In the News

Dykema Pays Tribute to Alumnae Who Helped Shape Our Firm

March 8, 2021

Women’s History Month is a time to commemorate, observe, and celebrate the vital role women play. Dykema kicked off Women’s History Month by paying tribute to the firm’s women attorneys who were “Trailblazers in Their Field,” those who helped pave the path for others by mentoring young professionals, and making a difference in their communities. We continue celebrating women by honoring Dykema alumnae who continue to make significant strides in the legal arena and drive their industries.

Meghan DeBard

Meghan is Senior Counsel and Director of Contract Excellence at a global facilities company, ISS Facility Services, Inc. ISS provides a full suite of facilities services on every continent in the world (except Antarctica). In this role, Meghan is responsible for working hand-in-hand with business leaders to create and comply with contracting policies, provide meaningful reporting, and negotiate and draft all of ISS’s commercial contracts.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: There are so many! If I have to pick one, it would be after-trial drinks at Bohanan's with Marty Truss and Deborah Williamson, and a few other colleagues current and former, including David Vanderhider. It was so nice to relax, debrief, and laugh.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: Be excellent in what you do. Also, be practical. Don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect—especially when timing is everything. And, surround yourself with people who complement your skillset. Learning from each other makes a strong team.

Meghan was previously a Member in the Oil and Gas and Bankruptcy departments of Dykema’s San Antonio office for nearly eight years.

Kay Felt

When J. Kay Felt started law school at the University of Michigan in the mid-1960s, there were few women in her class, making her a pioneer before she even began her career. But she went on to a truly trailblazing career as one of the first people to specialize in healthcare law and as the very first female partner at Dykema. Kay started as a general corporate and securities lawyer not long after Medicare was enacted and there was a growing need for attorneys to handle what was then known as “hospital law.” She did well, got assigned more hospital work, and by the early 1970s, she was handling healthcare transactions and compliance almost exclusively, essentially creating a new practice area. Felt also handled some of the most complex healthcare transactions Michigan has seen, including the 1973 merger of Harper and Grace hospitals into what eventually became the Detroit Medical Center. She gained national recognition as the first female president of the American Academy of Hospital Attorneys, now part of the American Health Lawyers Association.

Now retired, Felt says looking back on her career she is most proud of the impact she had on the women lawyers she mentored. Alumnae Joanne Lax would second that—Joanne worked extensively with Kay and describes her as a “tireless mentor and advocate for women attorneys and attorneys with disabilities. Her guidance was instrumental in shaping my career. Women attorneys owe Kay a debt of gratitude for paving the way… giving us the tools to succeed.”

Kate Koppenhoefer

Kate is the Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at Berkeley Research Group, LLC (BRG), which is an expert and consulting professional services firm.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: Well, for starters, I met my husband at Dykema! I still remember meeting him—Chuck LeMoine asked me to have him sign an appearance form. I also made some friends who remain very dear friends today—Renee Zipprich and Katherine Dunn. We have all since moved on from Dykema, but there is no doubt that working at the firm has been quite an influential experience in forming my legal career and my life!

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: I worked on a lot of different areas at Dykema—from employment to IP to banking work—and having that variety was crucial in moving to an in-house role where every day is something different. And every day I benefit from all that I learned from my Dykema mentors—Dean Dickie, Bob Duty, Todd Gale, Tom Hill, Mike Borders, Chuck LeMoine, Deb McCulloch, and my friend Marilyn Peters. I am so thankful to have started my career at Dykema.

Kate was previously an Associate with the firm for six years in the Labor & Employment and Litigation practices in Dykema’s Bloomfield Hills and Chicago offices.

