Tuesday, March 24, 2015


People are more pleased at a compliment 
if you praise them for something 
that is not glaringly obvious. 

~Les Giblin

Sunday, March 15, 2015


After an adversarial and lengthy divorce, with mounting legal fees, many are tempted to take short cuts in the days that follow.  One shortcut that can result in a costly result is trying to handle the transfer of retirement funds, which often require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).  In general, this is an area of law most family law attorneys pass off to a financial expert as it can be complicated depending on the type of retirement accounts involved and the specifics of the the agreement.

Let me share with you two stories that will highlight the importance of letting an expert handle this final step in the divorce process.

First, the a portion of the funds in Husband's IRA was to be transferred to Wife.  The plan administrator of the IRA had very specific and unique requirements to complete this transfer which was further complicated by the financial expert receiving incorrect information from the plan administrator.  Wife became anxious with the delays in completing this transfer, as she was watching all the missed opportunities in the market, that she made her own calls to the plan administrator to "help speed up the process".  What happened instead was that the plan administrator stopped all work, refusing to try and figure out whether they should listen to Wife or the financial expert.  We eventually got it resolved but the process took much longer than it should have.

In this second story, Husband had various retirement accounts including 401(k) and IRA accounts from which Wife was to receive a portion of funds.  Husband's attorney was responsible for finding out which transfers could be done internally and initiating the process with the financial expert for the transfers that could not be handled internally and would need a QDRO or other similar documents.  Wife's attorney followed up after hearing nothing from Husband's attorney.  Wife contacted her attorney stating she was handling this on her own.  She asked that her attorney do no further work on this matter.

A year later Wife contacted her attorney, stating that funds from two of the accounts had finally been transferred but two accounts still remained.  Wife argued she should be entitled to all gains on the account she was awarded in its entirety and gains on the fixed dollar amount she was to receive from the final account.  Husband argued that Wife should receive the amount she would have received in the months following the divorce as if the transfers had been completed as anticipated based on the calculations to equalize property division.  There had been some delays on Husband's part but Wife had also refused to use her attorney to see the process to the end, encouraging completion of the process in timely manner.  So Wife found herself in the position, a year and a half after the divorce, of the process still not being complete and the loss of any gains she may have earned in the months since the final hearing.

Had the parties let their attorneys handle the two examples above, the transfers would have been complete in a reasonable amount of time, with the parties having the ability to appreciate the gains of their retirement investments.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


An attorney leaving the firm, especially a very small firm like ours, brings a lot of uncertainty.  How many clients will leave with the attorney?  Who will take on the caseload of the remaining clients?  How will support staff be affected?  How do I reassure and support my legal assistants in this transition?  How many hours will I have to work a week to keep up?

Change can be difficult as most of us are individuals that prefer the routine and the known.  Change can also lead to growth, show us what we are made of, and give us confidence.  So buckle your seat belt, hang on, and let's enjoy the ride.  I choose to embrace the change.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Everyone is NOT Replaceable!

Liz Ryan, her LinkedIn blog post titled "'Everyone Is Replaceable' and Other Business Lies", writes  that managers who believe that their staff are replaceable are clearly missing the boat.

My staff and colleagues are definitely not responsible.  They each play such important roles in the success and growth of our office.  I want to work with and manage people who think beyond the routine and find ways to improve the way we do things.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Quote that I found on LinkedIn

"In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way."  Posted by Mark Taylor on LinkedIn

Monday, December 8, 2014

After abuse, survivors of domestic violence face lonely legal battle

The Wisconsin State Journal published an article titled, "After abuse, survivors of domestic violence face lonely legal battle" on November 23, 2014.  It outlines the challenges a victim of domestic violence faces in the courtroom against a spouse or father of their child(ren) in family and related matters.  I can share in the frustrations of the a legal advocate who can only be there to provide support and not legal guidance or representation.  As a state we do a terrible job looking out for victims of domestic violence and their children and it wasn't ever so apparent when legal aid organization groups like Legal Action of Wisconsin lost all of their state funding in recent years.

