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Jun 2, 2017 2017-06 Alumni

Dana Armagno ’89: Lessons for Success

Dana Armagno understands the importance of staying connected in a busy world. As a partner with the law firm Vedder Price P.C., she has more than 20 years of experience in corporate law – a field where connections are critical. Throughout her career, Dana has maintained her connections at Illinois. Dana knew from an early age that she wanted to be a lawyer. She also wanted an undergraduate degree that would also help advance her career. Her major in economics was a natural complement to this plan.


“I knew that if I didn’t get into law school, a business degree from the University of Illinois would open a lot of doors,” she explained.

At the time she enrolled, the Economics Department was still part of the College of Business – then known as the College of Commerce and Business Administration.

“I wanted to be successful in life," she said. "I wanted a degree from the business school at the University of Illinois. And I found that path through economics. That spoke volumes to helping me develop a legal career in the business world.”

Dana graduated cum laude from Illinois and later earned a JD from DePaul University College of Law. Maintaining contacts has been a crucial element of Dana’s career, and it’s something she recommends to current students who are considering going into business law.

“A big part of being a corporate lawyer is developing business in your career," she said. "At Vedder Price, we train our attorneys to be great lawyers first, but we plant the seed early on that they’re developing their career within the bigger firm.”

Dana also strongly believes that professionals need to be proactive about seeking out mentors. The mentors they find on their own can be more valuable than any formal mentorship that’s arranged for them.

“Find the people you respect, that you work well with, that you like their work,” Dana said. Learning from someone who may be a polar opposite can also be beneficial: “It’s helpful having several mentors, because you can see how people can be effective in their own way. It might not be your way, but at least you can appreciate the differences. Mentors don’t always realize their value. You have to understand that people do look up to you, and that they want your time and attention. You might think that the last thing they want to do is grab lunch with you when they could spend time with their families, or why would they want to go to this event with you. You’ve got to get past that and do the asking. Grab people for coffee or lunch and pick their brain. It doesn’t have to be about anything specific, but mentors need to understand that people are really seeking that – especially in this technological age.”

Dana continued, “Texts and emails don’t connect us because we don’t get the nuances of communication, and that’s why I think direct communication is critical.” She tells the associates in her firm to get out from behind their desks and visit people. If they’re going to have a conference call, they should make it a video conference and take the opportunity to actually see people. Another way that Dana has found to stay connected to others is through volunteer work for professional organizations. She recommends that professionals should only volunteer for responsibilities that they personally feel passionate about. “I think you have to be judicious in what you select. You can’t just raise your hand because it looks good. If you’re not going to go to the meetings and complete the task that you’ve been given to support the organization, it’s just not worth it. And by leading by example, you show other people in the organization how to be successful in a limited way. You don’t have to be involved with everything. You’ve got to build it into your schedule, and be good about how you get back to people in order to be effective.”

Dana’s own volunteer work includes the College of Business Alumni Association, the Business Advisory Council, the University of Illinois Alumni Association, and the Business Private Equity Group. She also volunteers in the College of Law, where she conducts practice interviews with second-year law students to help them prepare for their careers. Over the course of her own career, she’s seen the dot-com and real-estate bubbles burst. She’s seen the effects of 9-11 and the recession. Throughout these dramatic changes, she says that professionals need to take stock of what’s really important in life.

“Hard work pays off, but you also have to take care of yourself. You absolutely have to take the time to do all the things to take care of yourself.” “You’ve got to celebrate the little things,” she says. “And the big things, and you need to have a little fun in the workplace. We all need to laugh a little more!”