A former paralegal at the law office of Minnich, Comito & Neu returned there in early July to begin her career as an attorney.
Kelsea Hawley, originally from Osceola, joined the law office a few weeks ago but long has been involved in law and knows the members of the firm from her years as a paralegal.
Hawley described the law office as being like a “family,” with anyone willing to answer any questions she has.
“They’re very helpful; they’re basically the reason — I always knew I wanted to go to law school, but never thought I would ever actually get in,” she said. “You always hear, ‘Oh my gosh, law school, how did you do that? You really have to focus on your grades,’ and that kind of stuff. After coming here and working as a paralegal for three years, they really kind of let me get into the nitty gritty of some of the cases and work on discovery and all of that.”
Hawley graduated from Iowa State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, through which she created a combined course of study in criminal justice and sociology.
“My husband is originally from Vail and his dad owns an insurance company, and so now he’s working there,” she said. “We knew we wanted to be back here in a small town, and after working at this firm for three years, I knew that I wanted to come back here and work with these guys. We all got along really well, and I just wanted to be back in Carroll and Crawford County.”
She met her husband Jace Hawley while at Iowa State and they moved to Vail in 2013, and she briefly worked as a sexual assault victim advocate at a family crisis center before joining the law office as a paralegal. She graduated from Drake University Law School last December, took the Bar exam in February, and found out in April that she passed it. She joined the law office earlier this month.
Her time in law school saw her driving about four hours every day, commuting from Vail to Des Moines. She said she put 115,000 miles on her car and was pregnant with her first daughter during her first semester of law school — she had her “about two days” before her first semester ended.
“And so she was about a month old when I took my first law school exams,” Hawley said.
Hawley now has two daughters, Acelyn, 2-and-a-half, and Maevry, 3 months.
“And then I was pregnant with Maevry while I was studying for the Bar and taking the Bar, so it was a lot,” she said.
She said she balances work and family life just like “anyone else.”
“My husband is very helpful, he is definitely Mr. Mom,” Hawley said. “We get up early in the morning and have breakfast and then they go to daycare and I come into work and then we pick them up at the end of the day. A schedule is definitely key, keeping them on a routine so they’re not crazy, but it’s hard sometimes, especially when they have doctor’s appointments or that kind of stuff, but my husband and I get out and these guys are pretty good about letting you take time off to be with sick kids and that kind of stuff.”
While neither of her parents are attorneys, Hawley’s mother is a secretary at the police department in Osceola, and her stepfather is the chief of police there.
“I guess growing up with parents in law enforcement, you talk about it all the time,” she said.
Asked what appeals to her about small-town life, Hawley said you know pretty much everyone in a small town.
“You can walk down the street and have a conversation with whomever,” she said. “You can walk into a restaurant, and people treat your kids like they’re their own.”
In terms of what kind of law she will be practicing, Hawley said she intends to mostly do family law.
“So divorces, custody, adoptions, that kind of stuff,” she explained. “And then criminal, indictable offenses, OWIs, domestic assaults, drug offenses, that sort of stuff, and then I am also going to get on the court-appointed list for Crawford and Carroll County as of right now and handle court-appointed juvenile matters.”
She said the prospect of working with families is what appeals to her about that branch of law.
“For a lot of them, it’s the worst experience they’ve ever had,” Hawley said. “They come to you for a divorce and they never thought when they got married that they’d be getting a divorce or that they’d be fighting over their kids, so people are super emotional and it can be the worst times of their lives, and I just want to be able to help them through that and know that the legal aspect doesn’t have to be as challenging as they think it does with someone on their side.”
Hawley said a lot of aspects of her job have been slowed by the pandemic.
“In terms of getting into the courtroom, and cases in general,” she said. “I mean, a divorce normally takes 90 days — well, there’s a 90 day waiting period; it normally takes longer than that — but even now, if you have to go to court, it’s probably going to be longer than that, because they’re so backlogged right now.”
Hawley said she is looking forward to being busier when things return to more of a semblance of normalcy.
“Definitely getting more clients, keeping busy; the guys here have given me a lot of work to do, so that has helped,” she said of what she’s looking forward to in the future. “I guess getting to know all the other attorneys in town; right now it’s kind of hard because some of the offices are locked down, I would say — they aren’t really seeing people. Normally there’s a Bar Association Christmas party and stuff like that, but I don’t know if that will even happen this year due to the pandemic.”
You can’t go up to the clerk’s office right now and introduce yourself and shake people’s hands, she added.
“That’s been hard for me, when people come in the door, not to stand up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Kelsea,’ and shake their hand” Hawley said. “I’m looking forward to things being normal.”