice. Make it part of everything you do personally and professionally. Next, explore all aspects of the law so that you can find out what really turns you on, what you are passionate about, what you would be willing to do even if you do not get paid. Finally, once you have found that area or areas, make sure you are the best you can be. Law practice requires your willingness to be a lifelong learner, so you have to continue to hone your skills and expertise.

Q: If not law, what career might engage your interest?

A:
Clinical social worker or business education professor.

Q: What were you like as a kid?

A:
A voracious reader, organizer, self-motivated, self-disciplined with a desire to excel.

Q: What is one of your favorite books?

A:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Q: What sort of movies and TV shows do you like?

A:
Espionage and murder mysteries — the Bourne movies.

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