Alumni spotlight: Linda Friedman of Stowell & Friedman, Ltd.

A ticket to a Rolling Stones concert led Linda Friedman to a chance taking of the LSAT, which set the stage for her to discover a love of litigation and enthusiasm for civil rights law.

As the story goes, Friedman planned to attend the show with a group of friends who were scheduled to take the test right before the concert. The group had purchased field tickets for the floor of the stadium. In an effort to avoid separation, Friedman decided to sit in on the exam with her friends. She signed up for the LSAT on the day of the exam—and did well.

Oddly enough, she said, none of those friends ended up going to law school.

Friedman, however, embraced her natural legal ability and enrolled at DePaul. She found herself primarily drawn to the students attending evening classes, “because they had careers and lives, and had made a deliberate choice to go back to law school.” She split her time between day and evening classes to accommodate jobs that let her experience different areas of law—a move that, in retrospect, she credits with helping her find her way. “I think it’s what every law school student should do: Use law school as an opportunity to figure out what makes your heart tick, what makes you happy in law.”

Through the College of Law’s externship program, Friedman worked under James B. Parsons, the first African-American federal district court judge in the country, who drew out her fervor for civil rights. That externship continued on a voluntary basis after the semester was over because a law clerk was going on maternity leave. Later, Friedman moved into a federal clerkship of her own under Judge Harry D. Leinenweber.

“Between the extern experience and the clerkship, I watched dozens and dozens of trials, participated in jury instruction conferences, conducted legal research and prepared bench memoranda for the judges: I had a full apprenticeship,” she said.

Through Friedman’s next job, she met Mary Stowell and Richard Leng, both of whom had previously worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Together, they started Leng Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. in 1989, when Friedman was 29 years old. Leng and Stowell, she explained, were both experienced trial lawyers who brought with them corporate and criminal experience, respectively, and Friedman knew civil rights law. Leng left after about 10 years and Stowell just recently retired, so Friedman runs the Chicago-based civil rights law firm, now called Stowell & Friedman, Ltd.

“If you attend DePaul Law you get a wonderful education. There’s no question that the educational experience taught me the skills I needed to think like a lawyer. Because the law school is located in downtown Chicago, I also had the opportunity to spend three years figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and where I could really see myself contributing [as] a lawyer.”

In other words, “I knew what I detested, what I could tolerate and what I loved,” she said.

“I just felt a pull to do something, on a personal level, that would be meaningful,” Friedman said, explaining why she felt passionate about becoming a civil rights lawyer. “I love to be part of change. To learn about it, to study it, to work with the experts who are at the top of their fields trying to understand how to make the world a better and more fair place.”

Friedman credits the practical experiences she pursued while at the College of Law with providing an advantage over her peers. She tries to recreate this for law students, recent grads and lateral hires that apprentice with her, so they not only learn to be effective lawyers but also how to run a law firm. Many have moved on to open up their own firms or become partners at her firm.

For Friedman, success is defined by the amount of change she and her colleagues are able to inspire. “It makes me happy to know that we’ve changed a lot of peoples’ lives. That we’ve taught people how to stand up and change their own life experiences, and teach their children, nieces, nephews and neighbors to do the same.”

Friedman points to McReynolds et al. v. Merrill Lynch as a case she is quite proud to have worked on. It was a nine-year legal battle that ended in an appellate decision, and achieved certification of a nationwide class of approximately 1,400 African-American financial advisors and trainees to determine liability and injunctive relief for claims that the firm’s policies had a racially disparate impact. Friedman’s firm recovered $160 million, the largest common fund ever achieved in a settlement of a race employment discrimination class action.

“Sometimes it isn’t always fun to be chef, cook and bottle wash of a firm,” Friedman said. “But I do [have a sense of] pride when I walk through the door and I know that there are 25 people who come to work every day at a place that I, along with my partners, created.”