Opponents of any aid to domestic violence victims would argue that Guardian ad Litems are there to watch out of the best interests of the children in these situations.  I argue that Guardian ad Litems are not even required to have any training in working with children whose parent is a victim of domestic violence.  Thus they don't have the knowledge, unless they seek it out on their own, to understand the dynamics and manipulation in the lives of these children and their parents.  Furthermore, our court system lacks the same training.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving is not an isolated day

We are often so quick to criticize and don't take the time to give praise and thanks.  Tomorrow may only be 24 hours long but take the time the other 364 days to also give thanks.  It makes both people feel good, boosts confidence, and motivates people to stick through things when they get bad.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Don't throw your employees under the bus

I was on the phone with my doctor this week and she was very quick to blame her lack of response on her nurses and stated that she would be dealing with that.

As supervisors, it is our job to train, guide, and supervise our employees.  Any mistakes they make are also our mistakes.  Our employees still need to take responsibility for their work but that is a conversation we have only with them, not shared with the outside world or as a way to shift blame.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reflecting back

Today as I walked home in the mist, newly fallen trees scattered across the ground reflecting the headlights of cars, I took the moment to reflect.  I don't know what got me thinking about where I've been and where I'm going but nevertheless, I found myself remembering the interview I had with Legal Action in the fall of 2009, the first step I took towards the law field and away from the teaching world.

At the time, I had no legal experience.  I had no experience with victims of domestic abuse.  And I really had no recent office experience.  So you can imagine, I felt a bit intimidated as I sat across the table from two attorneys and a paralegal as they questioned me and really grilled me on my ability to handle the emotional stress of dealing with victims of domestic abuse all day.  When I got the call with the job offer, I hesitated.  I feared my Spanish skills were not good enough for the elaborate phone conversations I was expected to have or to interpret for an attorney.  And although I hadn't questioned it before the interview, I questioned whether I was mentally up for the job.

I found I was wrong to fear my Spanish skills wouldn't adapt quickly and allow me to succeed.  But I was right though that working day in and day out with victims of domestic abuse was not something I was up to long term.  Unfortunately though, I didn't learn that until after working at a shelter for victims.  I don't regret that job as it really gave me great experience and I feel like I did a lot of good, but I didn't like how it changed me.

This post ran much more eloquently in my head as I walked home a couple of hours ago.  But continuing, today, five years later, I am a paralegal for a small law firm billing for some of my hours each day and managing assistants.  I have the opportunity to meet with and interact with clients regularly, review detailed financial information, draft orders, stipulations, marital settlement agreements and other pleadings, hire and train new employees, and be a resource to others in the office.

If you had asked me five years ago where I would be today, I could never have even imagined this.

Teachers going alley digging

I was reminded this evening of what teaching has come to these days in our state s our choir teacher talked about her finds "alley digging" to find props for the theater, orchestra, and chorus program she leads that has no budget.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Successful Legal Assistant/Paralegal

The more I grow into my job and the more I work with legal assistants we hire, the more I have realized that the important qualities to be successful in such a position are not measurable and can't be determined in a brief interview.

A successful Legal Assistant/Paralegal must:

  1. Think beyond the task given to him/her and question what appears to be inconsistent
  2. Anticipate what is to come (I love the days my boss asks for things I have already prepared and are sitting on my desk waiting for him.)
  3. Not ask a question that could be answered by looking it up - I hate when I watch a legal assistant bother an attorney about where a file might be before they even look in the file cabinet.
  4. Have the ability to switch tasks as ever constantly changing priorities shift - a linear approach to tasks rarely works in a law office.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Computer Competence

Computer competence isn't how many programs you know or what advanced features you use regularly.  Computer competence is:

  1. Recognizing that you can't break the computer by trying new things and experimenting;
  2. Knowing where to find the resources to figure out how to do things you have never done before; 
  3. Being intuitive enough to quickly pick up new skills; and 
  4. Getting excited about new tricks that you learn (whether on your own or from others).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

“…improve the simple, and the complication often diminishes.”

