VOL. 122 | NO. 134 | Thursday, July 19, 2007
Memphis Law Talk
Baptist Hospital Family Instrumental In Christensen's Later-Life Legal Career
By Amy O. Williams
Name: Laurie L. Christensen
Company: Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.
Basics: Christensen, president of the Association for Women Attorneys, is planning a conference titled "Lawyers as Peacemakers, Lawyers as Problem Solvers."
"When I started at Baptist, I worked with some of the most intelligent, ethical, kind and hard-working people that I had ever met in my life and most of them happened to be attorneys. These people set a very high professional standard for me to follow."
- Laurie L. Christensen
To use her own words, Laurie L. Christensen grew up "in a small town in the middle of the ocean."
That description of her hometown on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, could serve as a metaphor for Christensen's career. She started out working as a secretary for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. After meeting several people there who would become her mentors, she eventually became a paralegal and, ultimately, at the age of 37, decided to enter law school.
Now Christensen is a staff attorney for Baptist and said she feels she has a career for the first time in her life.
Christensen is the 2007 president of the Association for Women Attorneys (AWA) and currently is planning a conference sponsored by the AWA, among others. The first regional conference is titled "Lawyers as Peacemakers, Lawyers as Problem Solvers." It takes place in Memphis in October.
Q: What made you want to study law?
A: When I started at Baptist, I worked with some of the most intelligent, ethical, kind and hard-working people that I had ever met in my life and most of them happened to be attorneys. These people set a very high professional standard for me to follow. I also realized how much I loved the law working as a paralegal. It was the encouragement I received from these wonderful Baptist attorneys and Harris Shelton (Hanover Walsh PLLC) attorneys combined with my respect and love for the legal field that ultimately made me apply to law school.
Q: So it wasn't something you always wanted to do?
A: No, but only because I did not have the belief in myself and my intellect to even think I could get into law school, never mind being able to graduate, pass the bar and get a job as an attorney.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I am from Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, the town of Kailua.
Q: Where did you go to undergrad and law school?
A: I graduated from the University of Hawai'i, Manoa Campus, in 1989 with a degree in communications. My law degree is from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, class of 2004.
Q: What brought you to Baptist and to Memphis?
A: My husband was an active duty Marine and we were stationed at Millington from 1991 to 1994. I applied for a secretary position through a temporary agency and was placed at Baptist with a wonderful person by the name of Jill McCord. She was the director of telecommunications and guest services. She recommended me for a permanent position to my first Baptist boss, Marilyn Dunavant, who at the time was director of risk management and a brilliant attorney. She encouraged me to go to paralegal school, which I started in 1992. I loved working for Marilyn and her assistant director, Karen Farley. The two of them were such incredible role models for me. Although my husband and I were transferred to California in 1994, I kept in touch with my Baptist friends and eventually came back into the Baptist family in 1999 when my husband retired from the Marine Corps. I started back in paralegal school at that time.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
A: I was an introverted and quite meek person when I started law school. I have had to shed that skin somewhat and learn to be a strong, assertive person, yet remain true to who I am. Also, because I have been involved with several nonprofit organizations, I have had to learn to ask companies and individuals for donations of money and items for events such as silent auctions and even this conference. That has been really hard, but I always keep in mind that the worst thing that people can say is no. I've also learned, many times the hard way, not to take things personally. That many times it's business, it's not personal.
Q: What is the best part about your job?
A: I get to work with a group of very ethical and hard-working people who have the same forward-thinking and positive vision and belief in Baptist. We are a very patient-focused organization constantly striving to improve every aspect of our organization. I also work with people who allow me to give back to our community through pro bono work and work with other nonprofit organizations.
Q: How did you become interested in the Peacemakers conference?
A: I was chosen by the Association for Women Attorneys to represent the organization in the Memphis Bar Association's Leadership Forum, class of 2005. It is a nine-month leadership-building class that the Memphis Bar holds every year. What a great experience that was for a baby attorney such as myself who really only knew Baptist attorneys and our outside legal counsel at Harris Shelton. Our final session of the Forum was given by Maureen Holland on holistic law and the comprehensive law movement that had already found a place on the East and West coasts. Her presentation blew me away. I knew that it was the way that law should be practiced - in a very civil, honorable manner that I had seen a lack of while working as a law clerk during my third year in law school. I introduced myself to Maureen after the class and asked her to send me more information about the law movement and her organization, The Renaissance Lawyer. I then ran into her a few months later where she asked me to be a part of this planning committee. The planning committee has been meeting as a group for over nine months now.
Q: What are you most proud of, personally and professionally?
A: Personally, I am proud that I have been able to balance a busy career with a family life and my personal interests.
Professionally, I am sincerely proud to be able to say, although it may sound corny, that I work for the best health care organization in this country. I am also proud that I have been part of the Association for Women Attorneys, that I get to associate with kind, professional attorneys who want to give of themselves through volunteerism, that I have been able to mentor others with my message of "believe in yourself and never think that you are too old or not smart enough to follow your dreams and attain them." Then I say, "Look at me. I did it. If I can do it, so can you."
Q: If you had not become a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
A: As an older student - I was 37 when I started law school - I have actually had several jobs but no real career before this. I loved working with individuals with mental retardation and individuals with mental illness in North Carolina and I loved helping them learn to help themselves. I would have liked to work as either a registered nurse or social worker.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: My main goal is to help others help themselves. I want to continue to work with nonprofit organizations that enable individuals to reach their fullest potential, whatever that may be for each person. Dress for Success is one organization here in Memphis that does a phenomenal job doing just that. Hope House is another one. I want to continue to be a part of terrific nonprofit groups such as AWA, who encourage and promote diversity in the legal community and focus on education and professional development, and the Community Legal Center to bring legal services to those who cannot afford them. And mostly, I want to be able to continue to work at Baptist and be a part of its phenomenal vision for the future of health care.
Q: What do you do when you are not working?
A: I have a wonderful husband, Eric, and we love to be at home with our three dogs and four cats. And I absolutely love gardening, home-improvement projects, scuba diving and traveling.