Janice Block was destined to be a lawyer. She grew up in northwest Indiana, her father was in private practice and her mother was an English teacher. But when Block was in sixth grade, her mother decided to get a law degree of her own. Family dinner table conversations from that point forward were lively, with discussions revolving around hot legal topics. And when Block and her sister had a day off of school, their mother packed them up and took them to class with her. “I remember sitting in an evidence class and thinking it was the coolest thing ever,” Block says.
Excelling in her studies, Block became only the second person in her high school to get accepted to and attend Princeton University as an undergrad. While going to law school seemed inevitable, she also had a passion for journalism and took a year after graduation to get her master’s at Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. After finishing that program, she had the choice to be an anchor on a daytime news broadcast in Montgomery, Ala., or a street reporter in Davenport, Iowa.
“So I decided it was time to go to law school,” she says. “My friend from Princeton, Brad Smith—who went on to become the GC of Microsoft—suggested Columbia. I went for a visit and loved it.” More
One thing is for sure, ever since Bonnie Michael can remember, she wanted to be a lawyer. Legend has it, she announced to her parents, at about six years old, that she would grow up one day to become a successful attorney. The youngster then sat down at her kitchen table, as the story goes, to write letters to deans of some of the country’s top law schools—Yale and Harvard were both on the list—to ask them what exactly she had to do to achieve this feat.
Michael herself doesn’t actually remember this story, but her proud mother has told it time and again. What Michael does remember is recognizing at a young age the importance of the work lawyers do and working hard to realize a goal she had set for herself so long ago. More
Born into a family of high-achieving academics, Cornell Boggs enjoyed a unique childhood to say the least—and success was almost certain. His father was the first person to receive a PhD in zoology from Howard University and went on to serve as a professor at Virginia State College. His mother was an accomplished teacher, who instilled the value of education in her children. Living in the 1960s segregated south, Boggs entered private school where he and his siblings were among very few black children in their classrooms.
And in 1972, after his parents separated, Boggs’ life headed down another extraordinary road when his mother joined the U.S. Department of Defense’s school system as a teacher. “We got on a plane to Germany not knowing exactly where we would be living until we landed,” Boggs explains. “We ended up in Karlsruhe, where I went to junior high. It was totally different than the American south.”
Cornell lived in Europe with his family until he graduated high school—spending some time in Vicenza, Italy, where his mother worked as a teacher and met Cornell’s stepfather, a Command Sergeant Major in the Army. When his mother was promoted to assistant principal (and later principal) of one of the DoD schools, the Boggses moved back to Wurzburg, Germany, where Cornell graduated high school. He then headed to northwest Indiana to attend college at Valparaiso University. More
Doug Beck moved around a lot as a kid. Born in the western suburbs of Chicago, Beck moved to Kentucky, New Jersey, then back to Chicago, then on to Tennessee and Nevada during childhood, thanks to his father’s job as a technology executive for various companies. But Beck always felt most at home in the Windy City.
An avid reader and writer who wanted to utilize those skills within a respected profession, Beck decided early on he would become a lawyer. So when it came time to go to college, he stayed in Illinois—attending University of Illinois, Champaign. “I knew back then I would go to law school, so U of I was not only a great school to prepare me for that, it also was a state school with reasonable tuition. Ultimately it was law school that would determine future opportunities,” Beck explained.
Graduating from U of I after only three years and getting into Northwestern University School of Law, he decided to take a year and move to Ecuador, where he taught English. After he graduated from law school, Beck joined Seyfarth Shaw as a litigation associate—launching the career that would one day land him in the GC seat of Hub Group, one of the country’s largest freight transportation management companies. More
Chicago-native Meredith Ritchie had her sights set on a career in broadcast journalism. Growing up in the north shore suburbs, Ritchie graduated from New Trier High School and headed to New York, where she attended a small liberal arts institution, Hamilton College.
Just as she did in high school, Ritchie thrived as a student at Hamilton. She spent her junior year studying in Paris, where she mastered French. Returning home to Chicago the following summer, Ritchie landed an internship with a suburban radio station, then took the following semester as “independent study” when she landed a second radio station internship at Chicago’s WLS. When she returned to Hamilton the next semester, she started her own radio show, Mainstreams, on which she and her co-host interviewed local businesspeople and professors about their work and careers. There was no question; Ritchie was already building a successful career as a broadcast journalist. More
Growing up in Indianapolis, E.M. Lysonge (or “E” as many people refer to him) had his career sights set several hundred miles to the east—with dreams of serving as a stock broker on Wall Street. Lysonge knew it would take hard work coupled with academic excellence to make it to the Big Apple, not to mention a degree from a highly respected university. So, for high school, he set out on a plan that would offer him the best chance at landing a spot in a top university.
Attending Indianapolis’ respected magnet schools—Arsenal Technical High School and Shortridge Junior High School—E focused on academics, majoring in Arabic studies. And along the way, his interests shifted from the world of finance to the world of law.
“I have a passion for writing and expressing myself through words, and the life of a stock broker just doesn’t cater to that,” Lysonge explains. “I realized I was more attracted to the work of law.” More
Throughout 2014, I sat down with 10 fascinating individuals who also happen to be successful legal department leaders. From a former Dallas Cowboys football player to a former 2nd Lieutenant in the US Marine Corp with several tours under his belt to a former X-ray technician-turned-options trader—each of our interviewees had a unique, and often surprising, story to tell.
Although this is a very diverse group of individuals, they all have at least one thing in common: They are now accomplished lawyers serving as leaders in their legal departments and mentors to the young lawyers and business people around them.
In addition to telling the unique story of each GC featured in our Counsel Q&As, we like to relay advice from our profiled guests for achieving similar success. More
Going from x-ray technician to Executive Vice president, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Tampico Beverages, Inc., a multinational beverage company, it’s safe to say Pedro DeJesus chose the road less traveled.
As far as childhood education goes, DeJesus was far from typical. He started elementary school a year early, and by the time he was finishing up second grade, his teacher informed Pedro’s parents that he was too advanced for third. He jumped immediately into fourth grade.
A high school graduate at only 16, DeJesus really didn’t know what he wanted to do next. So he enrolled in a local community college on Chicago’s Northwest side and studied to become an x-ray technologist. After obtaining an associate’s degree, DeJesus worked for several years as an x-ray tech, but got the itch to do something different. A stroll past the Chicago Mercantile Exchange provided the answer. More
Growing up an only child to hard-working parents in a small Midwest town, Christine Carsen excelled in school and set her dreams high. Taking note that the most successful people in her hometown donned either the title of “doctor” or “lawyer,” Carsen decided she would make a career out of one of these two respected professions.
When Carsen landed at University of Iowa, she first tried her hand as a pre-med student, but decided it wasn’t for her. Because the university didn’t have a pre-law program, Carsen immediately shifted gears to major in history, with a specific intent on going into law. More
Rich Veys knew one thing when he was entering college: He was going to be an engineer. As a high school student, he excelled in math and science, so his obvious course of action was to follow in the footsteps of his dad and older brother, both of whom were engineers.
But once the Omaha-native arrived at the University of Nebraska and began studying political science, he developed an interest in social issues. “It was the early 1970s, and there was a lot more social consciousness at the time,” Veys explains. “Social issues were huge.”
It was at that point that his focus began to shift from engineering to public policy. As he approached graduation, higher education in engineering was off the table and Veys found himself deciding between a master’s degree in public administration and juris doctorate. A year and a half later, he landed at the University of Illinois College of Law and started down the path that would lead him from Omaha to Chicago to Ohio and back to Chicago, touching computer technology, equipment leasing, management consulting and consumer products industries all along the way. More