Kyla Denanyoh (KD), host of You Are A Lawyer: You are listening to the You Are A Lawyer podcast. I'm the podcast host, Kyla Denanyoh, a 2015 law school graduate. This podcast was created to share the experiences and successes of law school graduates who created their own paths to career success.
In episode 43, I'm speaking with the technology professional and lawyer. This guest uses his technology background to lead an IT and legal department. Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, today's guest is Devin Zito.
Welcome to the podcast, Devon.
Devin Zito (DZ): Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
KD: So I typically start asking you to explain, you know, a little bit about yourself to the audience, but I want to mention that you and I went to law school together and graduated class of 2015 from Southern University Law Center.
DZ: Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think I might've beat you by a semester. I was ended up graduating in the fall of ‘14.
KD: Well, you were there long enough for me to definitely remember you. I know I had a couple of classes with you.
DZ: Um, probably, um, probably several if I had to remember correctly.
KD: Yes. And your last name, Zito, is very memorable, alright.
So Devin, would you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?
DZ: Obviously you guys know by name Devin Zito. Currently I am the director of information services and corporate counsel for Assurance Financial Group, which is an independent mortgage banking company based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana with locations across the U S.
Personally, I'm married. I have three children. The oldest of which is a daughter of 23, who lives in Los Angeles. I have another daughter that's 14 and her freshman year of high school here in Baton Rouge and then a son that is 11, soon to be 12 and a sixth grader. So it's, you know, full plate with work and home, but a lot of fun.
KD: Yeah. And are you originally from Baton Rouge?
DZ: Yeah, I grew up right across the river from Baton Rouge and a small town called port Allen, literally, uh, you know, a bridge right across the rivers. I went to high school in Baton Rouge and have, have really kind of been in this immediate area most of my life.
KD: So how did you get connected with assurance financial?
DZ: So that is a really good question. So what you probably remember or may know about me is that. Prior to law school, I went to undergrad and did my undergrad in a computer information systems program instead of going straight to law school, like my brain told me I was going to do in my original intentions were I ended up starting a career in technology.
And so finally got to the point about four and a half years later, starting my own company and, you know, running a managed it company that did programming work. And so. About a year into that. I was thinking, okay, how do I grow this business? And I, I remember. A conversation that I had with, uh, a guy that I met that had started a mortgage company.
And so I called him up and said, Hey, I knew you were, um, looking for some software. You know, I hopped out of my other job and I'm running my own business now full time, you know? And he said, perfect time. He let's do it. Let's talk. So I company wrote a piece of software. Stayed around for about probably 10 or 12 years, but we wrote, you know, this web-based application for assurance financial way back then.
And so my, the first 10 years I was friends with the owner and ultimately the guy who became our now COO and just kind of kept in touch with those folks. And. Yeah, we worked with them in capacity of my company and they're supporting that software application for that amount of time and, you know, just kept a good relationship and so fast forward.
I ended up selling my company and then working for the company that purchased my company for four years. And then at the end of 2020, I left that company to move on with, uh, with new things and ran into the CEO, Kenny Hodges of Assurance. And I had lunch and you didn't even know that I had left my employment.
And so start talking about what's going on? What are we doing? And he basically said, well, you know, would you ever come to work for assurance? And I said, absolutely. And so that's kind of how we met. Okay.
KD: So congratulations on selling a business. I know it was probably really busy at the time, but, um, a lot of people create companies, you know, to sell them.
So, um, for someone to see the value in it to purchase it, that's, that's huge. So congratulations on
DZ: that. Yes, it was, um, it was definitely a, uh, an undertaking and a lot of fun and a lot of stress, but very worthwhile.
KD: Take a sabbatical or a break from working while you attended law school or did you take evening classes
DZ: or what? I did it, so I, um, my, my wife is fantastic and a great support and has been forever to me. And so she was one of the impetus, if you will, to. Finally decided to do law school. So like I mentioned a little while ago, it was my original intention going to undergrad was to go to law school.
It's really all I wanted to do. I just happened to found, finding my way into this technology curriculum. And, you know, it was the late nineties at the time and, you know, the.com boom was happening. So the tech industry was big. There was a lot of jobs happening. And so it just, you know, I was like, well, maybe I need to try this.
So fast-forward. So when I started thinking of, you know, business was you for me? I wasn't like, you know, my technology company, it wasn't an, it wasn't by any means that overnight success, it took awhile. And it really took me probably about, about six years of doing it full time before I felt like, okay, I can breathe.
