Attorney's 'gentle' practice earns her a spot in top twenty women in law

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Stereotypes which view successful lawyers as cutthroat types who “go for the jugular” are turned upside down by people like Elizabeth Bransdorfer.

The Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones attorney was included as one of only twenty female lawyers statewide to be named Women in the Law by  Michigan Lawyers Weekly, clearly a sign of success.

To qualify , nominees must “commit to excellence in the practice of law; serve as inspiring and accomplished leaders in the profession; [be] mentors to other women; and contribute significant time and effort to volunteerism and/or pro bono.”

Bransdorfer is indeed at the top of her practice, which focuses on family law. She has moved from  a concentration in commercial, real estate and civil litigation to working with her divorcing clients in a way that, without precluding litigation, achieves the highest and best outcomes for them.

And she is passionate about the advantages of collaborative divorce processes where couples attempt to work out their differences before considering going to court. Noting that 98% of divorce cases settle out of court anyway, Bransdorfer comments, “The way I look at it, if you start with a collaborative process, you’ve just taken off the table all the work of getting ready for a trial that’s not going to happen.” This in general has positive impacts on how much divorcing couples pay as well.

As she has acquired experience in the field, Bransdorfer has come to the realization that the parties to the divorce will all be happier if they exercise control over their own decisions. Although, she says, “the family law judges are just fascinating people” who make well-informed and compassionate decisions, the people who know the situation in a divorce best are the people doing the divorcing.

For that reason, Bransdorfer is part of the Collaborative Divorce Professionals of West Michigan, whose website is www.gentlerdivorce.

com. Bransdorfer joins several other well-known attorneys along with financial professionals, child specialists, and divorce coaches in a multi-disciplinary approach.

The Collaborative Practice concept began only a little over a decade ago, started by an attorney named Stuart Webb in Minnesota after he had thought about it since the 1980s. It was apparently an idea whose time had come, because since 2000 it has spread across the United States and around the world. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) is the primary organization promoting the concept, though Bransdorfer points out that there are others. She has undergone training in collaborative law, as well as in mediation, which she does not practice often. She is also a trained neutral arbitrator.

Bransdorfer’s approach is a perfect fit for Collaborative Practice, since she has always emphasized the positives that will come out of ending the marriage, rather than the fears that such a massive life change will engender. “I always encourage clients to remember what they loved about that person, especially when they have biological kids who are ‘half him and half you.’ If you focus on, this was really good for ten years, but we grew apart, we both need to be able to move on, that sets a good basis for the future.”

Though a few years ago she saw a decrease in her client load based, she surmises, on the embattled economy, she now says that seems to be over.

It is typical of Bransdorfer that she looks forward to a good resolution of each and every case. “I learn something from every family I work with,” she says.

As far as “significant time and effort to volunteerism,” even a brief conversation with Bransdorfer makes clear that she says “Yes” a lot when asked to take on volunteer work and/or positions of leadership.

She is currently the chair of the Gerald R. Ford Chapter of the American Inns of Court, and has taken on the chairmanship of the ADR Section of the Grand Rapids Bar, after being that section’s first chair years ago. She has recently been elected to the Family Law Council of the State Bar of Michigan. She has served on working groups concerned with collaborative practice and other aspects of family law. She sits on the Family Law Advisory Board of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education, and as such was part of the planning committee for this year’s Family Law Institute.

She was president of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Michigan in the mid-1990s and then went on to be president of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) in
2001-2002.

And she easily meets the pro bono prerequisite as well. In 2009, Legal Aid of Western Michigan gave Bransdorfer its Michael S. Barnes Award in recognition of her outstanding pro bono contributions.

In addition to profession-related volunteerism, Bransdorfer says proudly that she is the secretary of the Forest Hills Northern Band Boosters. Her 14-year-old son plays in his high school band as well as the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony. She also has a 19-year-old daughter.

Bransdorfer also tells an interesting story about her mother. Raised in South Dakota, she was born nine months and five days after her parents married, which effectively ended her mother’s plan to attend law school. However, in 1978, when Bransdorfer was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, her mother succeeded in earning her law degree from University of Minnesota Law School — and Bransdorfer followed in her footsteps, graduating cum laude. She says her mother practices full-time in South Dakota to this day. Her father is also a lawyer.

Bransdorfer adds that she graduated  from law school on a Saturday, drove to Grand Rapids starting the following Monday, and has been with Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones ever since, for over 26 years. She expresses her gratitude for the head start MMBJ gave her in starting out, and says, “I need-want-crave the camaraderie of a group of really smart, hard-working people I find here.”

Bransdorfer’s newest interest stems from her appointment to the State Bar’s Family Law Council. She would like to bring her years of expertise to bear on affecting family law legislation in the state, an opportunity that appointment affords. She says she had hoped to engage in some advocacy as (NAWL) president, but she took office immediately after 9/11 and the resulting climate was not conducive to Federal advocacy. It would appear that, in advocacy as in other professional arenas, Bransdorfer will be a force to be reckoned with.

As noted in previous issues, West Michigan attorneys Mary V. Baumann of Miller Johnson and Elizabeth “Joy” Fossel of Varnum were also included in the Michigan Lawyers Weekly list of twenty stellar female lawyers.