Aleksandra (Aleks) Miziolek

Aleks is currently serving on the Board of Directors of Tenneco, Inc. (NYSE: TEN). She also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for Citizens Research Council of Michigan, is on the Board of Directors of Southwest Solutions, and sits on an Honorary Board for Inforum (where she chairs the Corporate Partners Committee.) In addition, she serves as an Advisor to OurOffice Inc., a DEI technology solutions provider, and as an Operator Advisor to Assembly Ventures, a venture fund focused on mobility and infrastructure. From 2014-2019 Aleks served as SVP General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, Chief Compliance Officer and in 2019 Chief Transformation Officer for Cooper Standard Holdings Inc., Tier 1 global auto supplier

Favorite Memory at Dykema: There are too many wonderful memories to count given my 31-year stint! We had a great group of women who grew up together at Dykema who regularly supported each other and periodically challenged the status quo! As a deal lawyer, it was particularly rewarding to field a transaction with talented lawyers from throughout the firm in support of a major acquisition or disposition for a client. It was also very exciting to be able to work with our automotive industry professionals to grow our auto practice either through cross-selling and expanding work for existing clients or through mining for and attracting new, interesting clients.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: Certainly, my 31 years at Dykema taught me a great deal about the law, serving clients, leadership and camaraderie. From an in-house perspective, the most valuable lessons were focusing on the client’s business needs and providing great client service. This emphasis on client service that was ingrained in me during my years at Dykema—i.e., responsiveness, practical approach, dedication, and focus on how to solve the problem and get the deal done, all in a respectful, collaborative manner—served me very well in my in-house roles.

Aleks previously was a Member in Dykema’s Business Law department. During her tenure at Dykema, she served as a Member of the Firm’s Executive Committee, Director of Business Law, and Director of the Automotive Industry Group.

Larissa Fields

Larissa is Senior Attorney in Enterprise Litigation at United Services Automobile Association (USAA). She is responsible for managing complex litigation and handling special legal projects on behalf of the Enterprise for all lines of business. She also serves as the Property Lead and has responsibility for all litigation files involving property claims.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: Trying cases with my team!

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: I had the greatest mentors while I was at Dykema who taught me what client service is all about. I was able to take those lessons and use them in my in-house role with my current corporate clients.

Larissa previously was a Member in the Litigation Department of Dykema’s San Antonio office for 12 years.

Ritu Vig

Ritu is Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at SP Plus Corporation (Nasdaq: SP), a leading provider of technology driven mobility solutions for aviation, commercial, hospitality and institutional clients throughout North America. 

Favorite Memory at Dykema: My favorite memory from Dykema was as a first-year associate in the Bloomfield Office. We were especially busy and had a number of deals going on simultaneously. I had just finished turning in the docs for two deals and was getting ready to send in changed pages to the printer on the other one. It was about 3 a.m. As I was finishing up the document, one of the partners came by as he was getting ready to leave. He asked me whether I was almost done and when I was heading out. I told him I was going to leave as soon as I finished with this last document, I had about another hour of work. He put his briefcase and coat down on the chair in my office and asked me to give him whatever he could do to help, including pages to pdf/copy for me so I could get done and get out of there sooner. I remember that often, the team culture was one of my favorite parts of working at Dykema in Detroit and Bloomfield Hills.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: The broad foundation of corporate experience and the fantastic training I received as a young associate at Dykema has been great preparation for me as an in-house lawyer. I learned how to counsel clients on legal and business issues across a wide variety of topics.

Ritu was previously an Associate in the Corporate Finance practice of Dykema’s Bloomfield Hills office for three years.

Kristina Williams

Kristina currently serves as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, in the Appellate Division. She represents the United States in criminal appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, as well as in proceedings, both trial and habeas, in the district courts in the Northern District of Texas. She has successfully prosecuted health care fraud, drug, crimes of violence, child enticement, gun, and immigration cases. In addition, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed her as Judge of the 192nd Judicial District Court in Dallas County, subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: I joined Dykema in the Dallas office and later moved to the Austin office. Most days of the week, and particularly when I was visiting the Dallas office while resident in the Austin office, I could count on Ed Tomko to round up a group of attorneys for lunch. These informal attorney lunches are some of my fondest memories as an attorney in private practice.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role: I began my career as a litigator at Dykema following two clerkships, and my colleagues at Dykema—particularly Chris Kratovil and Alison Ashmore—were instrumental in shaping me as a litigator. I had of course read countless briefs and drafted opinions as a law clerk, but I had never written a brief or motion as an advocate, and certainly knew little about discovery. My colleagues at Dykema taught me how to be a persuasive advocate at all stages in the litigation process, from the very beginning of a case through the appellate courts.

