Lansing lawyer got start at LCC
By Aaron Emerson
Editor in Chief
Many students have started their journeys to success at Lansing Community College. Some have gone on to other cities, states and countries to fulfill their passion and embark on extensive careers.
However one former student, Denise LaFave Smith, stuck around in Lansing because she had a passion for making a difference in the community.
After getting her start at LCC in 1977 while in high school, she has come a long way. She now owns a respected law firm that specializes in family law, elder law, disability and estate planning.
The firm, LaFave Smith Center for Family and Elder Law, is headquartered at 1918 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing. It has had an impact on countless lives throughout the years, LaFave Smith said.
“Since I was a little girl, I have been driven to make a difference in the lives of others,” LaFave Smith said. “I definitely achieve this in my law practice by helping women leave abusive relationships, helping people obtain disability benefits, helping the dying put their affairs in order, and sometimes just listening and hugging.”
It was not a fast and easy road for LaFave Smith, however. She took classes at LCC on and off for 20 years, at one point enrolling in pre-med classes with aspirations of going into the medical field.
After finally ending up with a general associate degree, LaFave Smith transferred to Spring Arbor University. She finished up there when she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Management and Organizational Development.
While at Spring Arbor, she enrolled in night and weekend classes at Thomas Cooley Law School.
“I had thought about law school when I was in high school, but after becoming a teen mom at 15, I didn’t think it would ever be an option for me,” LaFave Smith said. “When I learned that I could attend law school on nights and weekends, I decided to go for it.”
It has worked out well for her. She graduated from Cooley in 2002 with a law degree, while also obtaining certificates in Constitutional Law and Civil Rights and Litigation. She then passed the bar exam on her first attempt in 2003.
LaFave Smith opened her law practice in 2004 and has been helping people ever since. She said that everything got its start at LCC, where she was able to learn a lot about herself and overcome challenges.
“My community college experience challenged and changed me in ways that I could not have imagined,” LaFave Smith said. “I not only received an excellent education, but I learned a lot about myself and discovered new passions.
I became a more confident person and a lifelong learner.”