Opening a New Chapter

You need a divorce, now what?" This is the question attorney Julianne Markiewicz recently addressed with talk show host Stewart Andrew Alexander on his Impact Makers Radio series, "Let’s Talk Divorce!" She offered insights gleaned from her 25-plus years as one of Minnesota’s leading family law practitioners about how divorcing couples can avoid common legal pitfalls and transition to a happier, healthier future.

This award-winning family law attorney has enjoyed an inspiring journey from small town girl to celebrated legal expert. Bolstered by her self-made father who worked his way up from a grocery stock clerk to an industry consultant; a hard-working stay-at- home mom who later went to college and became a legal secretary (and whom Markiewicz still calls when she really "gets stuck"); and a loving grandmother who lived just around the corner, Markiewicz grew up in Ironwood, Michigan, a small town with a strong sense of family, faith and community.

She said, "My dad told me early on – and he’s one heck of a guy – you have to invest in yourself. I followed that advice."

Markiewicz was an excellent student with many interests. She worked in a public library through high school and college, and one of her early dreams was to obtain her master’s degree in library science and run a college or public institution. After earning her Bachelor of Arts from University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, with honors, she began working for a law firm as a receptionist and law librarian, with an eye to saving money for graduate school. She also played softball with a league of lawyers, and as she got to know the profession and its professionals, she discovered the law was a means to serve people in a greater way than she had before envisioned.

Markiewicz earned her law degree from Hamline University School of Law and began her career practicing in insurance subrogation and defense. In no time, the indomitable Markiewicz was the top billing associate at her firm. She was also a wife and mother.

"I spent a lot of time honing my craft," she recalled. "I didn’t want to miss out on everything that came with raising my two beautiful daughters."

Her solution was to begin her own practice – from an office she set up in her basement. Markiewicz worked on the faithful Formica table that had seen her through law school, while her little ones played nearby. As her practice expanded, so did her home office footprint.

"The basement was a large room, but I looked over one day and realized that my daughter and her toys were right up against the wall. It was time to get an office."

Always a litigator, she found her true passion in the law when she began handling family matters, guiding people through some of life’s toughest challenges with dignity and compassion.

Markiewicz eventually put everything she had into the purchase of an A-frame office condo centrally located in her home community of White Bear Lake. It wasn’t much to look at in the beginning, but it had the kind of homey vibe she wanted for her family law practice, and after settling a big case, she enlisted the help of friends and family to transform the interior.

"I had a vision. We built out an all-wood ceiling, put in new doors and painted the whole thing from top to bottom in warm tones. I holed up in the office over a weekend with my best friend and all of our kids, and they got to play office and paint some sections. When you walk in, there are no marble floors or three receptionists in headsets. Instead, there is someone to say hello and offer you coffee. My certifications are on the wall, but it feels like a home. That’s how I want my clients to feel."

This environment sets exactly the right tone for a practice where people come first. Markiewicz’s initial consultation is free of charge, and it is a time she uses to simply sit and talk with clients about whatever is foremost on their minds.

"I want them to bring their questions and give me the opportunity to address some of their greatest fears about the process. It’s all about establishing a bond of trust and bringing their anxiety down before getting to the numbers. Once we get to know each other, I give them some homework that will help us proceed."

A successful survivor of a protracted divorce, Markiewicz knows first-hand what it feels like to sit on the other side of the desk.

"I divorced when my girls were 9 and 5, and I had to go to trial for my kids. I had a great attorney, and I did half of the work myself. I know what it feels like to be a client when your whole life hangs in the balance. That trial is part of the reason I began practicing family law."

Markiewicz offers clients sliding scale fees and payment plans, and she does a substantial amount of pro bono work in her community, including drafting estate planning documents for residents of Pioneer Manor, a senior living complex located just around the corner from her law firm.

"I look at the resources available to someone who is going through a divorce or litigation. It really matters to me that the person I help is able to afford it. It’s also important that they understand exactly what they’re getting into in financial terms. I invest in my clients. As a small-town girl from Michigan, I feel like I have a pretty good read on character and integrity. When a client walks in in need, I’m going to put them on my plate."

While Markiewicz is well-known and much-loved throughout White Bear Lake – the local Starbucks has had her business cards behind the espresso machine for the last 20 years – don’t let her big-hearted ways fool you. Her tagline? "Tell me what you want. I’ll get it." As her firm logo suggests, she’s a tiger in the courtroom, and Markiewicz says she’s "all cat."

"I was born in August. I’m a Leo and a Chinese tiger. As a litigator, I see myself as that tiger crouching in the grass. Over the years, the courtroom has almost become a second home. I still have a little case of nerves before I go in, but it’s all about being a champion for the underdog. I don’t take a case I don’t believe in."

Markiewicz is a tiger in trial, but she maintains a gracious presence in court. She is known for presenting her cases in a straightforward, streamlined manner, and for being well-prepared when the unexpected arises. In addition to family law matters, Markiewicz handles an impressive repertoire of civil and entertainment law cases.

"I love the courtroom," she said. "It’s a great way to advocate by breaking down a client’s case into simple arguments that work."

So, what is the next chapter for Markiewicz? It turns out that when she made her radio appearance, best-selling author, syndicated business columnist and radio host Mark Imperial was listening. His book, "Stress- Free Divorce: Conversations With Leading Divorce Professionals," is the number-one selling divorce book on Amazon. It is a compilation of advice about divorce from experts across disciplines, and Imperial had been searching for two years for the right legal professional to pen the chapter on litigation for the book’s third edition. After hearing Markiewicz talk about her methods for guiding clients away from fear-based, emotionally driven decisions to well-reasoned and strategic dissolutions, he knew he’d found the right voice. He told Alexander, "Get her on the phone."

This opportunity was the fulfillment of a personal dream for Markiewicz, who in addition to being a successful attorney, is a singer-songwriter who has long had ambitions of becoming a book author. When Imperial approached her, Markiewicz had less than a month to write her chapter entitled: "So You’re Getting Divorced." She embraced the project with her characteristic gusto, sat down over Memorial Day weekend and simply spoke from her heart.

"One of the biggest things I see in my practice is all of the issues that come up after the divorce. The decree is the most important document, especially if there are young children involved. If the parties are unrepresented, the potential for problems increases. People often come to me and ask if they can mediate without a lawyer and then hire me to memorialize the agreement. I counsel people to slow down. You can always mediate, but with representation. There are so many complex rules regarding issues like premarital assets, retirement income and tax implications. People can really disadvantage themselves and spend years litigating to correct their mistakes long after the divorce. These are some of the issues I address in the book."

Long recognized as a family law expert in Minnesota, there can be no doubt that Markiewicz is headed for national fame. She is looking forward to this new chapter in her career and the opportunity to speak to audiences around the country about minimizing the lasting negative impact of divorce.

"One of my favorite sayings has always been, ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.’ It led me to open my law practice, to get the cabin of my dreams up north, to run a marathon, and now to write a book. I want to help my clients have the same perspective about life after divorce. I love serving people, and I love seeing them come out on the other side of a divorce in a better place. It is so important to preserve their relationships with their children, pursue their passions and move on to life as a single person. My firm assists in that transition in all aspects, including the purchase of a new home and making certain that their share of the marital assets are invested and growing, whether they are taking on new challenges alone or as part of a new blended family. I find my niche infinitely rewarding."