West Michigan attorneys join 2013 class of ‘Women in the Law’


April Sawhill. Courtesy Varnum

Three West Michigan attorneys have been named to the 2013 class of “Michigan Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Leslee Lewis of Dickinson Wright, Lauretta Murphy of Miller Johnson and April Sawhill of Varnum are among the 25 women statewide who will be recognized on Sept. 26 at the Detroit Marriott in Troy for their accomplishments in the legal profession.

The designation is awarded to women who exhibit excellence in the practice of law, are inspiring and accomplished leaders in the profession, serve as a mentor to other women and contribute significant time and effort to volunteerism or pro bono work.

The full class of 2013 is online at Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

April Sawhill

At Varnum, Sawhill focuses her practice primarily on commercial litigation and plaintiff personal injury cases, with an emphasis on catastrophic injuries and wrongful death.

She has handled all forms of alternative dispute resolution in federal and state courts, including facilitative mediation, arbitration and case evaluation, and she serves as a case evaluator in Kent County.

Sawhill served on the firm's Diversity Team, which works to promote diversity and inclusion within the firm and throughout the community. Most recently, she has taken a role on the firm's Recruiting Committee, where she works to bring diverse talent into the firm.

She also helped launch Varnum's MiSpringboard program, a statewide program designed to remove some of the barriers associated with starting and growing a business, by providing free legal services to new business initiatives.

“I am truly honored to receive this recognition among such an accomplished group of women,” Sawhill said.

Sawhill has enthusiastically taken part in organizations, events and charities where she is able to influence and mentor women of all ages and the broader community: panelist judge in competitions aimed at developing female entrepreneurs, including Entrepreneur YOU and The Blast! Pitch Competition; mentor to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, serving on their Micro-Loan Committee; mentor at Camp Moxie; volunteer coach for Grand Rapids City High’s Mock Trial team; board member for Health Intervention Services and member of the community advisory board of BRAINS, or Behavioral Resources and Institute for Neuropsychological Services.

Lauretta Murphy

At Miller Johnson, Murphy serves as vice chair of the firm’s Business Section. She has been practicing law since 1988 and specializes in elder law, trust and estate administration and special needs.


Lauretta Murphy. Courtesy Miller Johnson

“I am deeply grateful to be included as one of the 25 Women in the Law for 2013,” Murphy said. “I have had a unique opportunity to work with organizations, clients and colleagues who have allowed and encouraged me to give back to my community through my service to and with them. I am especially humbled when I look at all the lawyers, both men and women, who work in myriad ways to create stronger communities and bring justice to an imperfect world.”

Murphy in the community: serves on the board of directors for Elder Law of Michigan; member of the West Michigan Estate Planning Council, past president and member of the board; president of the board of directors for Disability Advocates; member Special Needs Alliance; immediate past president of the board of directors for Disability Advocates of Kent County; serves on board for the Council on Aging of Kent County; advocate for and member with the Area Agency on Aging, Association for Retarded Citizens, Gerontology Network and Triad – Council Against Senior Exploitation; member of the management advisory board for Covenant Village Retirement Community; legal work for the refugee program at Bethany Christian Services and serves on the Grand Rapids Art Museum Foundation board.

Murphy's professional honors: recipient of the 2013 Joe D. Sutton Call to Justice Award by Elder Law of Michigan; fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel; Best Lawyers in America for elder law, and trusts and estates and a Michigan Super Lawyer for estate planning and probate.

Leslee Lewis

At Dickinson Wright, Lewis serves as the managing partner of the firm's Grand Rapids office, where she has practiced law since joining the firm in 1995.

She focuses her practices on broad set of areas: real estate, banking and financial services, energy and sustainability, construction, corporate, emerging business, estate planning and administration and mergers and acquisitions.

She serves as the practice department manager for the firm’s Real Estate, Environmental, and Energy & Sustainability practices.


Leslee Lewis. Courtesy Dickinson Wright

“When I came out of law school Dickinson Wright had just been rated number one in the nation for promotion and hiring of women and minorities,” Lewis recently told the Business Journal. “I felt like it did not matter whether I wore a pair of pants or a skirt, I had equal opportunities coming in here.

“That same sort of thing is important to me going forward, that we create and further opportunities for women and minorities as well as just being the best we can be for our clients,” she added.

Lewis in the community: Lake Michigan Academy, board president; Transition Housing Council, board member and Haven Builders, as general counsel.

Lewis' professional honors: co-chairperson of the State Bar of Michigan Real Property Law Section Summer Conference for 2013 and 2014; national editorial board of the ALI-ABA's The Practical Real Estate Lawyer; consulting member of the Principles of the Law of Nonprofit Organizations and recognitions by Chambers USA, Michigan Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America.

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