I can think about other things I can think about furthering my education. And so when I did, you know, my wife was very quick to say, Hey, you've always wanted to go to law school. You'd probably need to look into that. And so that's, that's what. Looked into law school applied. Uh, you have studied, like I say, studied loosely, studied for the L set, probably nearly as much as I should have and took it and got accepted to Southern as we all know.
And so her request was, Hey, look, I know Southern has got a fantastic. Nick program and, you know, you're running your company and, and yeah, I had to keep doing that. That was very much part of our livelihood as a family. And so she was like, but if there's any way you could do it, part-time day instead, that would be great.
Cause then, you know, at least you'd be at home at night, even if you're working, studying, but you'd be here. And so I was like, okay, sure. I'll give that a try. So I started, um, I started partying. In the day program and that's probably why you and I had as many classes together as we can, because I was attending with regular traditional law students.
So yeah, I was non-traditional by any means. I was gosh, in my upper thirties with three kids and, uh, you know, 15 employee business. So it was a stretch, but it, it happened.
KD: That's awesome. And I love that your wife was such a great encouragement and foundation for you to go. That's great. Yeah. When I attended law school, I was actually 28 years old and I didn't look at it because you certainly didn't look at, I think I would've guessed, but, um, similar to your story, I was working in corporate America.
And I was like, if you keep thinking about law school go, right. So I was okay. One year passes, two years passed four or five, and I was like, I'm still thinking about it. So I'm going to go. So it sounds like it was similar. Absolutely. Yeah. Now you said it very easily. Oh, you know, dot com. Boom. Why not do websites?
I can think that, but that doesn't mean I can write code. Right. Did you have any kind of foundation and information scientists did you use to take apart, you know, remotes or computers or any.
DZ: So, yes, I, uh, I always had an interest in technology. It was just something that was fun and interesting to me. So while in undergrad, you know, bouncing around like many people do in degree programs, trying to figure out what am I going to do this.
Make me good enough grades to get into law school. That was my mindset. I found this computer information systems program at Northwestern state university in Natchitoches, Louisiana. And so it was what it really was. The neat thing is it was, it was really a programming degree, so it really did.
Programming emphasis in the information systems world, but it was out of the college of business. So it wasn't, you know, it wasn't computer science in a scientific degree. It was a business degree. So really I have an undergrad business with, you know, a majority of work in, uh, information systems or programming world.
So, so I did have that background. So yes, and my first, my first four and a half years of full-time employment, I was actually, uh, either a software developer or a team lead on a software. So, yes, I actually did write code. You probably wouldn't want me to write anything today, but I didn't need that.
KD: Well, let's, it's so much easier now.
And in fact, my website, they have all this like clean code where you just go in and it's really simple. It's like updating a MySpace page. It's like, yeah, it's nice. Now. See, I can't even think of the lingo. They even talk about it.
So did you find that having your information systems background was a good foundation for law school?
Did you find any similarities between the two?
DZ: Uh, did you know, and I didn't know this going into law school. It didn't, you know, I did enough research. I talked to lots of lawyers and, you know, I really, when I, I met with numerous lawyers that I knew in the professional world and, you know, from friends and family and, you know, most cases when I talked to them, I got one of two answers.
You know, the first one was. Why are you trying to go to law school run, go the other way, stay in technology. Don't come here. This is not good. And then the other one was absolutely, you're going to be in a phenomenal spot in several years because you're impairing that technology background with a legal background.
There's nobody out there doing that. So, so that was, you know, it was, there was nothing in between. It was either or, but you know, no, nothing really. Indicated that, you know, my background would be beneficial or not to the process of going through law school. And so the first introduction I got to that, and I don't know, maybe we had the same writing class.
I don't remember. But did you have professor Schaefer, right? I
KD: did. Yes. I forget what they call it now, but I came in as an out-of-state student and I did that little two or three weeks ago. And then I started law school and I had professor James for writing.
DZ: So you have the pre-law course was so she took us through the first couple of days that she had everybody introduce themselves and tell what their background was.
And she said, you know, ask the class, who's going to do the best in the class. And you know, most people, we all thought the English majors or the, you know, the people who had a heavy writing background. And so she was like, it's probably gonna be somebody with more. You know, a technical mindset and I'm listening to her going really no way this isn't going to happen for me, but, you know, and again much to the credit of what she was talking about.
And not necessarily to me, I ended up calling her class, you know, her, both of them, her classes. And so, but what it was about was that. That analytical reasoning and the, the idea behind what programming gives you. That's what you need when you're talking about legal
KD: analysis. Yeah. And the formula of writing, you know, issue plus rural plus analysis equals your conclusion.
That probably was good for you as
DZ: well. And I didn't know that I just kind of worked out that way.
