While a college student, Karen Kies DeGrand considered becoming a journalist.
But her experience working as a gofer at a Aurora law firm led her to pursue a legal career.
"It looked to me to be an interesting way to make a living," said DeGrand, a partner at Donohue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth LLC and the new president of the Appellate Lawyers Association (ALA).
DeGrand, 52, became the association's 45th president at an installation luncheon Tuesday at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 E. Jackson Blvd.
Michael A. Pollard, a Baker & McKenzie LLP partner and past ALA president, introduced DeGrand at the luncheon and administered the oath of office to her.
Pollard said DeGrand brings a solid professional reputation to her new role.
"I think she will continue the tradition of collegiality and civility and she will engage people to work together on the many educational projects that the association engages in," he said.
DeGrand, who possesses a strong work ethic, also provides a good example to young lawyers , he said.
DeGrand and her husband, Luke DeGrand, a partner with DeGrand & Wolfe P.C., are the parents of three children ranging in age from 18 to 23.
"She also makes practicing law part of a more fulfilling life," said Pollard who also worked with DeGrand at Baker & McKenzie. "She's been able to perform work-life balance really well."
William P. Hardy, a Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP partner in Springfield and the ALA's immediate past president, said DeGrand "is one of those people who has it together in both her personal life and her professional life. I think Karen is one of those people who figured it out early on that if you put your family first, everything else falls into place."
DeGrand, an Aurora native and youngest of six children, received her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982.
She next attended the University of Illinois College of Law and served as associate editor of the University of Illinois Law Review.
After her admission to the Illinois bar in 1985, DeGrand joined Baker & McKenzie and worked in its litigation department as an associate for the next decade. During some of her stint there, DeGrand said she worked part time as the mother of three young children.
In 1995, Donohue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth spun off from Baker & McKenzie and DeGrand joined the new firm as one of its eight original lawyers.
Richard H. Donohue, a partner with the firm, called DeGrand an excellent lawyer who exercises good judgment.
"She has very good interpersonal skills," he said. "A lot of people around here rely on her wise counsel."
Daniel B. Meyer, a partner with O'Hagan, Spencer LLC, who knows DeGrand from working on cases together but representing separate defendants, called her a superior writer.
"Karen has the ability, and it may come from her appellate practice background, to cut through irrelevancies and focus on the issue or issues that turn the case one way or the other," he said.
DeGrand became a partner with the firm in 1998 and serves on its management committee. She leads the firm's appellate practice group and also handles medical and legal malpractice matters in trial courts.
As the association's president, DeGrand said she plans to follow the lead of the ALA's four most recent presidents and provide strong programming for the association's about 360 members.
Those programs include an update on Illinois Supreme Court decisions and round table discussions with appeals court judges throughout the state.
The association plans to include a program about appellate bonds within the next year, she said.
The ALA will consider ways to help the Illinois Supreme Court's recently formed 11-member Access to Justice Commission, she said. That body aims to make courts less daunting and intimidating, especially to low-income individuals, Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, said in a statement.
Meyer, the O'Hagan, Spencer partner, said, "Appellate advocacy can only take a step forward with Karen providing leadership in her new, well-deserved role."