Interview With Marilena DiSilvio of Elk & Elk, Part 1
An interviewer from FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business, talked with Elk & Elk’s newest partner, Marilena DiSilvio, to learn more about her life and work. The account below is based on that conversation.
Becoming a lawyer
I became a lawyer after working as a nurse in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit. One of my colleagues had been deposed in a medical malpractice lawsuit and the process intrigued me. In addition, I had a mentor who strongly encouraged me to follow this path. I loved being a nurse, but I also welcomed the chance to use the knowledge I had developed in a different way.
I went to the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.S. in nursing. It was a great place to go to school because it offered a wide variety of clinical nursing experiences in outstanding hospitals as well as a liberal arts education.
I didn’t always want to be a nurse (or a lawyer). I thought seriously about going to business school, but since numbers are not my strong suit and I thrive on the personal interaction associated with helping others, I talked myself out of the business world fairly quickly.
When I was in law school, my favorite subjects were torts and contracts. My professors were interesting and witty and I enjoyed the legal issues in those areas. I still remember the first torts case I read; it was written by legendary Judge Learned Hand. I enjoyed law school – it’s a wonderful education that teaches critical and analytical thinking. And, despite its reputation as being difficult, it was on par with nursing school. That was a definite plus.
There are many practicing lawyers -some might say there are too many. It is a competitive profession. However, I would always advise a young person interested in being an attorney that a successful and satisfying career will unfold with a strong work ethic and passion about the area of law pursued.
During law school and in the first year after law school, I worked at a Plaintiffs’ firm as a nurse and lawyer. I then joined a Defense firm representing physicians, nurses and hospitals. After 17 years, I made the choice to return to my roots representing Plaintiffs. I have found it incredibly rewarding to help those who have suffered catastrophic injuries.
Although I never considered teaching as a career, it turns out that I have done quite a bit of teaching since becoming an attorney. During trials, I teach the jury; and, away from the courtroom, I’ve taught many Continuing Legal Education seminars as well as Continuing Medical Education classes. Helping to develop a trial tactics course at Cleveland Marshall College of Law was particularly exciting because it was a new addition to the Health Care Law curriculum and provided students with the opportunity to learn and “hands-on” experience the various aspects of a trial.
A young lawyer should make a wish list of professional goals and identify a mentor. I advise new lawyers to set benchmarks and, in the process, to seek the guidance of a mentor who is invested in their futures and who is their champion. It is important to have a path and someone to help navigate the distance between the goals set along on that path.
Joining Elk & Elk
I’ve been at Elk & Elk for a year. Joining the firm was a great opportunity for me. It was also an opportune time for the firm to expand and take in another partner. Being in a Plaintiffs’ firm gives me some added flexibility. As a result, I am able to devote more time to causes that are near and dear to my heart.
Having lost both parents to cancer, I am privileged to serve on the board of The Gathering Place, a non-profit organization that helps people living with cancer, providing education, support and services to patients and their families free of charge. I am also a proud member of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Campaign. Elk & Elk has given generously to these and other charities in which I am involved. The law firm is to be praised for its philanthropy.
Encouraging leadership and the advancement of women in the profession, my partners have supported my work with the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Women in the Law Section. I have had a wonderful opportunity to also advocate for women artists as a founding member of the Ohio Advisory Group to the National Museum for Women in the Arts.
I bring to the firm my knowledge acquired as a neonatal intensive care nurse and as a defense attorney. I believe my experience with families whose babies suffered brain damage is helpful to the firm, as is my experience defending cases involving devastating injuries. Being a woman and former care provider brings a different insight that allows for a comprehensive approach in the handling of a case from initial investigation through trial.
Joining Elk & Elk has been professionally and personally enriching. I have been so impressed by the entire staff. Everyone is energetic and motivated. The team genuinely cares about the firm’s clients. No one is here to simply check a task off a list. Rather, there is a commitment to collaboration, ensuring the best outcome for those who entrust our firm with their case. We all want to achieve results that change people’s lives for the better.
My day at Elk & Elk is never “typical.” Today, for example, I am driving to Akron to meet with a client to provide a case update and discuss our future strategy. Afterward, I will attend a development meeting at The Gathering Place. I will also meet a potential new client who has concerns about medical care his wife received prior to her unfortunate and untimely death. In short, each day is different, interesting and fulfilling.
I do feel that becoming a partner in an important Ohio firm like Elk & Elk helps pave the way for other women in the profession. Elk & Elk has wholeheartedly supported my efforts to develop a Women’s Initiative program within the firm. That it is the first northeast Ohio law firm to launch a firmwide Women’s Initiative speaks volumes about the culture at Elk & Elk.
Practicing medical malpractice and personal injury law
Most people think that they or their family members will never be catastrophically injured or experience the wrongful death of a loved one. When such a tragedy happens, the victims are not only hurt and grieving, but their expectations about their lives have also been turned upside down. My job here, similar to my job as a nurse, is to help facilitate healing and help attain the best quality of life.
I recently handled a case involving a catastrophic brain injury at birth. Although the case was resolved, I remain in contact with the parents and am so thrilled to receive updates and photos of their beautiful son. It is a unique privilege to share the journey of a lawsuit, providing security for the client’s future and leaving an imprint that I hope will prevent other medical errors.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore two careers, first as a nurse and then as an attorney. Since becoming an attorney, I have worked in both Plaintiff and Defense law firms, providing insight and knowledge into the approaches taken by both sides. Being at Elk & Elk has allowed me to help individual clients who have been injured through no fault of their own; and, I continue my involvement in tremendous organizations such as the Gathering Place and the American Heart Association. Being a partner at Elk & Elk is a perfect fit for me, and it’s a privilege to be associated with such caring and involved people.