Get to Know Suzanne Fanning

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By Teresa Killeen
Washtenaw County Bar Association

Attorney Suzanne (Suzy) Fanning earned her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, and the Washtenaw County Bar Association, where she is a former co-chair of the Probate and Estate Section.

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Tell us about yourself

I’m a bit of a nomad. I have four nationalities: British, U.S., Canadian, and Maltese, and this is the sixth country I have lived in. Given my family’s nomadic lifestyle, my sister and I were sent to boarding school in England for 10 years. It was exactly like Hogwarts (without the magic). 

Following school, I attended the University of Bristol in England before coming to Michigan. I have spent the entirety of my 25-year legal career in Ann Arbor. I head an eponymous full-service probate firm. We provide legal expertise in all areas of probate including probate litigation, guardianships, conservatorships, trust and will administration, capacity and undue influence issues, financial exploitation, fiduciary services, and estate planning.

Did you always know you wanted to be an attorney? 

I always wanted to be a lawyer and planned to train to become a barrister in London. However, at the sage age of 22, I decided to have an adventure and come to the States to study law at Wayne State Law School. In the U.K., I never studied any American history and never read the U.S. Constitution before my first day of law school. Constitutional law was obviously somewhat of a challenge.

What area of the law do you like the best and why?

My firm practices solely in probate law and a significant portion of what we do is crisis management. On any given day, we may guide a family after the sometimes sudden death of a loved one, seek emergency guardianships following a medical event, assist families to navigate an elderly parent’s cognitive decline, or seek immediate court intervention to prevent financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. I relish specializing in a niche practice where I am able to work with a knowledgeable court and other accomplished probate attorneys. It is incredibly busy, stimulating, and rewarding.

Tell us a little about your family

I have been married for 25 years to my amazing husband, Rick, who is also an attorney, and we have three divas: Hannah, Isabelle, and Chloe. The girls have memories of sitting in Judge Connors’ jury box when they were little when I had motions and they were on holiday. My two older girls are following us into law. Our youngest is an outlier and is starting at Oregon State University in the fall for marine biology. We have a beloved English standard black lab called Charles Woodson.

What is the biggest challenge facing you as an attorney today?

I find that I have to manage client expectations more so now given the nature of instant forms of communications. I notice more clients text and e-mail outside of traditional business hours and often want instant responses. It’s not unusual for a client to send a text in the early hours of the morning and expect a response the following day without understanding that your day may already be scheduled. One solution that I have found is to schedule standing weekly telephone conferences with clients so that we have an agreed upon regular time to communicate regarding the status of a matter.

How are you coping during COVID-19? 

COVID radically changed the way I think about my law firm. When we were forced to go remote, my firm was able to adapt quickly because we are wholly cloud-based. We continued to be efficient remotely and I found that my employees enjoyed working from home. Two years later, I want my employees to work in a way that brings them the most satisfaction. Those that want to remain at home will continue to work remotely. Those that want to work in the office are coming in on a schedule that works for them. The office thrives because I have happier employees. Zoom has also been a game-changer for me. It can be intimidating for people to come to see an attorney in a law office. I represent clients at a time of loss or crisis. I also frequently represent out-of-state clients. Giving the option of Zoom meetings for clients in the comfort of their own home, or at their convenience with no travel and parking needed, is a no-brainer for me in terms of optimizing client service.

What would your second career choice have been?

I’ve never wanted to do anything else but if I did a job after law, I’d quite like to be the customs person at the airport who gets to arbitrarily rummage through someone’s baggage to see if they have undeclared food and fine them for it.

Any words of wisdom to pass on to new lawyers?

Respect and treat non-lawyers, such as paralegals, administrators and court clerks as professional colleagues, not people who work for you. Non-lawyers who work at the court or in the legal profession are experts in their fields and have more experience than you. Their insights are invaluable and you will find they can make your life so much easier if you understand their value.

What is your favorite book?

I love to read but if I’m in a bookstore, I’m sitting blissed out in a heap of cookbooks.

What are some favorite places you’ve visited?

My family is from the highlands of Scotland and I love returning there. I spent my childhood summers camping near Lake Como in Italy and have wonderful memories of swimming in the lake during thunderstorms. However, our family always pitched our tent at the lowest possible point and it would invariably flood every single year.

When you have a little extra money, where do you like to spend it?

Garden nurseries are like catnip to me. I plan my visits like a military campaign.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

When COVID hit and everything closed, I started walking and didn’t stop. I walk about 7 miles every morning and it is the best part of my day. My husband and I go to the gym most nights to lift weights. I am an avid cook and gardener. I am a voracious reader of louche literature.

What’s the greatest gift we can give ourselves?

Prioritizing mental health. My morning walks are non-negotiable because they contribute so much to my well-being. I schedule meetings around them. Zoom has also helped my mental health. Because of Zoom, I can fit in my morning walk, and in five minutes, change like Superman into my professional attire and be in front of a Zoom hearing from my home office.

If you were creating a time capsule to be opened in 100 years, what would you put inside?

A really difficult Wordle. Let them suffer in the future the way I do now.

Why do you choose to be a WCBA member and what is the greatest benefit you have enjoyed?

I have been a WCBA member since 1997. Kyeena Slater and the WCBA have been a partner throughout my career, enabling me to network and learn from the probate and estate planning section, allowing me to lead fiduciary training for court appointments, offering pro bono and volunteer opportunities and a chance to participate in social events. The WCBA office in the courthouse has saved me on multiple occasions with the use of their computers and printers. The membership fee has paid for itself.

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Reprinted with permission from the WCBA newsletter Res Ipsa Loquitur.





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