College of Law

Genna Hilgenbrink ’19

Finding Your Place in the Legal Profession

Dec. 5, 2022

Genna Hilgenbrink

Genna Hilgenbrink ’19 is an associate attorney with Novara Tesija Catenacci McDonald & Baas, PLLC out of Troy, Michigan. She is experienced in first- and third-party No-Fault actions. She specializes in Michigan Assigned Claims Plan work and represents insurers of all sizes across the state of Michigan.  

Genna grew up in Aurora, Illinois. Her early education and interests pointed her toward a career in journalism. She knew she would enjoy a career with daily tasks of writing, researching, and investigating. However, when broadcast journalism didn’t work out, Genna knew she wanted to pursue a career with the same pillars. At that point, she had already focused so much on her writing, she knew writing had to play a significant role in her career plans. Genna also longed for the opportunity to communicate with people and advocate through oral argument. After evaluating these aspects, a legal career seemed the only logical answer.  

Comfort and cost were important factors as Genna considered law schools. Toledo Law provided an outstanding value and Genna felt “at home” with the staff and appreciated the small community that would make it easier to develop real relationships. Genna says she truly enjoys being a lawyer and is glad she had the courage to change careers and pursue law school. 

While attending Toledo Law, Genna took opportunities to have a wide array of practical experiences, completing seven internships before graduating, including with the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals, United States Air Force, and US Attorneys’ Office in Toledo. Through those experiences she was able to get a feel for what she wanted and needed in an employer and what kind of environment she would thrive in: “one with a similar sense of solidarity with my coworkers as what I had with my classmates, and a place where I felt supported and valued.” Sometimes you don’t find a good match right away. Genna’s path to her current employer was not direct. As a result, she shares, “It is okay to leave an employer if it doesn’t suit you. It is okay to keep looking for a place that appreciates you and invests in you.”  

Genna feels strongly about developing relationships with people and believes professional and collegial relationships are the key to providing personalized service to clients. Another way that Genna is able to regularly employ her journalism background is through hosting and producing the “Novara Law Podcast,” an informational podcast that provides carriers and fellow counsel with insight on a variety of legal issues handled by her firm, Novara Law.  

As a fairly new attorney herself, Genna believes that every new attorney needs a mentor and someone to bounce ideas off of and says not to worry about needing a hand, especially at the beginning of your career. Additionally, she would like to see the legal profession become more inclusive and less unnecessarily restrictive. She thinks heavy “gatekeeping” prevents good, smart, hardworking people from becoming lawyers.  She cites aspects of the bar exam as an example. Genna was happy to see some states remove mental health questions from character and fitness portions of the bar exam applications, adding, “I think restrictions such as those often times had the opposite of the intended effect and actually discourage the right kind of people from applying to become lawyers.” 

Genna received her B. A. in Rhetoric and Public Address with Minors in Journalism and German from Hillsdale College in December 2014 and her J.D. from Toledo Law in December 2019. 

Q&A with Genna Hilgenbrinkgenna and friend on facetime

Do you have a favorite memory from attending Toledo Law? 
I have a screen shot of myself FaceTiming with a friend of mine from law school, we’re both huddled under blankets in our respective homes studying for some exam. I had no makeup on. We were FaceTiming to prepare for a final exam together and go over our outlines. It reminds me that law school was such a grind, but I got through it with my classmates. We really had a sense of solidarity in going through something so difficult together. 

What was most helpful to you during your time at Toledo Law?  
The professors and staff being so accessible was the most helpful. For example, my property professor, Bruce Kennedy, could tell in that I was struggling with estates and future interests in Property 1. Every time he cold called me, I would struggle providing an answer. Instead of scolding me, he offered to re-teach me the material every Wednesday during the lunch hour. I wound up with an A in the class. 

What was your first position AFTER law school and how did you obtain it? 
I was an Associate Attorney at a small firm in Lenawee County, Michigan. I obtained it through cold mailings to area law firms with my resume and a cover letter. Michigan was a difficult market to break into! I think I sent out close to 200 resumes.  

What have been legal career highlights?  
I practice insurance defense litigation, so every time I help “win” a case for my client by getting the case dismissed, I take a moment to enjoy the win. They don’t come all the time in civil defense litigation, so when they do I celebrate in the moment.  

I also truly enjoy having good working relationships with other attorneys. In my line of practice, you see the same attorneys time and time again, even in a city as large as Detroit. I believe in maintaining good relationships by providing professional courtesies and honest communication, even with “the other side.” I promise, it gets you a lot farther than scorched earth tactics.  

What were some career pivot-points/decisions that led you to where you are now?  
Moving to Metro Detroit was a major pivot-point. I grew up in a suburban area and when I moved to Metro Detroit and began practicing here, I instantly felt more comfortable and more sure of myself. I really hit the ground running when I started my current position at Novara Law. I am surrounded by bright, hard-working attorneys with fantastic ideas. I have never felt anything less than fully supported and encouraged by my higherups and supervisors. It has allowed me to do well, to learn, and grow in the best ways.    

What has been the most challenging aspect of your current (or a recent) position?  
No-Fault law is always changing in Michigan and No-Fault litigation is the bulk of my practice at the moment. The minute you get comfortable with the law, it changes! So, staying on top of the ever-changing landscape is the most difficult part of my job. 

What have you found most satisfying about your career thus far?  
Mentorship of new attorneys has been the most fun thing for me. I enjoy walking them through the basics and I get excited when they do well and learn. I also enjoy being a resource for them to ask questions. There are no “stupid” questions and my door is always open for them. 

What do you wish you would have known in law school?  
You may not land at the best employer or best environment for you right away. It takes some level of trial and error to find your fit, and that’s okay. I think some law students expect themselves to know how to practice law right after graduating and that they’ll wind up in the best law firm or employer immediately after passing the bar. The reality is that you start at the bottom like everyone else and work your way up. There is a learning curve to practice just like there was in law school. 

Do you have any suggestions for law students/new lawyers interested in a similar path?  
One of my favorite quotes is “if it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.” My advice is just keep going and pursing your passions. You will always have roadblocks, people telling you that you can’t do something, or obstacles along the way. Law school, the bar exam, and finding work are never going to be easy, but keep faith that you can accomplish the things you set out for so long as you keep getting back up after you get knocked down.  

What should new attorneys keep in mind and be thinking about?  
Network. Network. Network. Never stop meeting people, never stop getting your name out there. Finding work after the bar exam is hard and knowing more people will increase your chances of landing a job.  

Another bit of advice is do not lose your personality! If you are happy-go-lucky, do not let the practice of law dull your shine. Clients and fellow attorneys appreciate genuine conversations and connections and if you spend your time trying to be someone else, it can hurt more than help.  

What was the best advice you ever received?  
There is no person beneath you. There is no task beneath you. Treat your staff and all coworkers with respect and gratitude. You are nowhere without them! 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work 
I enjoy exercising at CycleBar, spending time with my fiancé, exploring local restaurants and diners, playing softball in the warmer months, and golfing. 

Last Updated: 12/8/22