WARREN, Mich. (May 1, 2019) – More than a dozen De La Salle Collegiate alumni and past or current parents who are current or retired lawyers and judges spoke with 12 senior government and economic classes on Wednesday as part of the American Bar Association’s Law Day.
All of the attorneys are members of the newly-formed Pilot Bar Association (PBA).
The speakers included alumni Michael Bartnik ‘73, Ryan Jelalian ‘12, Tim Smith ‘90, Mike Jolet ‘96, John Elkhoury ‘02, Loukas Kalliantasis ‘01, Bill Kolakowski ‘89, and Mark Wisniewski ‘83.
Also speaking were current parents Andrew Hubbs and Kyle Dufrane, and past parents Chris Aiello and Tim Orlando.
Established in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower, Law Day’s purpose is to celebrate the rule of law, and “provide an opportunity to understand how law and the legal process protect our liberty, strive to achieve justice, and contribute to the freedoms that all Americans share.”
Alumni Relations Director Dennis Koch, arranged the schedule with one attorney per class. Each attorney had different perspectives – from law student to firm CEO and law professor.
“The message of our distinguished guests was invaluable,” teacher Thaier Mukhtar said. “They talked about the challenges our young men will face at the next level and how De La Salle helped mold them in meeting those challenges. They discussed the work and commitment one needs to make to reach their goals in life. This was a very worthwhile session for our students.”
Elkhoury’s commented about having good academic habits resonated with senior Noah Szymanski.
“It was a good experience hearing from someone who is from De La Salle,” Szymanski said. “He talked about having academic goals, and not procrastinating.”
Elkhoury, who attended Oakland University and Cooley Law School, has a solo practice. He joined the PBA at its inception, but has been involved with De La Salle since his high school graduation. An active student who played football and basketball, as well as working on the school newspaper, he has maintained friendships with his classmates, teachers, and coaches. He regularly attends games, participates in the annual Alumni Basketball Tournament, and attends the annual Christian Brothers’ Dinner.
“I am taking the time to be part of Law Day because I love to give back to De La Salle any chance I can,” Elkhoury said. “I believe the principles I learned at De La Salle are the building blocks that lead to success.”
While Elkhoury has remained connected to the school, Kalliantasis, who practices corporate law with Clark Hill, hadn’t been back since 2001. He attended the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Kalliantasis said he enjoyed the opportunity to connect with current students, and perhaps inspire them to pursue a legal career.
“It’s a good fit for me as a corporate lawyer,” said Kalliantasis, who is also a member of the PBA.
Senior Joseph Smigiel, who plans to major in mechanical engineering at Oakland University, found Jolet’s remarks valuable.
“He made me see a different side to law, and that being a lawyer isn’t always about being in court,” Smigiel said. “It can involve research.”
Kolakowski said he originally pursued engineering at the University of Michigan, but decided midway through his undergraduate years to pursue law. He is a graduate of the UM Law School, and is now an intellectual property attorney with the Reising Ethington Firm in Troy.
“I came in today as it’s a chance to give something back,” he said.
Smith spoke to classes “first and foremost because of my love for De La Salle.”
Smith, who also attended the UDM School of Law, has a legal career that included being a first chair defense litigator and an in-house attorney for DTE Energy. He is now on the vendor/consultancy side as the manager of the Detroit office of a national/international firm that provides forensic engineering and expert witness services to the insurance and legal communities.
Smith joined the PBA at its inception and was part of the exploratory committee that prepared the group’s bylaws.
Now the chairman and CEO of Kitch, Drutchas, Wagner, Valitutti, and Sherbrook, Wisniewski’s career has led him outside the courtroom to the UDM School of Law, where he earned his law degree. He is an active member of the law school’s advisory committee and has served as a visiting professor and as the law school’s alumni board president.
Wisniewski is particularly interested in the impact of technology on the legal profession.
“Technology has really changed and improved the practice of law since I started,” he said. “In 1990, there was no such thing as a lawyer working with a computer, email or electronic documents and filings. It is very important that we make sure that the law students understand these changes and are prepared to hit the ground running. As we say at UDM-Law, ‘a complete lawyer.’
“I think it is also important to go one step further. We need to educate high school students about the field of law. Today’s law-firm practice, in-house counsel position, solo-practitioner or prosecutor all face similar challenges. What is clear is that what we grew up with, either what we saw on television or movies that try to depict the practice of law, is very different than the real practice of law. For the high school student or new college student, the need to be in pre-law in college is a myth. A well-rounded college education is much more important. In my daily practice, I handle complex concepts involving tax, accounting, physics, engineering and medicine. Also, there is so much more you can do with a law degree than you could do 30 years ago.”
Wisniewski is also appearing in television advertisements recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Kitch firm.