If you’re looking for a family law practitioner with a no nonsense, solutions-driven approach to life and the law, you’ve come to the right place at Priest Law Firm. Jeff Priest’s gritty, down-to-earth style is borne of a life fully lived, making him an effective problem solver in matters spanning divorce, child custody and visitation; support matters; and complex financial issues. He describes himself as “a blue-collar guy in a white-collar shirt,” and his clients love him for it.
Priest grew up in Anderson, Indiana, where virtually everyone worked for General Motors, including his father. His mother owned and ran a local dress shop, and his father helped her with the books. After receiving a rigorous education from Culver Military Academy, Priest joined the United States Army and served as a paratrooper in Panama. Following his military service, Priest faced down a challenging period in his life when he overcame alcohol dependency, opening the way for a successful 13-year career as an EMT-P in the Grand Rapids and Detroit metro area. During a wild ride of managing crisis situations amidst a diverse population, Priest married and had two children. He thought about going on to medical school or becoming a physician’s assistant, but found he didn’t have the required science classes. So, he played to his strengths. “I like to analyze, strategize and argue,” he said, “and I decided I wanted to be a litigator.”
By the time he completed his law degree at Michigan State University, he and his wife had divorced, and she and their children were residing in Michigan. He began working with a boutique insurance defense firm in the Twin Cities, but it didn’t take long for his independent spirit and entrepreneurial roots to kick in. He set out on his own, co-oped space with a few other lawyers, and began building a family law practice.
“There have been times in my life when I needed lawyers,” Priest said. “They were expensive and didn’t have time to talk to me. I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve practiced. I realize that people pay a lot of money for a lawyer and should be given some tangible service for their money.”
Priest has parlayed that philosophy into a successful firm with two additional attorneys and a full support staff, and after 10 years at his Eagan location, he is ready to expand to a second office on the West Side.
“The first associate I hired, Richard Crabb, has been with me for several years and is now an equity partner. He is a good, steady attorney who gets things done. Michelle Horn is a happy, non-confrontational person who is every effective as a mediator. I do the litigation. We work from a team approach here and do a lot collaboratively. It means our personalities really have to mesh. That’s the kind of environment I’d like to maintain as we bring on another attorney, hopefully another litigator.”
“We work from a team approach here and do a lot collaboratively. It means our personalities really have to mesh. That’s the kind of environment I’d like to maintain as we bring on another attorney, hopefully another litigator.”
The strength of Priest’s team practice model is the utilization of collective resources to craft the best possible client experience and resolve cases with maximum efficiency. This approach ensures that clients receive responsive care and costs are kept to a minimum.
“I learned from my mom that you take care of your customers or your business won’t work. As we get bigger, I’m not as available as I once was, and I struggle to maintain that balance. The team model helps, since someone is typically on hand to talk to a client and get them what they need.”
Priest’s 13 years as a paramedic honed his abilities to think on his feet and manage stress. “Being a family lawyer isn’t all that different. You enter people’s lives at a moment of crisis, and instead of managing it for 45 minutes, you manage it for six months to two years. This is a helping profession. I tell almost every client to think of it as a transition rather than a crisis. In order to transition them from point A to point B, I need to know what point B looks like. Where will the kids be? Who will see them? How will you pay for two residences instead of one? It’s all going to happen one way or another. I think this conversation helps to put things into perspective and ease the adversarial nature of many of the clients.”
Further, Priest recognizes that there is often an emotional disparity between the parties, with the initiator of a divorce feeling more empowered and the other party feeling more like a victim. “Having frank conversations and setting reasonable expectations from the beginning is a good way to manage clients’ perspectives and reduce conflict later.”
Priest’s diverse background makes him highly relatable to clients from all walks of life. He is now remarried and raising a young family with a multicultural heritage.
“It helps keep me connected to my cases. When somebody comes here and says they have a 9-year-old, I know their child is in the third grade, and I know their development and how a 9-year-old acts. I understand out-of-state parenting, co-parenting and regular parenting from experiencing all of them.”
While having a family of his own helps him connect with those he represents, it also poses a challenge in terms of maintaining personal balance.
“My clients are happy because they know I care about their case and what happens to them, and I’m not afraid to take the steps necessary to advocate for them. It’s a work in progress. I recently bought land up north where there’s no cell phone service and nobody around – just me and the deer for the weekend. My wife is from Thailand, and we built a house there. We go at least once a year, and I can unplug for a period of time. It’s great for the kids to hang out with their family and spend time knowing their culture.”
Priest’s practical, insightful approach to the practice of law delivers straightforward solutions to some of life’s most complex problems.
“When I go in to court, I think about whether we are going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Judges like solutions, and so do the people who hire us. We’re here to take care of people and give them the best help we can.”