Lachman excels at law, leadership, and giving back to the community


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Considering the criteria, it would be surprising had Sara Lachman not been a Women in the Law honoree.

Michigan Lawyers Weekly chooses 30 women from around the state based on their commitment to excellence in their practices, “inspiring and accomplished” professional leadership, mentoring other women, and contributions to volunteerism and/or pro bono work.

If she were being graded, Lachman would rate an A plus in all of those categories.

Yet there is something even beyond that about Lachman — a passion about her beliefs, an unwavering commitment to getting things done, and a refreshing candor about what allows her to excel.

“I’m a process person,” she says. “I don’t ever assume that I’m the most qualified person in the room, but I do believe I’m good at setting up a process that allows people to come in and make something wonderful.”

Lachman acknowledges that she has had many great opportunities that shaped her ability to achieve.

In addition to participating in the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Leadership Grand Rapids in 2008, and Leadership Advantage in 2014, Lachman was privileged to take part in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), an organization composed of the general counsel at many large corporations and the managing partners of leading law firms, including Miller Johnson. 

As one of 134 fellows accepted into the 2012 class of LCLD, Lachman learned a lot about  her own career development, and learned from visiting the in-house law departments of such large companies as General Mills and Walmart. “We came together to find ways to build our networks and our career — they hold truly helpful career development seminars. What was really invaluable was getting to know the other fellows.” Lachman says. “I’ve already had a number of cases referred. It was a great opportunity to find out what in-house counsels  are looking for in terms of law firm representation, the problems that come up for them and how they approach them, what kind of solutions make sense to them.” 

The training is very much in keeping with Lachman’s own approach to her practice, which  is in complex commercial litigation, concentrating on real estate, but also including employment, unfair competition and trade secrets, and professional licensing disputes.

She says her philosophy is derived from her “key mentor,” Miller Johnson’s Jon March. “I’ve learned so much from him, but I never forget something he told me early on: there are two kind of lawyers, problem solvers and problem creators. I set out to be a problem solver, and that’s how I measure what I’ve done, not so much through asking whether I’ve won or lost.”

Jason C. Miller, another litigator at Miller Johnson, who nominated Lachman for the Women in Law honor (though he adds that others may have as well), comments, “I’ve seen how she handles cases and always keeps an eye out for the client’s interest, not just the costs to them, but the outcomes, what the clients really want to get out of the case. Sara does a great job of figuring that out, and she’s done a phenomenal job in her legal career.”

A related reason for his nomination was, according to Miller,“her business development and entrepreneurship, bringing in clients to the firm. That’s something that might not jump out to people, but I think there are many litigators in the larger firms who don’t go out and bring in lots of work the way Sara does.”

Another factor was Lachman’s reworking the mentorship program at Miller Johnson, of which she too is proud. Again operating as the “process person,” Lachman reformed the program so there are reminders once a month, and evaluations to fill out about the mentor-mentee relationship. “I wanted to design a self-sustaining system to that lawyers didn’t have to think about being mentors, so it was easy for them.” The pairings change once a year to address potential mismatches and keep the program fresh.

As Miller points out, Lachman herself is constantly mentoring others, of both genders.

An additional way in which Lachman sees handing down the tradition of civility among Grand Rapids litigators is through an expanded role for the GRBA Litigation Section, which she chairs this year. “I think in the Grand Rapids Bar, generally people get along very well, but I believe we need to work to maintain it.”

The Litigation Section will approach that in two ways. First, a series of educational luncheons will cover topics of interest to a wide variety of litigators. After last month’s judicial candidate forum, the next will cover bankruptcy and receiverships. “It’s challenging because litigators have such different practices it’s hard to find the common theme,” she says. “But I think bankruptcy is something that comes up in most of our practices, so it should interest most members.”

Secondly, the section will host “Litigation on Tap,” a social get-together featuring a special guest each time. “They tell me they used to have these things called ‘smokers,’ but we figured we couldn’t do that,” Lachman says with a wry smile.

More information about the September 4 Litigation on Tap can be found in the calendar on page 2.

Lachman will also serve starting this fall as an officer in the Federal Bar Association West Michigan Chapter, and she formerly sat on the State Bar of Michigan’s Civil Procedure and Courts Committee.

Her professional involvements are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of her contributions to the community. She is just starting on the board of trustees for the Grand Rapids Public Museum Foundation. “I can’t believe the things I get to be a part of,” she says. “They told us at orientation that we get a tour of the archives, and for me that’s like getting free tickets to the World Series. I’m terribly excited about the Museum, and honored.”

She is also on the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission, which she thinks fits nicely with her real estate practice; is a member of the board of directors for the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market; and serves on committees for John Ball Park Zoo and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

Her former involvements included Local First, Safe Haven Ministries, and the Grand Rapids Ballet.

All of this is rather impressive for a person who was just “making a pit stop to study for the LSAT,” when she landed at her parents’ new West Michigan home, after being raised near Portland, Oregon, and going to high school in Flagstaff, Ariz.

She received two bachelors’ degrees, one cum laude from Pacific University, and one magna cum laude from Northern Arizona University, before earning her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, also cum laude.

A clear example of Lachman’s poblem-solving approach can be seen in her latest initiative, Good Seeds. She is passionate about healthy and sustainable foods, and believes, without being “militant” about it, that a plant-centered diet is better for people and the planet.

The goal of Good Seeds, which she founded, is to help people get over some of the hurdles in moving toward vegetarianism or some mix of veg-friendly eating. The group hopes to hold a yearly conference starting in the spring of 2016, featuring well-known speakers, an expo where attendees can try new foods, cooking lessons, and a Chopped-style contest between vegetarian chefs.

East Grand Rapids residents, Lachman and her husband have four boys, spanning the ages from four to 14. “It’s a very loud house,” she observes.

Lachman was not the only local “inspiring and accomplished” female attorney recognized in 2014. Others include: Tracey Brame, Thomas M. Cooley Law School; Melissa N. Collar, Warner Norcross and Judd; Pamela N. Cross, Rhoades McKee; Mary M. Mims, Scholten Fant, (in Holland); Raquel A. Salas, Avanti Law Group; and Elizabeth Wells Skaggs of Varnum.

All will be honored Sept. 11 at a luncheon at the Detroit Marriott in Troy.

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