Batzer starts solo practice after two previous careers in the law

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WMU-Cooley recent graduate Christine Witt, left, stands with solo attorney Sherry Batzer in the downtown office of Batzer Law PLLC.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

New solo practitioner Sherry Batzer has the experience of two previous legal careers behind her, one in municipal government, and one as a law school professor.

After a stint in a county attorney’s office in the state of Wyoming where she went to law school,  Batzer worked as corporate counsel for Kent County for over 10 years.

She followed that with nearly seven years at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, but her job there ended in the staff reductions necessitated when Cooley became part of Western Michigan University in 2014.

Though she has no complaints about either career path, Batzer says she always was drawn to the idea of being her own boss.

“When I?found out I?wasn’t going to be working at Cooley, I applied for a few government jobs,” Batzer says. “But then I started thinking, I don’t know that I want to get back into that. I’ve always been a very independent worker. It’s not that I’ve had horrible bosses, not at all, it’s just I?work better on my own.”

The tell-it-like-it-is, down-to-earth attorney adds, “I?really don’t like micromanagment.”

In that regard, she praises the County Administrator, Darryl Delabbio, who is soon to retire. “I was hired by someone else but he came on a few months later. We talked about my position, and I asked him how he might want to change it. He told me, ‘Go out and serve the clients.’ I was basically able to define the job.”

At the time, Batzer was the only attorney serving all the county’s needs, though of course they hired outside counsel for specific matters. She asked for an assistant and was fortunate enough to hire a woman who had a J.D., even though the position was something akin to a paralegal. Later, when the county added an assistant counsel position, that woman moved up, and now is one of two assistant attorneys under Batzer’s predecessor.

Raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Batzer, whose father was a newspaper editor, got her undergraduate degree somewhat later in life. She eventually ended up doing independent study at the State University of New York Empire State College, and received her B.A. in Journalism and English Studies.

She worked for an ad agency and  for the Easter Seal Society, but she wanted something more. Faced with the decision about getting a master’s degree in English Literature or law school, she considered the career options and chose law school.

“I’m not really a classroom learner, so I wasn’t sure, but I took the LSAT and did well enough, but I had to pay for it myself. I was actually born in Wyoming, and the University of Wyoming was cheaper for out-of-state residents than New York was for in-state, so I decided to go there.”

She then clerked for a judge in Wyoming and practiced there for about 12 years, handling civil cases in the county attorney’s office.

But along the way Batzer had adopted a daughter, and wanted her to grow up in a more diverse area, so she started looking in Michigan, where she had relatives.

While at Kent County, Batzer says, she was involved in a variety of legal matters where she felt she made a difference.

For example, she was instrumental in changing the Grand Rapids Police Department’s policy regarding medications for inmates. Tragically, it took the death of a man with developmental disabilities to bring the policy into question. With approximately the comprehension level of a five-year-old, the inmate was also subject to seizures. After a few days without his meds, he had one that resulted in him dying at the hospital.

“I just thought, whatever we’re doing we’re doing it wrong, so I proposed a different policy. They were originally quite resistant  - no one likes change. But after looking nationally and thinking about it, we esablished an entirely new policy, where they need to get their medications within 24 hours. From that time forward nothing like that ever happened again,”?she says.

Another of Batzer’s successes involved partnering with various department heads to “drive out of town” a group trying to pull of a retirement scam. “Those are things you could be proud of doing,” she says.

Batzer resolved many other interesting situations, involving discrimination, religious freedom, and transgender marriage, among other things.

She loved her job, and was not looking to leave it when she heard that WMU-Cooley was looking for adjunct professors in 2008. Thinking that sounded fascinating, Batzer wound up joining the faculty full-time.

There she continued her efforts to improve communities, drawing on her previous experience. She started a clinic to give legal assistance to local units of government, which she says the municipalities really liked. She also worked in a clinic in town that helped mentally disabled formerly homeless people with their legal issues.

She also serves on the board of the Legal Assistance Center, for which she is a staunch advocate, based upon a request by Cooley Associate Dean Nelson Miller as his term ended.

In addition, while at Cooley, she met Christine Witt. A Muskegon resident, Witt also decided to go to law school later in life, after a career as a paralegal.

Witt, who is taking the bar this month, now clerks for Batzer Law PLLC. And because of that, Sherry Batzer has solved one of the problems solo attorneys face: how to continue the practice and ensure continuity for her clients.

Though Batzer is not ready to retire yet, and will not be for several years, current plans are for Witt to work with her when she passes the bar and take the practice over when the time comes.

Batzer says that her worst challenges in going solo have been in the area of technology. Witt intends to help her set up a website and do other types of outreach.

But the small firm has not suffered for business. Batzer says that she has streamlined costs on services such as wills, setting up a power of attorney, and other estate matters, and has a lot of clients seeking her services. Most were drawn from the pool of people she already knew through her two careers, as well as from Witt’s contacts, but all has been through word of mouth.

Another challenge came when Batzer offered her services to local municipalities. She discovered that most are locked into contracts. She will, however, be the hearing officer for City of Grand Rapids license and permit appeals.

Batzer tried working out of her home in Rockford, but agreed with Witt, who had researched the subject, that attorneys with office space actually make more money, despite the added cost of rent. The firm took a small office space in the suite of attorney Patti McKenney, with whom Batzer had worked over the years.

Batzer is happy that she will now have time to pursue yet another pursuit. “One of my life desires was to write, but I’ve had such a busy career I couldn’t.  I’m actually finally working on a book now,” she says happily.

 

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