Law professor penned ABA legal guide for women


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Mary Phelan D'Isa has a long legal legacy--her grandfather, father, sister, uncle, and cousins, are all attorneys and judges. She even married an attorney.

So while D'Isa jokes that she once dreamed of moving to Kenya, finding the lioness Elsa and her cubs, and starring in a "Born Free" sequel, she spends her days with legal eagles rather than lions.

D'Isa, a law professor at Cooley Law School in Lansing, also has a passion for writing, earning a bachelor's degree with a double major in English and Communications from St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, and doing a stint as a weekend reporter at the Notre Dame NBC affiliate.

"I was one class short of a philosophy minor--in my next life, I'll go for my Ph. D. in philosophy," she says. "To me, that's the consummate degree. I just don't have the knack for a foreign language at that level."

D'Isa earned her J.D. from Creighton University, where she was a member of The Creighton Law Review, served as a research assistant to the Nebraska Supreme Court for the Jury Instructions Project, and clerked for the Douglas County Attorney's office in Omaha.

She went on to earn master of science in journalism degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., with an emphasis in magazine publishing and legal reporting, and won first place in a writing competition sponsored by the Iowa Bar.

"I've always been a news junky and the idea of getting a master's degree in magazine writing and publishing while living in Chicago was just too much to pass up," she says.

"For me, writing is like exercise is for a lot of people--it's hard to do, I procrastinate a lot before I do it, then when it's over, I feel like I've accomplished something."

A prolific author, D'Isa serves as a contributing editor to the American Bar Association's Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. The Iowa Supreme Court has cited one of her articles in a landmark insurance law case, and the Michigan Supreme Court cited another article in a no-fault insurance case.

She was recruited by the American Bar Association's Division of Legal Education to author "The American Bar Association Legal Guide for Women," published by Random House Reference. The guide, addressing sexual harassment, domestic violence, pregnancy and maternity leave, separation and divorce, healthcare--including contraception, abortion, and infertility treatments--money, and aging, helps women know their rights, steer clear of pitfalls, and take legal action when necessary.

"A few women thanked me for saving them on legal fees," she says. "The best compliment I got was from a former male colleague who read it and then bought a copy for his daughter who was just starting to practice law."

A member of the Iowa, Nebraska, and Michigan state bars, and a Fellow of the State Bar of Michigan Foundation, D'Isa was previously in private practice as a litigation associate with the law firms of Pretzel & Stouffer in Chicago, and Phelan, Tucker, Boyle & Mullen in her native Iowa City.

"Being in trial was the best for getting your adrenaline going and when you're in 'trial mode,' you lose track of time--it's all-consuming--and there was really nothing better and it's the only thing that could make up for countless wasted hours of depositions," the die-hard Iowa Hawkeye fan says.

"One of my regrets is that I was no longer in practice when the federal rules implemented a ten-hour limit for depositions."

D'Isa who teaches Civil Procedure and Jurisdiction at Cooley, previously taught Research and Writing, supervised the Scholarly Writing courses, and served as a faculty adviser to the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review.

"I enjoy everything about teaching law students," she says. "I appreciate and admire their inquisitiveness. A good legal mind--especially one in progress--is interesting and inspiring and constantly challenges me to look at things in different ways.

"The diversity of Cooley's student population is unmatched, and it adds immeasurably to the classroom experience. I'm also a big believer in our open admissions and love it when I get to witness students who were either unchallenged or unmotivated in undergrad come alive in law school and realize their potential."

Published: Wed, Oct 19, 2011


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