Skolnick & Bardwell: The Ties That Bind

When the chips are down, nobody has your back like family. And when life’s challenges require sound legal counsel and aggressive courtroom advocacy, no one will fight harder for you than the attorneys at Skolnick & Bardwell, P.A. This 30-plus-year legacy law firm is a family in more ways than one. First, because its attorneys and staff are united by a common cause — to deliver honest, relentless and fearless legal representation in civil and family law matters. Second, because the firm really is comprised, in part, of extended family members.

A CPA and distinguished business litigator, William R. “Bill” Skolnick founded the firm back in 1989. After a divorce limited proximity to his daughter, Andrea Skolnick, for nearly 20 years, the two renewed their relationship when Andrea left Florida and returned to Minnesota for law school. Although she initially considered a career in academia, she says she finally accepted that her true calling was to become an attorney and work side-by-side with her dad. An alumna of William Mitchell College of Law and member of its last graduating class, she joined the firm in 2017.

“It’s hard to have a long-distance parenting relationship,” Bill says. “For me, it’s been gratifying to work together every day and for both of us to have the chance to really get to know who the other person is, what they think and feel, and how they look at things. Andrea is an incredibly capable attorney who does it the right way. She has a tender heart, and is a zealous advocate nonetheless.”

The firm’s family connections don’t stop there. When you call the office, it is Bill’s daughter, Lisa, who answers the phone, and his niece, Marcy, works as his legal assistant. Skolnick & Bardwell partners Andrew H. Bardwell and Samuel M. Johnson — both seasoned litigators — may not be related by blood, but they are still considered family in a firm where deeply held values and teamwork drive success.

“Our extended family includes our partners and other support staff,” Bill says. “I have two terrific partners in Andrew and Sam.”

“We collaborate across all issues and discuss cases to get insight from each other,” Andrea says. “Everyone brings their own perspective, but we work together as a unit.”

Bill cautions, however, that working with family comes with strict rules about leaving personal issues outside. “At the office, I’m the boss. It isn’t a playground to air family issues. Everybody is expected to do their job and focus on the task at hand.”

According to Andrea, having the family name on the door is a source of pride that inspires the team to bring their best to work each day. “I would argue that being related makes us want to work harder. This is more than just a job. It’s my dad’s firm, and we want to do right by him. We all care about the quality of work we do and helping the team succeed.”

The banter between the elder and younger Skolnick reveals a good-natured “good cop, bad cop” routine that often defines their roles in the legal setting. Bill describes himself as a student of the old school who possesses a “boomer” outlook on life, while Andrea takes what Bill calls a “more holistic” view of the issues. Their respective temperaments suit their practices perfectly and make them both effective negotiators and litigators.

Both father and daughter admit to learning a few things from each other. For Bill, the lesson has been to step back from issues and “appreciate the sensitivities involved. The litigator mindset is to win, but Andrea understands that sometimes a financial win could mean a terrible loss emotionally.”

Andrea says she has learned to act more aggressively from the start of a matter. “Especially in family law, my dad has taught me that delayed action is rarely, if ever, effective in reaching your ultimate goal. For example, spouses are often hesitant to take the step of filing for divorce. It’s brought out the zealous advocate in me.”

It is impossible to tell the story of family at Skolnick & Bardwell without invoking the memory of Amy D. Joyce, Bill’s beloved stepdaughter and former partner who passed away in 2021. Never absent in spirit, her compassionate presence and years of service to clients are well remembered by her family and colleagues. Amy was the firm’s family law specialist and one of Andrea’s principal mentors.

“I assumed on entering practice that I’d do business litigation like my dad,” Andrea says, “but I started assisting Amy with her cases and took a liking to family law. I gravitated to family practice because I enjoy the flexibility and creativity that goes with solving problems effectively for people. I did not get to continue my learning from Amy, but I carried on the practice thereafter.”

“When we lost Amy, we committed to maintaining the same environment with excellent lawyers,” Bill says. “We are fortunate to work in a group where everybody trusts each other, and where the work is both fun and challenging. We chose to keep going and carry on in a fashion consistent with Amy’s high standards.”

Bill and Andrea make a unique contribution to family law cases, since clients often see their future selves in the Skolnick’s relationship. “I think our dynamic brings clients a sense of comfort,” Andrea says. “We serve as an after-picture for divorcing clients who worry if their children will survive it. We give them an idea of what life can look like 20 years down the line. Even after 19 years apart, here we are.”

“Andrea’s right,” Bill adds. “Here we are. There is an outcome in which you can have a healthy relationship with your children and ex-spouse. It takes time and effort, but it can happen.”

The Skolnicks are proof that it is possible for families to work harmoniously together in the law, and clients who enter their offices are quick to perceive the welcoming and authentic atmosphere. “I like to think our clients feel a sense of home, that this is a place where we trust one another, and they can trust us,” Andrea concludes.

 

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