Thacker and Sleight continue starting new businesses by venturing into a law firm

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Allison Sleight and Connie Thacker (left to right) stand in front of a bold and beautiful painting in the temporary office space of Thacker Sleight PC.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

By the time Connie Thacker and Allison Sleight started seriously talking about opening their own law firm, they had already had the experience of starting a business together.

Two, in fact.

Even when they met years ago at Rhoades McKee, the two attorneys say, they had discussed hanging out their own shingle in family law. “But,” says Sleight, “until you open up other businesses, it seems like such a leap.”

Both the other enterprises came about from recognizing an unmet need related to their legal fields.

For Esquire Realty Group, the website (www.esqrealtygrp.com) says, the two recognized “a need in many of their clients: for real estate professionals who bring to the table knowledge and expertise in complex property settlements and legal cases.”

The other, NxtGenCollect, is an online collection agency utilizing fairly sophisticated technology tools.  “We started the collection agency because we saw that people weren’t getting their child support and alimony and other payments like that. The business does other collection work too,” Thacker says. The website notes “property settlements and civil judgments,” but it would be useful for any person who is legitimately owed money.

Users fill out an online form and upload files documenting their cases, and then track the progress on a timeline provided by NxtGenCollect.

This efficiency is fitting for Sleight, who has a keen interest in “leveraging technology to improve client service and case outcomes,” according to thackersleight.com.

Thacker and Sleight, who had moved on to Miller Johnson and Kreis Enderle respectively, wanted to be able to experiment with such technological solutions, which they felt prevented from doing at larger law firms. They also wanted to have the freedom to work with clients on costs, and offer them real accessibility.

“The other way in which we practice differently here is all the communications,” Sleight says. “People appreciate that, they appreciate being heard and having access otherwise they feel like they’re sitting on an island at such a difficult time.”

“Divorce is often the most challenging time of people’s lives,” Thacker added. “You want people to listen to you, and we listen a lot.”

All of these shared values prepared the two women for working well together, but what they were not prepared for was the tremendous positive response.

From a woman who had been trying to find Sleight and just walked in on their first day of business to the word-of-mouth referrals they get due to being active in the community, “We can’t keep the doors from opening,” Thacker says.

“We’re just swamped. I hope it doesn’t stop,” she adds, laughing.

Thacker refers to the high divorce rate – approximately 52% of first marriages, 65-67% of second, and 74-75% of third marriages end in divorce – but that is not to imply that either of the attorneys is happy about the situation. They do feel strongly, however, that women need to fight for their right to be treated equitably in the process of ending a marriage, and that their type of legal practice can help.

“Everyone’s definition of fair is different,” says Thacker, who also has expertise in same-sex marriage law. “Some women who take really low settlements, well, that’s their choice, but our job is to educate them on their rights, help them get through the difficult transition and hope that they can live the rest of their lives well.”

Adds Sleight, “You can really feel their pain sometimes. Some people never even know it’s coming.”

Family law pure and simple is not the only focus of the two attorneys. The practice includes mediation, arbitration, and collaborative domestic law, but also business valuation, estate planning and real estate counsel, based on their years of recognizing the interconnections between those areas.

Thacker, whose undergraduate degree from the University of Baltimore was in Jurisprudence, graduated cum laude from Thomas M. Cooley Law School (now WMU-Cooley), where she was active in a number of activities including receiving the American Jurisprudence Award for Trial Advocacy, Moot Court, business Planning and Corporations.

She is a Fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, through which she practices as an Arbitrator, and was named Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers for Grand Rapids Family Law in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Thacker is well-known throughout the state for presentations through the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) and the State Bar. She is one of an array of distinguished presenters in ICLE’s upcoming Family Law Institute Nov. 9.

In addition, Thacker has published a number of specific articles in the Family Law Journal — for example, “Contractual Vows” and “Understanding the Child Advocate” — and is a contributor to the Michigan GAL Handbook for Divorce Practice.

Sleight is also a contributor to ICLE and has written about Internet regulation and social media law as well as more popular articles for publications such as MLive.

She went to Michigan State University and then Valparaiso University School of Law Honors College, from which she graduated magna cum laude. Following that, she clerked for Hon. Kenneth F. Ripple of the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and for Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.

Sleight was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2016 and 2017 and an Up & Coming Lawyer by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly for 2016. She is active in the legal community,  currently serving as Trustee and Secretary of the Family Law Section, and formerly on the State Bar Family Law Council.

To that, she adds volunteering at the Women’s Resource Center, for which she gives an every-other-month workshop on the process, myths and pitfalls of divorce.

The two are very particular about every aspect of the business, from hiring well-known Tyler Devereaux for interior design to web design by Dottie Rhodes, formerly of Plenty Creative, now of Canna Communications (more about this in Friday’s Grand Rapids Legal News). Currently housed in the offices of Kuiper Orlebeke, they are  in negotiation to move to the West Side for permanent offices.

They, in particular Sleight, also give prospective employers a personality test to ensure compatibility. Most of the employees at their three firms are women, and it is very important to Thacker and Sleight that employees feel comfortable coming to work.
“We use a test from a company specializing in law firms. It’s geared toward our personalities, to make sure we’ll all work well together,” Sleight says. “We want everyone to have fun, and if we’re not, we need to change something.”

Comfort and flexibility are the driving forces behind the decor and all other aspects of the business, which, Thacker and Sleight hope, will result in a more personalized feel for clients, and more opportunity for creative and out-of-the-box client solutions. 
“Here we can be as creative as we want to be,” Thacker comments.

“I’ve never had more fun practicing law,” she says.   

 

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