Kristina was previously a Senior Attorney at Dykema in Commercial Litigation for four years in Dykema’s Dallas and Austin, Texas, offices.

Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio

Bonsitu is the Deputy Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU of Michigan). At the ACLU, she works on a range of cutting-edge civil rights cases including most recently, a high-impact class action litigation on behalf of Black homeowners in Michigan who were targeted for predatory land contracts. Along with her team, she leads and executes the strategic priorities for the legal department and the organization as a whole.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: My favorite memory is all the people I was able to meet, learn from, and build relationships with.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role: Dykema was the first place I started my legal career and it helped shape me into the lawyer I am today. I learned critical skills in a fast-paced and challenging environment that I use in my practice to this day.

Bonsitu was a Commercial Litigation Associate in Dykema’s Detroit office for two years.

Jill Rappis

Jill is Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Loyola Medicine. She manages the legal portfolio of the organization and leads a team of attorneys who provide legal support for an academic medical center, two community hospitals, and numerous ambulatory facilities across the Chicago metropolitan area. She also serves as Midwest Managing Counsel for Trinity Health, a national healthcare delivery system that includes 92 hospitals across 22 states.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: It is hard to identify one specific memory. Of course, I could always say donut Fridays and the annual arrival of summer and new associates each year! Seriously though, the friendships I developed at the firm have been long-lasting. And the collaborative working environment and opportunities to learn as a young attorney helped prepare me well for the next stage of my career.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: During my time at the firm, I worked under several top litigators who taught me the value of hard work, preparation and organizational skills. These competencies helped me transition to a corporate role. My litigation background allowed me to view transactions through a different lens—to conduct risk assessments to identify and mitigate risks, while still enabling the organization to move forward with its strategic initiatives.  

Jill was previously a Litigation Associate for six years in Dykema’s Chicago office.

Janet Stiven

Janet is Vice President & General Counsel for The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, a 135-year-old Christian college and media ministry. Through its three schools, Moody Bible Institute, Moody Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning, Moody trains the next generation of Christian ministry leaders. Moody Radio, one of the oldest Christian radio networks in the U.S., has grown to include more than 70 full-power stations and translators and reaches radio listeners in more than 90 countries. Moody Publishers publishes in more than 77 languages in 130 countries. Janet serves on our Executive Team and provides counsel on legal and risk-related matters as well as contributes to shaping and executing business strategy.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: Lots of laughs and donut Fridays.Taking time to have fun at work. To be friends as well as colleagues.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?:

Problem solving. I learned how to bring practical solutions to the table that address a client’s needs.

Servant-leadership. I appreciate people who invested in me, gave me opportunities to learn, grow, and equipped me for success; took me under their wings and taught me to distill complex issues and make them actionable for the client, to think critically and advocate effectively; and to consider the bigger picture implications of a matter.

First, we listen. I learned to take time to listen and understand the client’s needs.

Be prepared. The importance of the meeting before the meeting—always be well-prepared. Invest time in learning about your client’s business so that you can advise in the context of the business issue.

Janet was previously a Member in the Business Services Group in Dykema’s Chicago office. She was at the firm for 28 years starting as an Associate (with Rooks, Pitts and Poust which joined with Dykema in 2004) and ending as a Member.

