Team effort: Legal assistants bring years of expertise to area law firm


 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Kay Michael wanted a career that would make a difference in people’s lives, where she could assist in solving legal problems, work with attorneys, and help to create legal precedent through court decisions.  
She got all that, in spades.
Michael is a legal assistant with The Meisner Law Group in Bingham Farms; and even after 28 years on the job, she finds every day to be filled with new, exciting challenges.  
“The firm has always been progressive and cutting edge in its specialty, pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box,” she says. “It’s thrilling to be part of a legal team and working side by side with brilliant attorneys, my long time friend and co-worker Teresa Duddles, and other legal assistants. 
“Bob Meisner has always employed the brightest and the best legal talent, and I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with many great legal minds over the years, even helping campaign for one of our aspiring attorneys seeking a judicial seat on the bench,” she says. 
“When there was a drastic downturn in the economy a few years back and many firms were laying off legal staff and/or closing their doors, The Meisner Law Group further honed its specialty and focused on the changing and growing legal needs of its escalating client base—not only surviving the economic downturn, but expanding office space and legal staff.”
Michael’s niche is creative drafting and amending governing documents for condominiums, homeowners and community associations. She enjoys meeting with directors and officers of an association, learning of problem areas, reading and drafting new customized master deeds, declarations, by-laws, articles of incorporation and rules and regulations. And she finds it rewarding to spend months—or even years—working through the entire process of drafting documents, submitting them to a vote of the owners, making presentations to the owners at meetings to help them understand the amendments and governing documents, meeting with the boards of directors, working with mortgagees to secure their votes, facilitate the recording of the documents with the County Register of Deeds and/or filing others with the State of Michigan.
“The pinnacle is presenting the association client with a beautiful new Current Document Booklet to serve the community well for many years to come,” she says. “Knowing that so many problems can be avoided or solved through a good working set of governing documents is motivation by successfully leading the client through the many obstacles and challenges they face in the amendment process.” 
Michael also has been the office administrator at Meisner since 2007, and has enjoyed participating in the firm’s growing success.  
“I’ve created a team concept to join members of the firm with like co-workers for mentoring, support and cross training,” she says. “I’ve developed firm-wide protocols and job descriptions which guarantee the successful handling of enormous caseloads, and the successful and timely completion of assignments and court imposed deadlines.” 
She added another feather to her cap several years ago, when Bob Meisner asked her to teach attendees at the annual United Condominium Owners of Michigan (UCOM) about the need to amend their condominium documents.  
“Although I was naturally nervous, I quickly realized the attendees were eager to learn and understand this vital information,” she says. “I loved being able to share my years of knowledge, experience, real life stories, and my expertise with so many directors, officers, managers, owners, attorneys and others who were eager to make a difference in their community associations.”  
She now speaks throughout Michigan at educational and firm-sponsored seminars, to boards of directors and to the members of community associations. “The attendees’ good questions and gratitude is always heart warming and why I continue to lecture and teach,” she says. 
Educating clients and the public about condominium and community operational needs is a significant part of the firm’s practice niche. Michael has assisted Meisner in researching, writing and editing hundreds of articles, speeches; and co-authored the popular booklet:  
“Getting Started and Staying on the Right Track” and the upcoming second edition of the well-received book: “Condo Living: A Guide to Buying, Owning and Selling,” due for release by the end of this year. 
“I really enjoy my work keeping the firm’s social media current and the constant posting of tweets, blogs, Facebook and website updates and notifications about changes in the laws, current events, Bob Meisner’s insightful thoughts and concerns, legal guidance, news alerts, and launching our new video conferencing system,” she says.
A graduate of Lahser High School in Bloomfield, Michael has an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Oakland Community College; a two-year legal assistant diploma from Oakland University, an ABA approved curriculum; and a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University in integrative studies with a minor in human resource development. 
A member of the Legal Assistants Section of the State Bar of Michigan, she has served as vice president and regional director of the Legal Assistants Association of Michigan (LAAM). 
“I particularly enjoyed meeting colleagues from other law firms, helping to coordinate educational seminars, and establishing a growing network of bright legal assistants to serve as resources to each other and to newly degreed legal assistants across the state,” she says.  
Michael’s 25-year-old son, TJ, is a digital media specialist completing his BFA at Kendal College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids; and her stepdaughter, Kim Saffran, lives in Chicago with her husband and new baby.  
In her leisure time, Michael enjoys running, yoga, landscaping her yard, entertaining, cooking, and meeting friends for coffee, dinners, music and events. Volunteer activities have included her son’s early school activities, YMCA Indian Guides, Boy Scouts, 6 years of teaching religious education to 2nd and 7th grades, speaking to high school and college students about career planning, and serving with LAAM. 
“I’ve always found that volunteering my time to fill the need at hand has been as fulfilling to me as the need it serves,” she says.
Legal assistant Teresa Duddles is another long-time employee; she has been with the firm for 23 years, and focuses on Condominium/Community Association assessments collection including lien, litigation and foreclosure, condominium/community association bylaw enforcement, critiquing and assisting in the preparation of condominium documents, condominium document amendments, drafting of Rules and Regulations for Associations, and intricacies of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy filings as they relate to Condominium/Community Associations.
“Collections is a difficult area to work in—not everyone can be successful,” Duddles says. “You have to be able to listen to people and work patiently through their problems. Kindness goes a long way when working with people when they owe money. It bothers most people to be in debt and they tend to want to work it out. 
“It’s most rewarding when I’m contacted by a debtor after everything has been resolved and thanked for being gracious and efficient. When this happens, I tell the debtor I can’t imagine being otherwise!”
A member of the Legal Assistants section of the State Bar of Michigan, Duddles was elected into a two-year term as a council member for the section.  
“I enjoyed being with other legal assistants and sharing information on new case law, stories, frustrations, and successes, as well as being involved in decision making for the Section,” she says.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University and interning as a probation officer, Duddles found the career field lean because of government budget cuts. A test offered at MSU directed her interests into the more defined field of law; and after some research she learned the legal assistant profession was booming. Working as a secretary at MSU, the university paid for her classes at Lansing Community College classes; Duddles graduated from the Legal Assistant Program, Phi Theta Kappa (with honors) while working full time at MSU.
Duddles enjoys working for The Meisner Law Group, albeit at a distance from her satellite office in Suttons Bay on Grand Traverse Bay, where her two sons are in high school and junior high, and her husband heads up the residential mortgage department at State Savings Bank in Frankfort
“Meisner has such a team environment that leads to a cohesiveness that is really nice to work in,” she says. “The associates are extremely knowledgeable, successful, and reliable, and Mr. Meisner has such a wealth of knowledge and has the gift of thinking outside of the box to resolve matters.  He’s a wonderful person to work for. Kay Michael, our ‘rock,’ keeps ‘Team Meisner’ at its best.”
Duddles’ interests and volunteer work revolve around family, and her sons’ school and sports, and she has coached youth soccer for years. After her sons are both out of school, she will likely look again to the Legal Assistant Section to seek election as a council member.
“I’m indeed fortunate that I’ve been able to attract and retain two extraordinary legal assistants who have helped our firm grow and prosper for so many years, and who continue to contribute to providing our clients with the type of quality service and expertise they expect,” Bob Meisner says.