I have been working with Lisa McNeil at the Wisconsin Wellness Clinic for a couple of months now and she has been very helpful to me.  I also enjoy her blog posts.  Today’s post especially hit home with me and is something that I think can be applied to many different areas of our lives.  I’ll let you read about it here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hiring and Training

Every time we hire a new employee, I learn something new.  Every time I train someone new, I become a little bit better.  And now that I have trained a number of employees, I realize that it is not necessarily my failings that cause a new employee to not thrive.  The necessary skills need to be in place first.  The enthusiasm needs to be there for success.  I repeat, I will not blame myself for the faults of others.  I will recognize my role and move on.

We welcome a new employee on Monday.  I look forward to working with her. I am optimistic that she will become a part of a team that will do great things.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When did work stop being work?

As I sat at my desk Thursday evening after most had left and looked at the time realizing I was well into my overtime for the week already, I asked myself, when did I stop minding the over time?  When did these long days become so short?

I hope having a new attorney on board won't take away from me the fun and interesting things I do.  Oh the cool projects I had this past week....

TaxCalc14 Seminar

With so many seminars, you learn some great stuff but then when you get back to the office you aren't able to immediately apply that information and so you forget what you learned.

This was not the case with the TaxCalc14 Seminar I attended this week, which was hosted by the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin and presented by Grant Zielinski of Divorce Financial Solutions and Attorney Dan Cross of Perterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.  In the just the first two days back in the office, I spent hours using the tools provided and demonstrated at this seminar.  It was by far the best training I have ever attended.

Before attending this seminar the extent of my experience with Divorce Financial Solutions TaxCalc14 spreadsheets was only with child support and maintenance calculations.  This week I made good use of their QDRO Estimate tool (to figure out tax consequences of distributions from a retirement account received through a QDRO), property division worksheet, and Wage Stub Calculator in addition to figuring maintenance and child support.

For any attorney (or support staff) not already using these tools, I encourage you to check them out and the best part is that they can be downloaded for free from Divorce Financial Solutions's website.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Two observations

First, how a person reacts to a difficult situations says a lot about their character.  Some people hide and avoid the situation completely.  Others plug along pretending they know what their doing (and often creating a big mess).  And yet others confront the situation so they can get all the facts, adapt, and focus on reaching the bar.  I hope that with each difficult challenge, I become a little bit more like the last person.

On another note, I won't say I am not guilty of this but I have tried to be more conscious of it in the recent years.  Absolutely no good comes from gossiping about faults of former or current co-workers.  I don't want to hear how awful my former colleagues were - I actually liked them.  I also don't want to hear about the faults of my current colleagues (unless they are my employees) - these are people I need to work with.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The IRS does not care what you put in your MSA

Contrary to what many people think, from a reliable source (an IRS Revenue Agent), I can assure you that the IRS will not spend time reading nor following the terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement or other family court order.

They don't care if the husband is solely responsible for the back taxes; if they can't collect from the husband, they will go after they wife.  They don't care if the mother is supposed to be able to claim the child as a dependent; if dad claims the child too, they will look at who provided more for the child (had the child in their care more of the time, spent more money on the care of the child, etc.).

For this reason, it is absolutely critical that you include language in the MSA that can be enforced by the Court should the IRS or state Department of Revenue (or any third party) try to collect from the other party.  Some options I have seen include a hold open on maintenance for the purpose of enforcing the obligations of either party or the ability to ask the Court for an increase (or decrease in the case of the payee failing to meet his or her obligations) in maintenance to cover same.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Figuring out what your employees need

People in general are not very good at articulating what they need.  In a employee-supervisor relationship, that gets more difficult as no one wants to appear weak or inadequate in the presence of the someone judging their job performance.  So as someone new to supervising employees, I'm learning to pay attention to the cues my employees give me to attempt to figure out what they need and find a way to give it to them if possible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If I were you, ....

I recently listened to a webinar recorded in July 2013 titled "People Management 101:  Providing Direction & Support" presented by Ann Phillips, Senior Consulting Partner at The Ken Blanchard Companies

One, of many things, I took from the presentation was the use, or preferably non-use, of the phrase, "if I were you, I would..."  This phrases loses sight of the very important fact that I'm NOT you.  We are all different and would respond differently to any situation.