Up to the challenge Law firm CEO stood tall throughout early test

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In the spring of 2018, when it was time for the shareholders at Collins Einhorn to begin considering candidates to assume the co-manager positions at the Southfield-based law firm, attorney Theresa Asoklis was reluctant to toss her hat into the ring.

Very reluctant, in fact.

“Let’s just say that there weren’t a lot of hands that went up in the room when it was asked who was interested in the CEO job,” Asoklis said with a trace of a smile.

But then, a short time later, her longtime colleague Dan Collins walked into her office, closed the door, and offered a possible solution to the firm’s leadership dilemma.

“Dan said, ‘I’ll do it, if you’ll do it,’” Asoklis recalled. “All of a sudden, things began to make sense, knowing that Dan and I would be co-managing the firm and that we would be sharing the responsibilities. The opportunity to work with him, someone I have so much respect for, made me look at the assignment in a different light.”

She also viewed the chance to become co-manager from a broader perspective.

“I looked at it as a way to express my thanks to a firm that has given me so much over the years,” Asoklis said. “What better way to round out my career than to help lead it into the next phase of its growth.”

So, in the spring of 2019, Asoklis and Collins assumed the reins of the firm, taking over the CEO responsibilities from longtime Collins Einhorn attorneys Mike Sullivan and Neil McCallum, with whom they had worked closely during the previous year to ensure a smooth transition.

“We actually enjoyed the transition period,” Sullivan said, “as they brought a new perspective to what ultimately turned out to be ‘group of 4’ decisions.”

And then, less than a year after Asoklis and Collins took over, the world was pushed to the brink by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing national lockdowns to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

“There was nothing in the ‘management handbook’ about how to deal with global pandemics,” Asoklis said. “We had to learn on the fly, knowing that each decision we made could have long-term implications for the firm.”

Sullivan, for one, was impressed with how they stepped up to the challenge.

“The pandemic did not make their job any easier, yet the manner in which Theresa and Dan shepherded the firm through the last 18 months of COVID-19, demonstrated their commitment first of all to the safety and welfare of our staff, and to the needs of our clients,” said Sullivan, a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association. “We couldn’t be prouder of the way Collins Einhorn managed the pandemic, and the fact that we are still a strong firm today is testament to their leadership.”

Asoklis, whose father emigrated from Lithuania to the United States in the 1940s, is appreciative of such praise, but said it was a “total team effort to not only have survived, but thrived” as a firm during the pandemic.

“We addressed the challenges head-on,” Asoklis said of the firm’s early response to the pandemic, which included equipping every staff member with a laptop so that they could work remotely. “Dan and I looked at each other and said, ‘No one’s getting laid off.’ And we’re proud to say now that we didn’t lay off one person, nor did anyone take a pay cut during the COVID crisis. Not too many firms or businesses can say that.”

Asoklis grew up in Warren and graduated at the top of her class from Center Line High School, earning a full-ride scholarship to Wayne State University.

“There was not much debate about going to any other college after the Wayne State scholarship offer came through,” said Asoklis, whose mother (Cathy) was a part-time beautician while her father (Raymond) spent the bulk of his career working in the circulation department for The Detroit News. “I was the first one in our family to attend college, and, of course, to go to law school.”

An English major at Wayne State, Asoklis had decided by her junior year in college to attend law school. She didn’t have to go far to find the right school, graduating from Wayne State Law School in 1989, coincidentally on her 25th birthday.

While in law school, Asoklis clerked for the Detroit firm of Charfoos & Christensen, which specialized in medical malpractice and personal injury cases.

“At that time, the firm was based in the Penobscot Building and had a very robust clerking program of eight to 10 clerks each year,” Asoklis explained. “It was a great place to learn and I had a wonderful mentor in Sharon Lutz, a former nurse who was one of their med-mal specialists. She also was very involved in women’s causes and I helped with some of those cases, including one against a bowling alley that wouldn’t allow women’s leagues at night because those times had traditionally been reserved exclusively for men. We were able to change that.”

During her final year of law school, Asoklis participated in on-campus interviews with several Detroit area firms, including Collins Einhorn.

“I really was impressed by the culture of their firm and wanted to be part of their team,” Asoklis said. “When I got the call from Brian Einhorn that he wanted to hire me, I was thrilled and told him I could start immediately.”

Thus began her 32-year legal career that has been spent entirely with Collins Einhorn, a firm that had 11 attorneys at the time of her arrival and now has 55 lawyers among a workforce of 125 employees.

“We took up approximately a third of the ninth floor when I arrived and now, we have the full ninth and tenth floors,” said Asoklis of the firm’s headquarters in the 4000 Building of the gleaming Town Center in Southfield. “The firm, obviously, has really grown, thanks to our reputation in the fields of professional liability defense, asbestos, personal injury defense work, and auto defense.”

Asoklis has been one of the key members of the Professional Liability defense team at Collins Einhorn for years, according to Dan Collins, president and co-manager of the firm.

“Theresa has the ability to slow everything down around her, think analytically about the issue at hand, develop a strategy, and quickly implement a solution,” said Collins, a 25-year member of the firm. “This is a tremendous skill as an attorney, and as a firm leader.”

That skillset has been on display when Asoklis defends professionals whose reputations, licenses and livelihoods are at stake, and correspondingly as a CEO during the challenges posed by the pandemic, Collins indicated.

“Theresa was 7 to 10 days ahead of the curve and correctly anticipated a state-wide shutdown was coming,” Collins said of the onset of the coronavirus crisis in Michigan. “Due to her instincts, Collins Einhorn was able to thoughtfully deploy equipment to as many employees as possible and have an innovative, remote work plan ready. As a result of her instincts and planning, the firm was properly positioned when the quarantine order was issued.”

Those remarks were echoed by Sullivan, who joined Collins Einhorn in 1983, the day after graduating from law school at the University of Detroit.

“Theresa has brought a new level of organization to Collins Einhorn,” Sullivan proclaimed. “She is a planner, and a driver of the best outcomes for the firm, its shareholders, its employees, and most importantly, its clients.

“Theresa is equal parts ‘trial gun’ and risk manager,” Sullivan said. “She is adept at advising her clients in high stakes litigation, and has a way of getting to the bottom of the key issues that result in either a successful dispositive motion, or a fair resolution on terms that both sides can live with. If trial is the necessary method of dispute resolution, she is not afraid to go to the mat for her client, and is a formidable advocate in the courtroom.”

Her legal toughness stands in contrast to a softer side when it comes to her personal life, where she and her husband, Jeff Schinkai, are the proud parents of two grown sons, Jordan and Jacob.

The couple met in 1993 and were married two years later, and have been longtime residents of Macomb County, where they are active members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton Township.

A 1983 Michigan State alum, Jeff spent the majority of his career as a claims adjuster for Ford Motor Co., eventually accepting a buyout from the automaker so that he could become a stay-at-home dad to help raise the couple’s two sons.

“It was the best decision we could have made at the time – and in the long run – for the benefit of our boys,” said Asoklis. “Our boys just idolize their dad, and his daily involvement with them during those formative years was so important to their futures. He coached their soccer, baseball, and basketball teams, and now coaches the basketball team at Lutheran North High School.”

In their spare time, the family enjoys visiting their vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Va.

“It’s a wonderful getaway place that we share with Jeff’s brother and sister-in-law, who live near Baltimore,” said Asoklis. “It’s a great place to recharge our batteries and to enjoy family time to the fullest.”

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