Warner Norcross family law practice expands to offer years of expertise statewide

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Between Ric Roane, the Warner Norcross and Judd attorney who chaired the firm’s family law practice group since its inception six years ago, and Nazli Sater, its new chair, there is over a half century of experience in helping resolve domestic problems.

And it shows. Both speak with a calm and grounded wisdom about the need to seek positive outcomes for families and not regard divorce or child custody disputes as win-lose situations.

“My work involves entire families,” says Roane. “My goal is to find a resolution to the problems facing the family I’m serving. It’s a less contentious approach.”

Sater, who works out of Warner Norcross’s Southfield office, observes, “It’s very important, if you’re really doing a service, that you help the clients manage their emotional expectations. That’s what makes the good lawyers, they help their clients understand that they’ll get the best results when their emotions are under control and the parties come together and do what’s best for the whole family.”

Roane, Sater, and the other eight attorneys in Warner’s Family Law Practice have just been honored with the the 2014 Corporate International Global Award for Family Law – Law Firm of the Year in Michigan. Corporate International was founded in 2008, and gives the award in each state after detailed independent research and an independent awards panel editorial review. The organization recognized Warner Norcross for excellence in service type, service range, business type, geographical location, how the business operates and the expertise offered.

The appointment of Sater as the practice group chair represented two of the firm’s strategic decisions. The first was recognition of the need to have more women and people of color in leadership positions. “I’m one of the many middle aged white guys here,” Roane says with characteristic humor, “and it was time for a change.”

The other goal was to expand the Southfield offices’s presence; Roane and Sater say that has been successful in terms of family law.

Of the other attorneys in the group, two are in the Southfield office — Lucy Araj and Roquia Draper; Adam Benitez, Daniel Borst, Kevin Dougherty, new associate Racheal Fox and Wallson “Wally” Knack (who himself has practiced law for over 50 years, the last ten years spent exclusively in family law) are from the Grand Rapids office; and Jeffrey Dornbos works out of Holland. Laurie Velzen, a skillful and experienced paralegal who is in Grand Rapids, rounds out the group.

Roane is “co-managing” the group with Sater, helping with the busy practice’s work load as well as serving as her mentor in terms of management.

That is fitting because it was at laeast in part on the basis of the long-term association between the two that Sater came to Warner Norcross.

“We met on the beach in Aruba,” Sater jokes. Roane, saying, “That sounds a little exotic,” explains that it was during a State Bar of Michigan winter family law conference held in Aruba nearly twenty years ago that they first struck up a friendship, though he had known who Sater was even prior to that. They kept in touch off and on and Roane, who has been with Warner seven years, asked Sater to join based on the Southeast area expansion goals.

“We’re going on my fourth year here,” Nazli says, sounding a bit surprised. “The time has just flown.”

Both take a very broad view of the types of activities family law covers. In addition to divorce, complex business and property valuation, and custody, such issues as non-marital domestic relationships, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, grandparenting time, and non-traditional family arrangements are part of their everyday expertise.

In particular, Roane specializes in resolving conflicts around same-sex relationships. “The legal problem is that in prohibition states, if they can’t recognize the marriage, they don’t have jurisdiction to grant a divorce. Quite often couples seeking a dissolution have children, and there’s no legal structure to solve their problems. Right now in Michigan for the most part, they don't have access to justice.”

He himself went to Washington DC  in order to marry his same-sex partner legally. “My husband and I got married on the front steps of the Unite States Supreme Court,” he says. While he emphasizes, smiling, that he has absolutely no inclination to dissolve the marriage, he feels strongly about the fairness issue. “In some cases, same-sex couples can go back to the jurisdiction where they were married, but there are a lot of problems with that too. It really creates an untenable hurdle,” he says.

Speaking to judges in Oakland County, Roane referred to courts in Arizona granting annulments based on the state’s not ever having recognized the marriage. The Oakland County judges have since followed that practice, but Roane refers to that as “a temporary fix.” He expects that Michigan’s DeBoer v. Snyder case making its way through the federal courts will change the way the state views marriage equality.

Roane, who went to the University of Hawaii for his undergraduate degree and received his J.D. from Whittier Law School, has received many accolades over his 26 years of practice. These include receiving Legal Aid of Western Michigan's Michael Barnes Pro-Bono Service Award in 1995, recognition as one of the Top 100 Michigan Super Lawyers in 2010 and as Best Lawyers' 2012 Grand Rapids Family Law Lawyer of the year, and membership in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Sater also has received a number of accolades, including being named a  Top Lawyer in Family Law by dbusiness in 2010, 2012 and 2013. She attended Wayne State University for both her undergraduate and law degrees.

Another area on which Roane and Nazli — as well as the other Warner Norcross family law attorneys — agree  is the use of mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution as part of a package of tools in reaching the best results for their clients.

Sater says, “I think there are incredibly valuable benefits to mediation, the first of which is the mediation process is really a mechanism for parties to control their own futures.”

She adds, “I tell clients, ‘We will walk the extra mile to settle the case for you. That doesn’t mean we don’t know how to fight in court, or are afraid of it if we need to, but it does mean you ensure control of your life and control of the cost process.’”

Sater points to statistics that indicate an increasing trend to settle out of court. In Oakland County, where many of her clients reside, the rate of divorce cases going to trial for 2012 was .35% (24 of 6,931 cases), and statewide for that year 61,851 of 62,632 cases settled out of court, or nearly 99%.

“I was in court about three weeks ago on a motion,” she says, “and one of the judges said, basically, it was so nice to see good lawyers in court because most of the good lawyers end up settling their cases. I think that speaks volumes.”

“That doesn’t take away from the fact you have a wonderful bench, good referees,” adds Roane, who was on Kent County's ADR oversight committee for eight years, “but mediation is much more effective in most situations.

“I’ve been a huge proponent since I was trained over ten years ago. My attitude before that always was to try to have the parties get along and beamicable, but  after I  took the training it really changed my attitude. I started being a solution to people’s problems.”

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