KD: Yeah. Okay. So you said that you spoke to a bunch of lawyers before attending law school. Do you have any lawyers in your firm?
DZ: Uh, only, only one in, I say loosely in my family. He's he's my first cousin. He's, you know, I kind of grew up together though.
Some more like brothers, so it's kind of funny. I kind of wanted to go to law school first. We ended up doing it first. So he graduated in 2003, I think, but he's the only.
KD: Okay. Was he one of the ones that was four against law school?
DZ: It was all for it. He was, he was actually one that told me I would do.
KD: Okay. So before we jump into your daily tasks at assurance financial, I want to hear a couple of details about your schedule now, right? So you mentioned being a husband, being a father. Working at assurance financial, but you also say that you're a realtor, an adjunct professor.
DZ: That's true too.
KD: And you have a solo practice.
When do you have time for all of this stuff?
DZ: So I will tell you the vast majority of my work, this full-time and I'm here often or working from home often or so the, uh, the other things, especially in the, in the majority. Uh, for the last, I guess four or five months since I've been here, I've been focused on assurance.
So the realtor position is kind of an afterthought for a project that I'm currently doing right now with you selling our home and building a new home. So that was something that I undertook when I had that gap in employment between 2020 and this job. So it was, it was really. Kind more of one of those things like, Hey, this might be useful one day and I know it's useful to this project, so I'm not, thankfully that's not taken a whole lot of my time.
My solo law practice I've really geared it more towards things that compliment what I'm trying to do every day. So initially when I first started practicing law, so I don't think back to. Passing the bar in early 2015 and, you know, hanging a shingle, so to speak and not only running a tech company, but having a solo law practice.
So I've kind of maintained it part-time if you will, since then early on, I did a lot of family law work, a lot of custody work and figured out that, okay, if I'm going to stay in this other realm with a technology career and doing other things, that's probably not going to lend itself very well to doing so.
So I really kind of scaled back on. The family law practice and started doing more things that are know more transactional, more business related. You know, I have a few clients that I help with their contracts and their negotiations of agreements, et cetera. So that's what I've geared my private practice to and really to something that can be done at any time, you know, Necessarily beholden to a court date.
I have to have tomorrow or a status conference or something like that. So it, it helps to structure it that way. Other piece that you mentioned, which is, which is new. So in the, the fall of 2020, I had run into chancellor, PAs. In the course of, of some other things I was doing in my previous job. And he, and I knew each other, of course, from our time there.
And he said, Hey, I might have something that might be of interest to you. And so sure enough, a couple of weeks later, he emails me and asked me if I wanted to teach a class. And I was like, wow. Okay. I wasn't expecting that at all. So he basically gave me the option of a few different classes and I said, well, what am I going to teach?
You know? And so I think it was one of them was family law. One of them was, uh, torts and I think contracts were the three. And so I said, well, if I'm going to hold true to what I said, I want my practice to be, I should teach contracts. So, uh, you know, worked it out with the previous. Company that, you know, that I was still with, that had bought my company and, you know, they agreed, Hey, this is a fantastic opportunity yet to go do it.
And so I taught one class that fall, and I think what gave me that opportunity was [the situation], you know, the, the whole fact that it threw a big wrench into law school. And so, you know, having to have some in-person and some virtual, it really brought on the need for additional adjunct professors. And that's kinda how I, how I landed there, I believe.
And so I taught first year contracts, which was really. Really interesting, you know, and to be on the other side of the law school material is quite fascinating. And really, I can tell you, I learned a lot more from that perspective than I ever did as a law student. So it was definitely worthwhile. And so after the fall semester, and I figured out how to write an exam and I figured out how to grade exams and all that stuff.
And then. Going into the spring of 2021. I already knew that I was going to be leaving that previous position. And I, you know, didn't really have a plan for full-time employment yet. So I was like, you know, I've got time. Let me teach a class again. If, if the best all will have me. And so sure enough, I ended up teaching two sections of obligations and the spring.
And so. Challenging and fun. And the interesting part about that, it was entirely via zoom. So while my first class was mostly in person, my, my first semester, I should say, my second semester of two sections was entirely via zoom. So then now I have to learn how. Teach law school and then interact with law students over this virtual platform, which is really challenging.
So that was fun. And then, you know, here we are now. And so I'm teaching one section of obligations this semester and I teach at night. So that's kind of how I manage that is to, you know, it's, after I'm done with my daytime duties and I can devote that hour and 15 minutes a couple of times a week.
So I know I took obligations and I'm pretty sure that's a civil law course. I was trying to look up and see what that relates to for like the rest of the country. But I think it's just that it's a subset of contract law.
