Laura Anne LaPlante distinguished herself among her University of Chicago Law School classmates as a leader whose sharp intellect was matched by her kindness.
LaPlante, 26, died May 2 from injuries sustained earlier that day after a car traveling the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive collided head-on with the taxicab she shared with another UChicago law school student.
“This is a heart-rending loss,” wrote Law School Dean Michael H. Schill, in a statement released May 2 to Law School faculty, students and staff. “President Zimmer, Provost Isaacs and I share the deep grief that each of you will feel upon reading this news.”
Schill pointed to LaPlante’s many gifts and her willingness to serve. “She was well-known at the Law School for her warmth and kindness, always the first to volunteer to help out at an event or to help a friend, always with a smile for everyone,” he wrote.
Originally from Hancock, N.H., LaPlante was slated to graduate from the University of Chicago next month and move to Boston to join the firm WilmerHale, where she had worked as an associate last summer. During her law school tenure, she assumed numerous leadership roles, serving as president of the Federalist Society, treasurer for the Law School Republicans and as a member of the Dean of Students’ Advisory Board. She was an active member of the St. Thomas More Society, the Law Women’s Caucus and the Edmund Burke Society.
LaPlante had garnered respect from faculty and students alike. “Of the almost 2,000 students I've interacted with in my teaching career, Laura was one of my favorites,” said M. Todd Henderson, professor of law and the Aaron Director Teaching Scholar. “We are privileged that every student at UChicago Law is smart and accomplished, but Laura stood out because her tough-mindedness was coupled with a warm and generous spirit that made everyone willing to listen to and follow her. The world lost a great potential in Laura, and her family and friends lost a truly great individual.”
Adam Mortara, lecturer in law, met LaPlante during her first year as a law student at a brown bag lunch for students interested in the Federalist Society. “Her interest and enthusiasm for the experience she was already having was apparent,” Mortara said. “Over her time in the Law School, we watched Laura go from an eager first-year student to a leader. Not only was she the heart of an amazing cohort of friends in her own year, but she paid forward all the mentoring she had received.”
Over the years, LaPlante met many alumni and judges through her deep involvement in student activities, including the Federalist Society. One measure of the impact that Laura had on them was the grief that reverberated across the world when news of her passing spread, Mortara noted.
“From federal judges at courts of appeals across the country to alumni from classes as far back as the 1980s who knew Laura, all the way to priests saying Mass for her in Lourdes, we saw that to know Laura was to be instantly impressed with her kindness, professionalism and her great potential. I will miss her very much.”
Emily Buss, the Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of Law, will remember LaPlante as personifying the Law School at its best. “She had clear convictions, which she pursued with energy and commitment. Her friendships ran broad and deep,” Buss said. “Laura managed to strike the right balance between the seriousness demanded by law school and a readiness to enjoy three very special years of camaraderie with her classmates. We are all in shock and grieving her loss.”
The loss was felt particularly deeply among those closest to LaPlante. “Laura was such a beautiful, kind and giving person,” said third-year law student Emily Heasley, LaPlante’s friend and roommate. “She always lived her life to the fullest, and she was deeply loved by everyone who had the blessing of knowing her.”
The Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society issued a statement calling LaPlante’s death “a tragedy beyond words, and our entire chapter is heartbroken. As president of the Federalist Society, Laura embodied the best of our law school community: passion, brilliance and unwavering kindness.” Federalist Society members knew LaPlante as a gifted student and athlete, and a woman of compassion and charming wit. “Federal Society members looked up to her, and she made herself available day or night to offer guidance and comfort to anyone who needed it.”
In closing his email, Schill said, “I cannot make sense of the passing of such a wonderful, vital young woman who would surely have done so much in her life to make the world a better place. At the same time, during Laura’s short time on Earth she made an impact. Laura left each of us better human beings than we would have been in her absence. Her friendship, engagement and love enriched us.”
The Law School is planning a memorial service for the campus community, with details to be announced.