'Speaking' out


Attorney’s interest in helping people through law started in high school

Attorney Liisa Speaker enjoys making a difference in people’s lives.

“It’s so gratifying to know I’ve impacted a family positively, like last year’s Farris case about the termination of my client’s parental rights – which was remanded by the Supreme Court, and my client was reunified with his son,” says Speaker, a member and founder of Speaker Law Firm, PLLC, in Lansing. “But even on the appeals I’ve lost, my clients often make me feel better when they tell me I’m the first person that has really understood their case and tried to make a difference.”

The Speaker Law Firm specializes in appeals in family, child welfare, and probate, while also handling a variety of civil appeals before the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Speaker has helped clients obtain victories in appeals ranging from custody disputes to no-fault automobile insurance litigation to real property cases and to probate appeals.

A member of the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section, and American Inns of Court, she is also a member of the SBM Appellate Practice Section, and chaired this section for a year – an experience she describes as “amazing.”

“I learned a lot from that experience and was able to apply it to my president year with the Ingham County Bar Association,” she notes. “For example, when I was chair of APS, I took on too many projects, several of which are still ongoing three years later. It was hard not to want to be involved in everything APS was doing because, as an appellate practitioner, almost everything the section does touches on my everyday practice. But it was not viable to keep up that pace.”

From her experience as APS chair, Speaker learned to delegate when she served as president of the ICBA last year.

“It also helped that ICBA activities are far more diverse than APS – touching on many practice areas and a variety of projects and events, so I didn’t feel I would be missing out on something if I didn’t personally have a hand in a project,” she says. “APS and ICBA were two things I signed up for very quickly after moving to Michigan in 2003, and I’m very glad I did on both counts.”

In July, Speaker handed over the gavel to incoming president Jason Hanselman, and now serves as Immediate Past President. She enjoys working with colleagues on the ICBA board of directors.

“We have a great and diverse group of attorneys, who all brought different talents to the table,” she says.

One development during her presidential year she is particularly pleased about was the upgrade to the ICBA newspaper, BRIEFS.

“We had moved to electronic format several years ago, but this past year we made a giant leap into the 21st century by moving to a flipping book format,” she explains. “This enables our readers to more easily access BRIEFS on any of their mobile devices, and it also is powered with Google analytics so the Publications Committee and the ICBA Board can learn what content is driving our readers.” 

The hardest decision Speaker had to make as ICBA President was to cancel the fourth annual Lawyers Got Talent event. 

“We had a great group of talent, but had not piqued the interest of enough of our members to purchase tickets,” she explains.  “I couldn’t stand the idea of having a room full of performers who worked hard to prepare for the event, and allow them to face a handful of people.” 

For many years Speaker has succeeded in attending almost all (if not all) key ICBA events, including the Annual Dinner, Shrimp Dinner, Barrister’s Night, Meet the Judges, Lawyers Got Talent – and plans to continue.

“It’s a great way to stay in touch with colleagues and friends,” she says. 

She still serves on the Publications Committee for BRIEFS, and will attend ICBA’s Family Law Section meetings.

“ICBA provides numerous educational opportunities,” she says. “It’s also nice to attend events even if just for networking. It’s a great way to hear about what’s going on in our legal community, and showing up an event is an easy way to do this.”

In 2010, Speaker was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to a four-year term on the Court Reporter and Recorder Board of Review that holds quarterly hearings to discipline reporters who are not following the rules.

“I’m so honored to have been appointed,” she says. “I enjoy hearing the reporters – occasionally through counsel – make their plea to us, and then engage with my fellow board members (consisting of judges and court reporters) about what discipline to mete out.”

Speaker, who has drafted and submitted amicus briefs on behalf of organizations such as the SBM Family Law Section, the SBM Appellate Practice Section, the Coalition of Michigan Family Law Appellate Lawyers, Family Defense Attorneys of Michigan, Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, and the Michigan Association for Justice, was honored in 2009 with the Cooley Law Review’s Distinguished Brief Award for her amicus curiae brief submitted in the USF&G vs. Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association case.

She has achieved great success in obtaining the rarely granted peremptory reversals for clients in the Michigan Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals; and her favorable rulings for clients have often resulted in published opinions. Her efforts in Rose vs. Rose, led to a published opinion addressing whether a party who waived his right to modification of spousal support can obtain relief from judgment; and in In re Keast she obtained a victory in a published opinion in the Michigan Court of Appeals in an adoption case that is now one of the most frequently cited cases in Adoption Law. More recently, in Glaubius vs. Glaubius, she obtained a published victory in a revocation of parentage act case.

Passionate about the law since her teen years in Houston, Speaker devoted much of her time in high school to various history fair projects that focused on significant legal cases, and spent many weekends pouring over books at the University of Houston Law Library.

The project that started her down this path was a ninth-grade project about the development of the due process clause, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Mississippi (1936). Her sophomore year project focused on the development of search and seizure law and Mapp vs. Ohio.   

“You get the idea – I was completely and totally in love with the law,” she says.

After receiving her undergrad degree in political science and Spanish from Trinity University in San Antonio, she earned her J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law in Austin, where she was Chief Articles Editor for The Review of Litigation (where she met her husband) and served on the Board of Advocates, including two national moot court teams.
In later years, she shared her passion for appeals by teaching moot court for four years as an adjunct professor at Cooley Law School.

“I enjoyed sharing stories about appellate advocacy with the students,” she says. “Law practice – and particularly appeals – is not at all like what they learn about in school or see on television, so it was nice to be able to give the students a practical and realistic perspective.”
Although Speaker met her husband in law school, Paul left the law in 2003 and the couple relocated to Lansing where he earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at Michigan State University and now works as an analyst handling economic forecasting for Dow Chemical.
Away from the office, Speaker enjoys volunteering at St Gerard Catholic School in Delta Township where her daughters – Isadora, 7, and Evangeline, 5 – are pupils.
And after taking up running a few years ago, she is currently training for her first 10-kilometer – accompanied by her Great Dane, Raven.
“She gets so excited whenever she sees me wearing my running clothes she can barely contain herself,” Speaker says with a smile.    
After planting her first butterfly garden this summer, Speaker hopes to see the fruits of her labor – especially Monarchs – within a couple of years. She also enjoys travelling with her family, and makes at least one annual trek to Texas. Chicago is another favorite spot, but Speaker’s favorite family vacations are in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, where she lived as a child.
“You can’t beat north of the 45th parallel in the summer,” she says.