DZ: It's contract civil law, but at that point, okay.
KD: All right. I love that you've gone completely full circle with the Law Center.
DZ: It's awesome that, you know, when I, as I went through law school too, and even before that, I always thought maybe one day I would fall back to teaching, you know, undergrad or, you know, teaching law school or something, and just kind of thought about it as a later in life kind of thing. And then all of a sudden here I am going, wait, that's now I'm doing it now.
That's fine. I never thought that would be this soon. So I really have appreciated the opportunity to be able to do that.
KD: And I mean, you had the. To be able to share the stories with others and for them to learn from it. So why not now?
DZ: I hope so. I hope I am able to do them some service and their legal education.
KD: Absolutely. Okay. So at Assurance Financial, you are the Director of Information Services and Corporate Counsel. Yes. Any of your days look the same.
DZ: So mostly so far, my days have been focused on the information services side. And that's basically because, and I knew this building coming in as the plan was my plan, I should say for a hundred days, we're going to be the primarily focused on the information services side. Really. There was some projects that I inherited and some, some other things that we initiatives, I should say that needed to be. Brought to the forefront and implemented so that we can get those out of the way and start becoming more efficient and working on new projects and things.
So I made it a point to focus heavily on the information technology side of my title, I should say. And then since, you know, the first 90 or so days were done. I have started looking at the other side. So there was no in-house counsel position prior to me being here. And I think the background that I bring gave the company the ability to say, okay, well, let's give this to someone who has the ability to process both roles and let's build out those functions in the company and see where our needs take us over the next two to four years.
And then we'll reevaluate. The corporate counsel side has ramped up a little bit. I mean, obviously we have outside counsel, so it's engaging with outside counsel helping to manage things from inside. It's all those things that corporate counsel should be. But you know, also to just think about how I can be effective in that role as well.
So it's going to start ramping up and hopefully, you know, play a little bit more of a part in my day to day or, you know, a closer to equal part in my day to day 2022.
KD: Um, but it sounds like you're enjoying the information services side as well.
DZ: Yeah, I'm still, I'm still a tech guy at heart. I don't think I'll ever, ever lose that.
Hopefully that will keep, you know, an older guy like me younger in my career for longer. So that's
KD: yeah, I'm sure it will. So as we wrap up here, is there anything that you would say to someone who's interested in going to law school, but they have very different interests or they, they kind of don't see themselves as a lawyer, but they're interested in law school.
DZ: Absolutely. I think from my perspective, a legal education is invaluable. I think it's applicable to almost any industry in anything that I have done for me, obviously, but also that I've seen other industries, maybe that I'm not in it. Such a well-rounded broad degree that it's almost universal. I'll tell you why I sold my company.
So I, I finished law school in the late 2014, took the bar in February of 2015. And thank God, passed it the first time, because I did not want to do that again. That was absolutely brutal. But so then I'm like, okay, now I've got this, I've got this law license and. This tech business and what am I doing?
Like, what am I going to do? So it was really almost this identity crisis, you know? And so when I was approached about the business sale, it wasn't something I was looking for. I just kind of happened. Okay. But most people. Oh, he sold his business. He's going to practice law. That's what he's doing. That was never really the intention.
It wasn't developed proposed to that. But my biggest problem was I was making, and I don't mean this in a bad way or exorbitant way, but I was making too good of money to stop doing the taxes. To go in, you know, practice law to make maybe half. I don't know it was, so that was a struggle, but partly why I just kind of accepted whatever cases came my way, because I won't say I've tried a case.
I've had hearings, you know, examine the witnesses on the stand and I've done some courtroom. It was almost a site to myself that, Hey, you can do it or you can go do this, you know? And so, but then after that, taking a step back and thinking, okay, this, this non-traditional path is okay. It actually might be in a lot of cases.
And after I've talked to enough people. Mike turned out to be a better path. And so embracing the fact that I got here in non traditional manner, why should I stop that now? You know, this is, this is the way to go. So I think it's a differentiator in most cases. And you know, there's a lot of opportunity for people with law
KD: Yes, absolutely. And you will not regret it. If you can get scholarships. Very true. Well, thank you so much, Devin. I appreciate this.
DZ: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
KD: Oh, of course. Do you have a great rest of the day? All right, you too. Bye. Thank you for listening to you on lawyer while you are here.
Subscribe to the show, leave a rating and tell a friend about this episode. New episodes are released every other Thursday. Thanks again for listening. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Bye.
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NOTE: This transcript was created from the You Are A Lawyer podcast episode with Kyla Denanyoh and Devin Zito. This transcript was not edited to correct grammar and follow writing rules.