Michelle Wolfenden always thought she’d be an English teacher.
“I was an English major, and I though I’d end up as an English professor,” Michelle said. “The job market in that particular field, at the time that I was graduating, was horrendous. So, I thought, I’ll give it a try — I’ll apply to law school, and I got into every school I applied to. Once I had figured out that, okay, even if I go through law school, and I can’t find a job, I could open my own practice.”
Looking back, she has no regrets. Michelle opened the Wolfenden Law Firm nine years ago. The firm moved into its current location at the corner of Orangeport and Brewerton roads in 2016. The location, Michelle said, is perfect, as it’s close to her home and her children’s school, and it allows her to offer counsel to people she knew growing up.
“I grew up within walking distance [of the office],” Michelle said. “To come back to my hometownand practice has been an absolute privilege.”
Michelle said she never realized how much she could help people as an attorney until she was doing it.
“I get to help people that I know personally in some of the best and worst parts of their lives,” she said. “You know, new couples buying their first home is always wonderful. We had one of those yesterday, and then at the end of the day I was helping someone that I know very well prepare their estate who has a terminal diagnosis. It’s a real privilege to be a part of people’s lives through that, through the highs and lows.”
The Wolfenden practice focuses on real estate, as well as business law and estates. Michelle said she gravitated toward real estate early in her career because she was “not great at confrontation” but she ended up loving that area of the law.
“People are really all trying to come together to make a deal happen,” she said. “When you’re representing a buyer or a seller, you get what’s called an Abstract of Title, and it’s a lot of fun. You get to see the history of the property and the area and you start to recognize the same families that own these huge farms, so I guess, part of it is the historical piece. Then, the other part is, for most people, that’s the biggest investment they’ll ever make, so that’s a huge part of their life that I can help them through.”
It’s not always easy — Michelle has two kids ages 8 and 10, and her husband works as a physician’s assistant.
“Obviously time management is a huge issue for me, trying to figure out how to be present in my kids’ lives and still give my clients what they need and meet the demands of a growing practice,” Michelle said. “I mean, once we put a sign up here on the corner, business exploded. Getting clients through the door is not the issue, it’s making sure that I can give them the attention and the time that they deserve.”
Fortunately, she has help: a legal assistant, Brianna Zelinsky, who helps with the real estate files, and Michelle just hired a paralegal to help pick up the slack—a necessary addition, as she hopes to expand her practice in the future, especially in lender representation.
“I do have some support, and I absolutely couldn’t do this job without them,” she said. “I always say good legal support will make or break your practice.”
At the end of the day, however, Michelle said it’s her name on the sign, and as hard as it can be sometimes, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “Honestly, it’s such a privilege to be able to use your training to truly help people.”
Michelle encouraged other women in law or considering a career in law to expose themselves to as many branches of the law as possible and to find a good mentor. She also urged female practitioners to go out on their own.
“Don’t be afraid to hang out a shingle,” she said. “There’re so few women who do what I did, who actually open up their own practice, because they’re worried about demands on family and ‘Can I really do this? Is this sustainable?’ But, the women that I know who have done it, we all say the same thing. We would never go back… This is a very, very fulfilling field if you do it right.”
The Wolfenden Law Firm is located at 9517 Brewerton Road, Brewerton. Michelle Wolfenden can be reached at [email protected] or (315)288-1885. Learn more at wolfendenlaw.com.