Editor's note: This story was originally featured in the January issue of DS News, out now.
In the January issue of DS News, we were proud to introduce our section on 25 women lawyers who have made their marks in the legal industry. From breaking through the glass ceiling to fighting for the rights of their clients, these formidable women have ensured the success of their individual firms and the industry through their skills and can-do attitudes. They are mentors and role models for a younger generation that admires them, learns from their fights, and is influenced by their positive approach towards creating a work-life balance.
In this second installment, we profile get to know more about what inspired these women to become lawyers, their views on the current state of the industry, what it’s like to be a woman in law, and what qualifies these women as being among some of the finest minds in the legal and financial services industries.
Owner/Managing Partner, Cruikshank Ersin, LLC
Elizabeth Cruikshank has been practicing law for 15 years and loves meeting people, learning new things, and solving problems—especially problem title searches. But even today, being a female attorney poses its own set of challenges. “Not too long ago, I had an agent come into my office for a real estate closing. I came out and introduced myself with my full name. His exact response was, ‘You must be the wife or daughter of Cruikshank.’ Of course, I was very taken back,” shared Cruikshank, who had to work twice as hard to be recognized and make a place for herself in the ‘good ol’ boys club’ of the South. Cruikshank feels the new tax reforms are likely to increase work in bankruptcies, foreclosures, and other default work in the year ahead. “I believe with the new administration, we will see a change in homeownership. Also, the tax changes coming may greatly impact low- to middle-income families,” Cruikshank shared. Cruikshank always wanted to be an attorney and talking about the future, she and her Business Partner Abby Ersin now have their sights set on expanding their practice to newer territories. “We have increased our foreclosure and eviction practice 200 percent in the last year and plan to expand to the Carolinas in the near future,” Cruikshank said. The firm has already expanded beyond Georgia to include Mississippi, Florida, and Tennessee.
General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Mortgage Contracting Services
In her 18-plus years as a lawyer, Kim DrakeLoy has used her legal expertise to develop new products and services and successfully negotiate difficult contracts. But the one thing that gives her immense satisfaction is providing legal and compliance counsel for mergers and acquisitions. “These are often transformative for the companies involved as they present new opportunities for revenue growth and professional advancement,” said Drake-Loy. In the year ahead, Drake feels that the legal profession must work to identify risks and coordinate with operation teams to help servicers and lenders eliminate or at least reduce the impact of such risks. “The actions legal professionals take to address risk are just as important to the success of the enterprise as the actions that the operation teams take to provide services to their clients,” she shared. Looking at the challenges of 2018, Drake-Loy believes that the year will be defined by federal and state regulations and how businesses allocate resources to monitor them. A person who lists transparent communication high on her list of priorities, Drake-Loy is prepared to help her company face a challenging legal landscape. “I’m always prepared to deliver the good and bad news, and discuss the direct and indirect impact such news has on the company. This practice has made navigating the constant challenges in an ever-evolving legal landscape easier,” Drake-Loy said.
Managing Partner, Brock & Scott, PLLC
Jessica Fagen has her eye on the future of the default servicing industry. That, coupled with her business and law degrees, has enabled her to analyze trends and anticipate the challenges of this business. But what Fagen finds most rewarding is supporting her team so that they can tap into their true potential. “My emphasis on teamwork has helped me to successfully manage our entire default practice in Florida,” Fagen said. And that is also one of the reasons that Fagen lists her ascension to Managing Partner of Brock & Scott as a career moment that she’s particularly proud of. “The work, product, and profitability that I bring to the firm speaks for itself and has provided the platform for my growth and leadership within the company,” Fagen shared. She believes there’s still room for growth for women in leadership roles despite the industry and society continuing to demonstrate improvement in this area, and is happy to mentor other female advocates in this field. Crediting her success to her work ethic in the face of adversity, Fagen feels that operations and legal functions are equally important for the success of a firm. “I contribute on both the operations and legal sides to ensure the firm stays on top of legal issues, while maintaining continuity in personnel and resources amidst this ever-changing environment,” Fagen said.
