When attorney Katie Merkel was earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, the law was not on her radar.
She believed her future was in medicine, until her involvement with an on-campus legal advocacy group coupled with a volunteer experience at a national political convention introduced her to a career path she had never considered. She switched her major to political science and went on to earn her law degree from William Mitchell College of Law.
Family law drew her interest from the beginning. “I think it is because it’s so personal,” she said. “Rather than dealing with transactional parts of the law, I enjoy working closely with a person whose life is being impacted by every aspect of the legal process. I’m not a therapist, but I like having a holistic, big-picture approach to my practice. I start by having a client tell me what they want the result of their case to be, and then we talk about what we can do under the law, and what we might expect the outcome to be.”
Two childhood lessons instilled by her parents remain with Merkel to this day: First, no matter what you do, put forth your best effort. And, second, never underestimate the value of a connection.
Merkel earned the respect of her peers and mentors as she began her legal career working first as a mediator for a nonprofit organization and then clerking in Hennepin County Family Court. Her conscientious performance and collegial relationships opened the door on an invitation to join Henschel Moberg Goff P.A.
Today, she is a firm shareholder and a skilled adviser in family law matters spanning dissolution, post-dissolution, child custody, and division of business and financial assets.
“Landing here was entirely a product of the connections I had made beginning in law school. It mattered a lot to me to be around good lawyers in a firm known for integrity and a high-quality work product, and also to be in a place with opportunities for growth. I feel so fortunate to have found all of that here.”
Merkel’s people-centered, solution-driven approach makes her a strong proponent of alternative dispute resolution. “One of the first things I discuss with clients is ADR, and for so many reasons. Sometimes, litigation is the only way to go, but the process is tough on people emotionally, mentally and financially, and there are no guarantees about the result. I try to hone in on what they’re looking to accomplish and then provide options that will lessen the pain without compromising effectiveness. It’s important for people to do a cost-benefit analysis before running out the door and stirring things up.”
A busy wife and mother of three, Merkel said she loves being a mom, but doesn’t pretend to lay claim to the mythical concept of work/life balance. Instead, she focuses on just being in the moment.
“It’s so easy to think about what is happening next as opposed to what is happening now. Being stuck in what’s next is exhausting and I found it to adversely impact other areas of my life. I’ve recently discovered a love of gardening and refurbishing furniture. These newly acquired interests allow me to totally check out and refresh, and they are things my girls love doing with me.”
Merkel was elected a shareholder just this year, in the middle of her third pregnancy. “As a woman, I think it’s normal to feel nervous about taking time off mid-career to have a baby. It was not an issue here – everyone has been completely supportive.”
The standards Merkel was raised with and the importance she places on her own family inspire her determination to be an effective, compassionate family law practitioner. “I come from a small town in Wisconsin, and I was brought up to understand the importance of hard work and treating people well. I feel like those are the values that have helped get me where I am today.”