Dana Constand and the Three Bears

Her approach to folk painting and family law is just right

Published in 2023 Michigan Super Lawyers magazine

By Natalie Pompilio on August 4, 2023


Dana Constand’s paintings often feature peaceful scenes of adult bears with cubs. This makes sense for a family law practitioner who encourages her clients to be cooperative, not combative.

“I tend to attract clients who want to do the best for their families and their children,” says Constand, whose solo firm is called Family Focus Law. “If you do divorce amicably, your whole family comes through it better.”

Before launching her legal career a decade ago, Constand was a folk artist whose popular works were sold and exhibited in Northern Michigan galleries, including her own, Arktos Studio and Gallery, which was located in Petoskey. To her, the definition of “folk artist” is one whose artwork is “quirky” and “not realism, but a little, or a lot, more individual.” Her watercolors almost always include animals, and never humans. “I don’t do people art,” she says.

But Constand likes real people, which is partly why her current legal practice is so busy. She chose to focus on family law, probate and estate planning because it requires “more than just a legal mind,” she says. “You really need to be willing to hold a client’s hand a bit, offer emotional support.”

Acting in her clients’ best interests, Constand is assertive and firm when she needs to be, but she tries to avoid nastiness, encouraging clients “to make good legal and interpersonal choices—to look out for the whole, because when the divorce is over, in all reality, they will still be a family,” she says.

 Constand has temporarily put her creative endeavors on hold, but she knows she’ll pick up a paintbrush again—preferably very soon. Her artwork, she says, is “my heart on paper.” She describes herself as “an artist who practices law … which is different from being a lawyer who does artwork.”

That means she brings her creative brain to her legal work. That, combined with her natural optimism and easygoing manner, sets her apart from many attorneys.

“Conflict is part and parcel of practicing most areas of law, and with conflict comes negativity. But I start from a sunnier place, and my positive disposition brings possibility to the table,” she says.

This painting represents the Ojibwe legend of the Sleeping Bear on white maple.

Most of Constand’s clients don’t know about her artistic side. They may not notice—or understand—the watercolor painting (River Walk Bears) that appears on the front page of her website. They probably don’t ever see her handwritten notes, which she describes as “ridiculous and with doodling. I write all over the page and keep adding things and I’m the only one who can find and decipher the info.”

One of Constand’s best known works was inspired by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a section of the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan that takes its name from an Ojibwe legend about a mama bear and two cubs swimming to escape a forest fire. When the mother bear reached the Michigan shore, she climbed a bluff so she could watch the water as she waited for her cubs, who had fallen behind. But they never arrived. The mama bear never stopped looking and waiting, and was eventually covered by sand. To honor the cubs, the Great Spirit created two small islands not far from the shore.

In Constand’s painting, however, the embodiment of the spirits of a mama bear and her two cubs stand on the dunes together. Positive outcomes are her focus; her website features an image of the painting and the sentence, “Your Family’s Well-Being Is My Priority.” “It reflects the way I lawyer,” Constand says. “I advocate for and counsel my clients in a manner that contemplates the impact of various actions on the client and their family and, at least, does not cause additional damage.”

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