Monday Profile: Karen Senelbach

 Karen S. Sendelbach is a shareholder in the firm of Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach & Buiteweg, PC, an Ann Arbor firm devoted to family law. Sendelbach has practiced family law for twenty years, and she enjoys teaching students and mentoring lawyers. She is AV ranked by Martindale Hubbell, and has won many honors, including “Hour” magazine’s “Top Women Attorneys in Michigan.”

Sendelbach focuses her practice on providing mediation and arbitration services, as well as providing traditional client representation and lecturing and teaching on legal and family law topics. She is also an active community member.
Residence: Ann Arbor.
Currently reading … “Museum of Extraordinary Things” by Alice Hoffman. My book club makes great choices.
What is your most treasured material possession? My wedding ring. I love the symbolism of the unbroken circle. And my family pictures; my husband takes beautiful pictures of our children and has chronicled their lives in a way I will always cherish. I would also rush into a burning house to recover at least one quilt that my mother has handmade for me.
What advice do you have for someone considering law school? Contemplate why you are considering a career in law. Do you want to help people, be a problem solver, protect people’s rights, advocate for the disenfranchised, or be a part of the solution? If so, law school is a great choice. If you simply want to make a lot of money and have a prestigious career, there are better choices out there. 
Favorite local hangouts: Soccer fields and swimming pools, as my children are enthusiastic athletes and I love watching them compete. I also love my summer time at the Huron Valley Swim Club.
Favorite websites: Amazon! It has made my life so much easier. I also spend a lot of time on Facebook; it is a great way to keep in touch with my friends all over the world. And is a favorite, too.
What is your happiest childhood memory? It’s hard to choose just one memory, I am lucky to have had a happy childhood. I have fond memories of spending time in Charlevoix during the summer with my family, floating on rafts, eating fudge, and catching perch from the dock.
Which things do you not like to do? I become easily frustrated with people who value form over substance. I hate to empty the dishwasher; it is my least favorite household task. Math homework is also not on the top of my “fun” list.
What would surprise people about your job? My clients are fascinating, inspiring, and fun people. They make the work that I do fun. We laugh every day at our office, we really enjoy the people with whom we work and care a lot about each other.
What do you wish someone would invent? A universal emergency card that parents could simply forward to every school, camp, team, and activity in which their children participate, so that we don’t have to fill in hundreds of lines of the same information in 5 point font fifty times a year.
What has been your favorite year so far? Every year gets better and better!
Does your job ever make you pessimistic? Only for moments; sometimes I am so disappointed in a parent’s behavior when I know they have so much potential for better choices in them. Overall, I am encouraged and motivated by my job — I see so many people so committed to their jobs, to their clients, to improving our system of justice, to doing right by their kids – that is motivating and refreshing.
If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be? Beyoncé. It would be really fun to be able to sing and dance like that, even for one day. 
What’s the most awe-inspiring place you have visited? Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is impossible for me to imagine how a building like that was constructed in the 13th century. The human ingenuity and capability required to accomplish that task with the tools available at that time is awe-inspiring.
If you could have one super power, what would it be? The power to see the future. It would make risk-assessment so much easier.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self? Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintain a reasonable pace so that you don’t burn out.
What one thing do you wish people knew about your work? That most people can solve their own problems if they work with a committed mediator. Most clients have a lifetime of experience doing complex things without a lawyer at their side – they have raised families, built businesses, compiled tax returns, accomplished impressive educational achievements, purchased or built homes, all sorts of difficult and complicated tasks. They certainly are capable of mediating a reasonable solution to their family’s issues if they are appropriately supported and educated.
What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer? I was very proud to be elected by my peers to lead the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Section. The Section leaders are an impressive and enthusiastic group of attorneys doing important work, and I enjoyed my work as chair of the Section.
What is guaranteed to make you laugh? My husband. He is very funny and can always make me laugh, even when I am grumpy and I am trying not to laugh. Christopher Guest movies are also guaranteed to make me laugh.
Must-see TV: “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.”
What’s your biggest regret? I can’t think of any. Okay, I wish I had purchased Apple stock in high school. 
What word do you overuse? “Yes.”
What’s one thing you would like to learn to do? Play piano and learn how to garden. Professionally, I would like to learn more about the Probate system.
What is something most people don’t know about you? I have shot a hole-in-one (on a real golf course – not mini-golf!), and I am a Cub Scout den leader.
If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? Marian Wright Edelman, the leader of the Children’s Defense Fund and the first black woman admitted to the bar in Mississippi; Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Bill Gates, for his work on world health issues with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I am inspired by leaders of impact advocacy organizations. 
Can’t-live-without technology: My laptop and my iPhone. I also love my TiVo.
Does anything worry you? Yes. I worry about the global will to act as responsible stewards of the environment. I also worry about our democracy, in particular the power of corporations, the disenfranchisement of large segments of society, the polarization of our politics, and the integrity of our elections, primarily regarding campaign finance. And I will always worry about my children.
What was the greatest compliment someone ever paid you? I have had a few clients who have told me that I changed their lives. That is very powerful and humbling. And to everyone who has told me that they believe in me – that is a great compliment, and your words have mattered a great deal.
Favorite Quote: I have two. The first we have taped up in the work room at my office because it is so relevant to our practice:
“I have come to the frightening conclusions that I am the decisive element. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a person humanized or dehumanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they (could)…be, we help them become what they are capable of being.” Goethe.
The second is the Cub Scout motto: “Always, always do your best.”
What’s the best advice you ever received? As a lawyer, you can take responsibility for the quality of the work that you perform and for your legal judgment, but you cannot take responsibility for the outcome of the case, whether good or bad. From Katherine Barnhart, a legal mentor: “You are more powerful and capable than you think you are. Do hard things.” From my parents: “Don’t’ lie in bed and worry about doing something. Just get up and do it!”
What do you drive? A Buick Enclave. I can’t exist without relying on carpooling.
What would you drive if money were no object? A Buick Enclave. I love it so much that I just purchased a new one, which is exactly the same as my old one. I also would love a Vespa to drive by myself.
Favorite place to spend money: Bookstores and Williams-Sonoma.
What is your motto? Laugh every day. Recognize and appreciate the love around you. Always, always do you best.
Where would you like to be when you’re 90? Anywhere my family and friends are. Hopefully they will pick someplace warm, near water.
What would you like carved onto your tombstone? “Beloved wife and mother, devoted friend, tireless advocate for justice.”

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