'Team player' - Foundation president keeps sister's memory alive

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Dana Warnez, the incoming president of the Macomb County Bar Foundation (MCBF), was motivated to become a lawyer by the examples set by her mother, Florence Schoenherr-Warnez, and her sister, the late Kimberly Cahill, who was a president the State Bar of Michigan from 2005-06, and a founding member of the Macomb County Bar Foundation.

“Having a mom and an older sister as lawyers helped me understand the importance of the job and gave me examples to follow.  My mom always encouraged me to gain knowledge, be enthusiastic, and be myself,” Warnez said of Cahill and her mother, who, at 89, still has an active law license.

The story of how Schoenherr-Warnez became an attorney is one that Warnez tells with admiration and humor.

“I just marvel at my mother’s accomplishments and drive,” Warnez said, “especially given how way she earned her way into the legal profession.

Warnez said that, after high school, her mother sought employment with a local lawyer “who quickly learned how bright she was.

“He told her, ‘You’re too smart to be my secretary, we have to get you more education,’” Warnez said, with a laugh. “So he advocated for her admission to what was then the University of Detroit Law School.”

Warnez said her mother attended law school at night and worked for the attorney during the day.

“She went straight from high school to law school,” Warnez said. “It took her 10 years to graduate, but once she did he brought her into the practice.”

Almost 12 years younger than Cahill, Warnez said she never felt compelled to follow her sister into the family business, but was grateful for her support when she did.

“Kim was super supportive simply by being present in my life, and when I needed it she gave very gentle advice to nudge me in right direction,” she said. “She never really lectured or demanded a lot with the exception that it was understood we all we’re to do our best.  I always wanted to make my mom and sister proud of me. It continues to be a daily aspiration.”

Since she graduated from Detroit Mercy Law in 1996, Warnez has made it her personal mission to not only make her family proud, but also to give freely of her time to others.

“To give back is just part of the fabric of my family. We have been so fortunate in the opportunities that were presented to us in this field, that it’s unfair for us not to share what we have with other people,” Warnez said, adding, “To whom much is given, much is expected. That’s why I am still on the path that Kim forged.”

Besides taking the helm of the MCBF, that path includes pro bono work for many Macomb County area agencies and managing the Center Line practice Schoenherr-Warnez began early 60 years ago, along with a number of leadership positions for the State Bar of Michigan.

“Clients see the work you do for others and they understand that you care about them and are available to them personally,” Warnez said, as she explained why her choice to honor Cahill’s memory through a local high school reading program was an extension of her personal connection with the local community.

“When Kim died everyone was thinking of ways to honor her,” Warnez said. “My personal choice was to work with the MCBF to create a reading program because Kim read everything from the entire newspaper to the back of cereal boxes.

“So, I got my lawyer friends to volunteer with me to go into high schools and pick a book to read with students over a six- to eight-week period. After a discussion, they wrote essays and from those essays we chose winners who received a small scholarship. We did that for several years. For the time we were able to do that, I don’t think I had any more meaningful or fulfilling experience.”

As she begins her year as president of the MCBF, Warnez plans to make her term reflect her commitment to furthering legal education with events that are enjoyable and informative.

“I’ve been involved in the MCBF for a long time as a board member, so taking a leadership role was just a natural flow,” she said. “Our mission is to support legal education with the public, primarily with the schools, where we have law day and a fabulous mock trial program.

“And anyone who has served with me on a board knows that I’m a little bit of a fun-loving person so I’m thinking of new ways to engage people with more outreach, smaller local networking events for our volunteers, and through social media.”

Crucial to the MCBF’s mission is a mock trial program designed to give students a basic understanding of the American legal system. It’s part of the group’s effort to dispel stereotypes about the law as portrayed in television, fiction and popular culture, Warnez said.

“They have so many expectations based on what they see or hear in the media that’s it’s nice to be able to show the kids, through the mock trial, how the legal system really works,” she said. “Nothing is better than having that first-hand experience. And it’s super fun because we get to watch them embrace their roles and gain confidence in what they’ve accomplished.”

After nearly 25 years in practice, Warnez is as enthusiastic about what she’s doing as someone who is new to the legal profession.

“What keeps me going is my ongoing connection with people, with their experiences,” Warnez said. “Since my practice is more transactional, I’m not in court that often.

So if I’m not connected there’s the risk of losing those ties to my colleagues and to what’s going on in court. It’s critical to be informed, to know where the needs are in the community so we can share resources. It makes all the difference to know that you’re part of something. I’ve always been a team player.”

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