Outgoing MSU College of Law chair Orlans earns high marks

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by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In a world full of uncertainty, “trust is the new currency,” says the former chair of the Michigan State University College of Law Board of Trustees.

The comment comes from the heart of Linda Orlans, the first female to chair the MSU Law Board, who spent the last ten years as a trustee and the last three as chair.

Orlans, who in 1987 earned her juris doctor degree from the former Detroit College of Law (now MSU Law), has built much of her business success on the foundation of that five-letter word, using it as the launch pad for a group of companies in the mortgage banking and real estate industries. She is a firm believer that “trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

Top MSU officials placed their trust in Orlans to lead the law school board during a period of transition in legal academia and the profession at large.

“Linda provided invaluable leadership to our law college,” said Joan Howarth, recently retired dean of MSU Law, in a prepared statement. “She helped us better integrate with the broader MSU campus, and she has been one of our most passionate advocates for recruiting new students and engaging alumni. Moreover, time and time again she has shown by example how lawyers can make a positive impact in their communities.”

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, who widely praised Orlans during a recent board gathering, echoed the remarks.

“Linda Orlans is a remarkable woman who has applied tremendous analytical ability, leadership vision, and passion for the institution to her chairmanship of the College of Law and her support of the university,” said Simon. “I’m very pleased she will remain on the college’s board.”

A Detroit native, Orlans is the founder and executive chair of Orlans Associates, PC; Orlans Moran, PLLC; Atlantic Law Group, LLC; and The Orlans Group, which comprises eTitle Agency, Inc.; eVantage Ser-vices; and Towne Auction. Together, the companies operate in more than 20 states and employ over 500 staff members, including some 60 attorneys.

“My time as chair has been both professionally rewarding and a genuine joy,” Orlans said. “I watched my alma mater change from a local law college to a Big Ten university, and I have seen thousands of faces of bright young lawyers walk across our stage at commencement over the years. As much as we have grown, I still see vast potential ahead of us.”

The positive outlook also applies to her group of companies, led by a second generation entrepreneur, her daughter Alison Orlans, a University of Michigan alum who received her J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Alison is a natural leader, who as president and CEO has been instrumental in our growth over the last decade,” Orlans said.
A graduate of Wayne State University, Orlans has a history of community and charitable work that for years has stretched across metro Detroit. She has served on the board and as fund-raising chair for Junior Achieve-ment of Southeastern Michigan; as a founding member of the Beaumont Hospital Founda-tion’s First Words Society; as legal counsel and board member for Beyond Basics, a community support group for disadvantaged children and their families; and has spread HOPE,
Home Ownership Preservation Enterprise, dedicated to preserving home ownership in Detroit.

At MSU College of Law, where she has been a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, Orlans kicked off the school’s “Empower Extraordinary” campaign with a $1 million donation via charitable bequest.

To be able to make such a gift would have been nothing more than a dream for Orlans when she embarked on her law studies in the mid-‘80s — 10 years after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State and only upon “finally paying off all of my student loans,” Orlans acknowledged. It would be another decade before Orlans mustered up enough to repay her law school student loans.

Orlans, in a phone interview with The Legal News, said that she inherited a strong work ethic from her father, Gene, who labored in a Detroit area factory most of his career despite losing his eyesight from the effects of glaucoma. Her mother, Clara, was a stay-at-home mom, helping inspire her kids to give of themselves for the good of others.

Upon graduation from Wayne State, Orlans landed her “first real job” after “walking up and down Gratiot” with resumes in hand, taking an opportunity with an insurance company where she toiled for the next decade.

It was not an overly exciting work experience, but she made the best of it. “I spent a lot of time reading contracts and finding all those exceptions and exclusions that helped the company save money,” Orlans told a group of MSU law school students during a commencement address years ago. “But I was denying claims to hard-working people a lot like my mom and dad. At the end of the day, I felt I was doing more harm than good.

“Going into the law was a way for me to help people... not hurt them,” Orlans said in her commencement remarks. “I worked in a large firm right out of law school. But it wasn’t until I got involved in real estate law and started my own title company that I really found the satisfaction I was looking for.”

But it was two years out of law school before Orlans discovered the importance of another key lesson on the road to success: relationships count.

She soon began “reaching out to other people.. to learn from their experiences.. to help them when I could... and to do a better job of understanding the world around me.”

Orlans has made even greater use of that lesson in building her businesses, making a concerted effort to “get to know” those who work for her companies and “see their lives improve.” She finds such a commitment “enriching and rewarding,” just as she does when fulfilling her role as a community servant.

“Of all of my years of fighting and winning battles, nothing comes close to feeling as good as giving something back,” Orlans said. “If you give something of yourself... in the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts.”

Orlans said she “is excited as ever” about work and has no plans to retire. In fact, she is particularly enthused about continuing to impart the message of “entrepreneurship,” especially as it applies to those entering the legal profession.

“As I get older, it becomes more and more apparent that being positive is the key to success,” said Orlans, whose husband, Birmingham attorney Gerald Padilla, specializes in litigation. “But I wasn’t always this upbeat and optimistic.”

Her brother, Jim, helped light the way. When they were quite young, the two started  a small company cleaning offices at night. When they saved $5,000, they bought a rental property. But they lost money on the property. Orlans swore, “I’d never own a piece of real estate again.”

Her brother sang a different tune, calling it a “great opportunity to learn” and threw himself into the joys of constant repairs and squirrely renters. “I’ve never seen anyone in my life get so excited about learning how to fix an old toilet,” Orlans said with a hearty laugh.

His optimism paid off.

“He now buys and renovates as many as 100 properties a year,” Orlans said of her younger brother. “I learned from my brother that if you stay positive and pick yourself up when you fall down, success is not always immediate, but it is certain.”