Sarah Ellison

Sarah works as Corporate Counsel, Real Estate for Whataburger, and works in support of and collaboration with the company’s Real Estate Department. This role covers a variety of projects related to new unit expansion and development as the company expands its footprint in new markets across the country, as well as handling property management matters related to Whataburger’s existing restaurants. As a real estate attorney, it has been fun to work for a company that is growing at the rate that Whataburger is growing, and the excitement surrounding the brand by its loyal customers makes the job rewarding.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: All the best memories of my time at Dykema relate back to the people. On days when the work was challenging, I always knew I had the support and friendship of my colleagues and knew that this was a group of people I would stay in touch with after I started a new job.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: Starting my career at Dykema offered me the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects as a young attorney, while being mentored and supported by some of the firm’s brightest attorneys. The independence I was given over my work and the trust my mentors put in me while at the firm gave me the confidence both then, and still now, to take on more challenging work.

Sarah was previously a Real Estate Associate for three-and-a-half years in Dykema’s San Antonio office.

Whitley Granberry

Whitley is a Staff Attorney in the Detroit Justice Center's Economic Equity Practice. She provides transactional legal support to Detroit-based worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, nonprofits, and small businesses run by returning citizens. 

Favorite Memory at Dykema: My favorite memories are of many fun conversations with other associates and attorneys from the Detroit office's 37th and 36th floors. I had a great time learning from and with this team of lawyers and friends. 

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: Dykema taught me exceptional detail orientation, confidence, and transferable legal skills that are helpful in the world of movement law where I am now. 

Whitley was previously a Litigation Associate in Dykema’s Detroit office for two-anda--half years.

Naomi Carry

Naomi is Associate General Counsel & Director, Private Bank, Bank of America. She provides legal support to the wealth management consumer residential mortgage lines of business. She also advises on all aspects of complex loan origination transactions, including risks associated with lending to entities and trusts, loans partially collateralized by securities, loan servicing questions, and other regulatory compliance issues. Other responsibilities include counseling the business as to new loan products and initiatives, dealing with customer disputes and occasional litigation matters, and ubiquitous regulatory exams.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: Traveling all over the country with J. Kevin Snyder in connection with our representation of clients in several Federal class action suits. We worked hard but had fun talking about photography and exploring local attractions, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Still wearing our business suits after a deposition, we were unquestionably the best-dressed tourists on a muggy day as we crammed ourselves into those tiny cylindrical trams to the top. We declined, however, to pose for the green screen photo opportunity!

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: My focus on consumer financial services litigation provided me with the subject-matter expertise that was a prerequisite to consideration for the in-house position. But it was my exposure to other types of litigation and my collaboration with Dykema colleagues practicing in other areas that provided the additional depth of experience that the bank also needs in its in-house lawyers. Dykema encouraged us to be flexible and to step out of our comfort zone by taking on a diverse range of matters, and that “bravery” is a must when it comes to practicing law in-house as there are very few repeat questions that come our way.

Naomi was previously an Associate and then Member in the Litigation Department (Consumer Financial Services) in Dykema’s Los Angeles Office from 2004-2009.

Jacqueline Allen

Jacqueline currently serves as the Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at American First Finance, a FinTech company offering consumer finance and leasing products online and at the Point of Sale. Her role includes responsibility for the company’s Legal and Compliance functions, the day-to-day operations of the Legal Department, the company’s relationship with its partner bank, and management of some of the company’s consumer finance products.

Favorite Memory at Dykema: Friday breakfasts with the other attorneys in the Dallas office. It was almost like having weekly family dinner with your extended family. We all genuinely enjoyed being around each other and have built life-long friendships.

How did Dykema prepare you for your current role?: Many ways, but one that really stands out to me is the pro bono work that I got to do when I was at Dykema. While I still work at a for-profit company, we want to give back to the community and are in the process of building a community engagement program. I enjoyed my pro bono work at Dykema so much that I offered to take the lead launching our company’s community engagement program and am getting to continue pursuing that passion. I’m very grateful to Dykema for making pro bono a priority at the firm and supporting my pro bono contributions.

Jacqueline was previously an Associate for three years in the Financial Services Group in Dykema’s Dallas office.