Published on October 28, 2022 by Morgan Black
Lana Olson '98 has been named president of DRI, the largest international membership organization of attorneys representing the interests of businesses and individuals in civil litigation. Olson is DRI’s fifth female president and the first female president from Alabama in the organization’s history.
As a partner with the regional litigation boutique firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White, Olson focuses her legal practice on complex, high-stakes litigation in various areas, including environmental and toxic torts, product liability, business disputes and catastrophic injury. In addition to her regular litigation practice, Olson served as the assistant general counsel for a leading heavy truck component distributor for seven years. Benchmark Litigation named Olson a “Litigation Star” and one of its “Top 250 Women in Litigation” six years in a row (2017-22). She is listed in The Best Lawyers in America© and is a Mid-South Super Lawyer.
Here she reflects on her Cumberland School of Law experience and provides advice for the next generation of Cumberland lawyers entering the workforce.
What are the primary duties you will uphold as the president of DRI?
Each year, DRI names a new president responsible for guiding the organization and its work providing educational, networking, leadership, and business development opportunities for civil defense lawyers and in-house counsel. Each new president collaborates with DRI’s executive committee, board of directors, and staff to develop priorities, set goals for the coming year and ensure that the work of previous presidents continues.
Having served on the executive committee for several years in different roles, I look forward to furthering DRI’s development. During my time as president, I want to focus on a couple of crucial areas. The first is leadership and what it means in today’s rapidly evolving legal market. For civil defense litigators and in-house counsel, leadership looks very different now than just a few years ago. There are ever-growing challenges, increasing competition from alternative legal services providers and a flurry of technological advancements to track. Hybrid and fully-remote work models have also changed how lawyers network, develop professional relationships and manage staff and other attorneys. My role as president will be to ensure that DRI is there to support our members in building the skills and connections they need to thrive in this environment.
My second priority will be continuing to grow DRI’s philanthropic and lawyer wellness work. I helped spearhead initiatives in these areas early in my time on the Board of Directors, and it has been a passion ever since. We have set an example for making meaningful, impactful contributions to our local communities as an organization. This includes incorporating volunteer or charitable work activities into every DRI gathering. When the pandemic hit, we also increased our focus on supporting DRI members through unprecedented challenges with initiatives to improve lawyer wellness.
I will continue to prioritize DRI’s charitable work and the wellness support we provide our members throughout my tenure. I am also excited about what this year will bring for DRI and eager to do all I can to support our members.
How did Cumberland School of Law fuel your success?
Cumberland has an amazing trial advocacy program, and I took advantage of every opportunity it offered to get me on my feet and feel comfortable in a courtroom. If there was a trial team, mock trial competition or oral argument opportunity, I took it! Those experiences really helped me graduate law school with confidence as I began my career at my law firm, a boutique litigation firm in Birmingham.
What relationships formed at Cumberland School of Law aided you in your career?
Some people say I’m crazy when I tell them that I loved law school, but it’s true. Cumberland was an amazing place, and I had so many great relationships that grew out of my time there that it’s hard to narrow it down.
Perhaps the professor who made the biggest impact on the trajectory of my career is Andy Klein, my first-year torts and second-year toxic torts and environmental law teacher, who has since gone on to be the Chancellor at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC) College of Law. I still keep in touch with Professor Klein—in fact, I asked him to be a keynote speaker at the 2022 DRI Annual Meeting, but we could not get his schedule to cooperate. He really made learning about the law fun, interesting and challenging. And since a huge part of my legal practice involves toxic torts, I credit him for inspiring me (someone without any sort of science background in college) to take a leap and try it out. So glad he did!
What advice do you have for young female lawyers as they navigate seeking employment and finding their place in the legal landscape?
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn from other lawyers, regardless of gender. There are good mentors out there. Find them and learn from them. It’s important for women to support other women, too. Many firms have active formal and informal women’s networks. In terms of employment opportunities, more firms are thankfully recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in all aspects. Seek out firms that are walking the talk on diversity, including those where women are in leadership positions and taking the lead on matters and cases. That’s a clear sign a firm’s DEI efforts are having an impact.
I also can’t stress enough the importance of seizing any opportunity to develop leadership skills at any stage in your career. Even first-year associates can take the lead in working with partners to write content for the firm’s blog, articles for publication, and more. Offer to spearhead research for an internal lunch and learn. Ask to attend client meetings and lunches—even if you can’t bill for it. Go to conferences and seek out organizations like DRI that provide rich networking and education opportunities. Developing leadership skills and professional connections takes time, so start now. Finally, do solid work and don’t be reluctant to take your share of the credit for wins of any sort.
In general, what advice can you offer current law students as they look towards a career in the legal workforce?
Work hard, but also don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll make some mistakes. Own them. Learn from them. Ask for feedback about how you can do better next time. And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Volunteer to take a deposition early in your career. Get on your feet. You can’t learn to practice law by just reading law books—you’ve got to get out and do it!
Start thinking about your own network and business connections right away. Make it a habit to connect with people on LinkedIn after you meet them, for example. Keep your contacts list up to date. And get out of the office and meet people! (And join DRI!) While your first couple of years may be focused on figuring out how to practice law, don’t forget that your network should grow over time and will eventually lead to business.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy being a member of this incredibly noble profession.
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