JEANETTE F. FRANKENBERG
Managing Member, Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC
Full Service Default, Commercial and Real Estate Transactions, Commercial and Residential Leasing, Bankruptcy, Commercial and Consumer Finance, Evictions, REO, Environmental Law, Land Use and Development, Commercial Litigation
Jeanette F. Frankenberg, a veteran in the default and REO arena, is the Managing Member of Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC, the only solely woman-owned full service default law firm in New Jersey. She attributes her success to her strong work ethics, integrity, tenacity, and humble beginnings. To help clients stay current with emerging legal trends, the attorneys at Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC, share hot topics and “cases to watch” via a monthly update. “We continually invest in IT programming enhancements to create processing efficiencies, quality control checkpoints, and robust data security updates. These enhancements result in a superior product with a cost savings for our clients,” said Frankenberg. While Frankenberg noted that the practice of law has grown to embrace women, she believes the glass ceiling still exists. “The current servicer trend toward bigger multistate firms is a setback for most women owned firms as the industry consolidation process favors older firms that tend not to be women-owned. I have joined organizations such as the American Mortgage Diversity Council and the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms to be part of the dialogue and hopefully, create change,” stated Frankenberg.
MICHELLE GARCIA GILBERT
Managing Partner, Gilbert Garcia Group, P.A. and Sapphire Title & Escrow Company
Default Servicing, Real Estate Litigation and Transactions, Business Law, Estate Planning, Probate, Guardianship and Trusts, General Civil Law, Construction Law
Michelle Garcia Gilbert planned on becoming a newspaper reporter and graduated with a degree in journalism to fulfill this dream. But destiny had other plans for her and an attorney she worked with while in college influenced Garcia Gilbert to apply to law school as a way of combining her ability to communicate with civic duty. It has been 31 years since Garcia Gilbert began practicing law and though she never wrote for a newspaper, she has combined her formidable skills with civic duty to help her clients win in the legal battlefield. “Though I never became a reporter, I have written for industry publications. As an attorney, I have helped others to solve their legal problems, and as a business owner and Managing Partner, I have assisted my employees to live up to their potential,” said Garcia Gilbert who, over the years, has also mentored and influenced other women to balance their personal and professional lives. For Garcia Gilbert, the challenges of the current legal landscape present entrepreneurial opportunities, which in turn allows her firm to contribute to the community. “We believe in to whom much is given, much is expected! For example, we sponsor local high school students who work at the firm in exchange for tuition assistance,” Garcia Gilbert shared.
RYAN E. HERTZEL
Partner, Schiller, Knapp, Lefkowitz & Hertzel, LLP
Ryan E. Hertzel started working at Schiller, Knapp, Lefkowitz & Hertzel, LLP straight out of law school and has since been named a Partner. She is an integral part of Schiller, Knapp, Lefkowitz & Hertzel, LLP and has watched her firm grow exponentially over the last decade. Her ability to see things from a different perspective and guide her clients and firm has resulted in favorable outcomes for both and has played a big part in the firm’s growth over the years. “My goal as a leader within the firm is to foster an innovative team that is proactive instead of reactive,” said Hertzel. “The default servicing industry is a rapidly and continuously changing niche of law; it can be challenging and exciting at the same time. I believe the best approach to such an industry is to merge tradition and conventional wisdom with ingenuity and technology,” said Hertzel. On a daily basis, Hertzel is inspired by the team mentality and positive firm philosophy that she has helped create. “Our team culture—combined with our passion to consistently exceed client expectations—is what sets us apart. It anchors us in today’s challenging legal landscape and will sustain us in the future,” shared Hertzel.
You can read the rest of the "Women in Law" feature in the January 2018 issue of DS News magazine, available by clicking here or on the image below.