Dan Baldwin 2013-10-25 12:12:11
Serving Peace of Mind with a Cup of Coffee “Cholewka Law is part of a group of attorneys leading the conversation about estate planning and staying on top of the technical and legal challenges that will certainly be coming our way in the future – immediately and in the long term,” says Becky Cholewka, founder of Cholewka Law in Gilbert. “Congress loves to tinker and we have no idea what Congress is going to do next, so serving our clients requires us to stay on the forefront and the cutting edge of what’s coming down legally so we can provide the best solutions,” she says. The current practice areas for Cholewka Law are estate planning, Medicaid and veteran planning, bankruptcy (Chapter 7 and Chapter 13), and uncontested family law. The firm’s mission is “to develop long-term, trusted relationships in the community by providing education, protection, and peace of mind to individuals and families.” Cholewka is assisted by Commander Of All Things Legal, attorney Whitney Paci. The firm’s Director Of Internal Affairs is husband of 20 years Rick Cholewka. Director of Positive Support Bonnie Ristagno is Cholewka’s mother. Cholewka chose her practice areas carefully from a business perspective, but also for personal reasons. Four days aft er his 47th birthday her father died while she was away attending college. Her grandmother had to file bankruptcy when she was in her 80s. And two days before Christmas last year her mother survived a drastic heart attack, which was a frightening experience for the entire family. Her approach to her clients is based on education, but also from personal experience. “I approach estate planning from a different side. I’ve seen it from the viewpoint of how medical powers of attorney and living wills work, and sometimes don’t work, and I’ve seen how they truly affect people.” Divorce proceedings are also challenging for all parties, especially when children are involved, she says. “I off er a way that more productively helps couples going through this situation and I try to keep their communication intact, especially when they have children because they will continue to communicate regarding the kids aft er the divorce. When you go down the road of trial and testifying against each other on the stand, it makes mending those relationships difficult later on. We focus on a different approach and focus on areas that we feel can really help and protect families.” A large part of staying on the cutting edge includes being a member of WealthCounsel – a nationwide alliance of nearly 2000 nationally-recognized estate planning attorneys. “We are a very active group. I am the Arizona Forum leader, so I lead the state chapter of that group. It’s a group that is really staying on the forefront of what is going on, what tools we can use when Congress does all that tinkering, and how we can use that to our clients’ advantage. We’re always coming up with new ideas and bouncing new techniques off each other. My clients not only get my expertise, they get the expertise of that team behind me because we are always learning from those other attorneys.” The Second Career Advantage Cholewka realized she wanted to be a lawyer while in the seventh grade when one of her teachers exposed her to the possibilities available in the world of law. The fact that one of her early role models was Abraham Lincoln fueled that ambition. “He was a self-taught attorney who just wanted to help others. He was a neighborhood attorney who was very trusted and full of integrity. That’s what I wanted to be when I was little. That’s who I looked up to,” she says. Her journey to becoming an attorney took a wide detour while she was an undergraduate and in pre-law. “It took me a pretty long time to get there because I worked for an attorney who was not very professional and I didn’t want to go into such a demanding occupation if it didn’t have professional people in it. So, I got a little turned off .” Her first career focused on fundraising and lobbying. She formed her own consulting firm, which became involved with organizing a gubernatorial campaign and fundraising for nonprofit organizations. She also worked for the Cleveland Indians in the community relations department for a year where she trained volunteers and organized fundraisers for their charity arm. The return to an interest in law involved two events that redirected the course of her life in mid-stream. She was picked for a federal grand jury, which required her presence for three days a month for 18 months. “I spent a lot of time with the federal prosecutors. I realized that there are a lot of good people in the world who are attorneys.” The second event was a visit to her brother-in-law, who was attending medical school at the University of Michigan. She says, “I was sitting on their law quad and I thought ‘I can do this’ and immediately began plans for attending law school. “Right before I started classes I decided that I didn’t want to do this for four years, so I quit my job, went to school full time and graduated in two and a half years. It was full steam ahead.” “I didn’t go back to law school until I was in my 30s. I’m a second career person.” Cholewka doesn’t view her change in careers as a slow start. She sees it as an advantage. “I’d already had my own company. For me, it was a fairly easy transition to being an entrepreneur again and starting my own law firm. As with any new business, there’s a longer startup period. It was an exciting transition from school into working. Since becoming an attorney I have always worked for myself. I’ve always had my own firm. Because this was my second career, I had already experienced different professional environments.” Her team’s experience in the business world outside of the legal profession has proven to be an asset in attracting and holding clients. Paci was a stockbroker for six years before attending law school. Rick Cholewka was an operations manager for 20 years specifically for small businesses. Cholewka says, “Our diverse backgrounds help us have a better understanding of our clients’ needs.” “We Want to Give People Solutions.” Cholewka says, “Going to an attorney doesn’t have to be scary. We don’t want to put any barriers in front of people.” Team Cholewka strives for an office atmosphere that is homey rather than austere. Clients who come in expecting a stuff y and uncomfortable or even a frightening environment soon become comfortable and at ease. “We don’t book an appointment. We schedule time for a conversation. People can come in and talk to us. We’re normal people. Think of us as your neighbors. You’re going to come in and have a snack and a coffee and we’re going to talk. We don’t treat people as if we’re high and mighty or that we’re the smartest people in the room. We treat people like they are our neighbors. I’m very happy with the culture we have created here. That serves people well because they leave here relaxed feeling that ‘It’s OK. Our family is going to be OK.’” Cholewka doesn’t view her competition as other attorneys, saying that her biggest challenge is online reference sources, celebrities touting certain legal services and resources, the hairdresser down the street, and all the easily-accessed misinformation available to the uninformed citizen. “Even when the so-called advice is correct in some situations, it may not matter at all because any given person could be in an entirely different state or facing a different situation and that law or action referenced doesn’t apply. That’s our biggest challenge.” The firm’s team believes strongly that it is important for clients to know that estate planning is necessary and urgent. Some research indicates that almost three-quarters of all Americans have not prepared a will, let alone all the other significant documents such as a power of attorney or a living will. Cholewka sees the problem as one of attitude primarily. “I think the challenge here in America is that estate planning involves a conversation we don’t want to have. We don’t like talking about death. We don’t like talking about losing a child or losing a parent. Just starting that conversation is our biggest challenge.” “We want to make sure we’re not just giving a piece of paper to someone. We want to give people solutions. A plan that actually protects our clients is more important to us than just producing documents that will be ineffective.” Cholewka is passionate about the law, her business, her clients and her family. She is equally passionate about maintaining the proper balance that will allow her to best serve the needs of all four practice areas. “I’m not in it for the big million dollars a year. I’m not a corporate attorney working for someone else. I just want to be the trusted neighborhood attorney. I want to be able to set the tone as to how I meet with my clients and serve my clients. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of that. My passion is to lead a purposeful and positive life, not just accomplish a task.”
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