Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Jennifer Payseno: Taking the Reins

Profile / Jennifer Payseno: Taking the Reins

July 2019 Bar Bulletin

By Sands McKinley

This month, Jennifer Payseno becomes KCBA president for the 2019–2020 term. She assumes her role as leader of the state’s largest voluntary bar association at a pivotal time for all Washington lawyers. A time during which voluntary bar associations and their members will orient to a new order, perhaps starting with a few simple (or not) questions:

“If we are formally or effectively disenfranchised from representation through the WSBA, who will keep us forthrightly informed, who will advocate for our interests, and who will hold rulemakers and their regulators to account?”

I’d be hard pressed to imagine a more committed, tenacious and effective advocate for a cause undertaken than Jennifer Payseno. Although Jennifer is and has always been committed to the KCBA’s mission, her focus as president will be on us, the members, and the future role of voluntary bar associations in our state.

For the past 24 years, Jennifer has represented clients in complex divorce and family law matters, primarily within King County. Because she’s been my law partner for 20 of those years, I’ve had the great fortune to observe from the front row.

She gives her clients everything she’s got in every case (and she’s got a lot), while maintaining her cool, her honor and her ethics without compromise. When the heat is on, as it always is in family law, or when her client is falling apart, she simply lets nothing distract her from the needs of her client or the case. This laser focus is reflected in the results Jennifer achieves. It’s a thing of beauty.

Cynthia Whitaker recalled a trial she had against Jennifer: “I have vivid memories of two things, her tenacity and her high heels. She was the height of professionalism (awful pun intended), which I and the trial judge appreciated. Since then I have noted her dedication to our profession, which I also admire very much. I know that she will serve us and KCBA very well as president.”

Ted Billbe shared the following: “I have worked over the years on numerous divorce cases with Jennifer. As with many family law cases, the cases I’ve had with Jennifer have often presented unusual fact patterns and unusual legal issues. Jennifer and I have not always agreed on our respective assessment of the cases, but Jennifer has always been open to having frank discussions focused on trying to find solutions rather than just litigating. I always look forward to working with Jennifer.”

For nearly as long as she has practiced law, Jennifer has faithfully served KCBA in various leadership positions. At the end of each term of service, she simply said, “yes,” when asked to serve again. Her bar service started as a trustee for the south King County bar association. She ultimately became president in 1998. She was then asked to be a KCBA trustee representing south King County, during which time she was asked to start the Federal Way legal clinic. Of course, she said, “yes.”

When Jennifer’s term as a KCBA trustee ended, she was asked to return as treasurer. Steve Rovig was KCBA president during the second year of Jennifer’s term as treasurer. He recalls: “In that capacity, I got to see up close the talent, integrity and dedication that Jennifer brought to the job. Needless to say, every penny of KCBA’s funds was properly accounted for on her watch!

“And of personal importance to me, Jennifer always managed to be upbeat and energetic even as she balanced the demands of her career and her life outside of KCBA. In fact, I cannot recall a meeting when she and I did not manage to share a laugh as we moved through the agenda. I am so pleased that Jennifer has agreed to serve as KCBA’s 2019–2020 president.”

After Jennifer’s term as treasurer ended, she was asked to serve as second vice president, which essentially meant she was committing to eventually serve as KCBA president.

On top of her Board of Trustees tenure, for years Jennifer has served on KCBA’s Judicial Screening Committee, which rates judicial candidates for both the public during elections and for governor appointments; and the Judicial Conferencing Committee, which provides judges with reviews of their performance on the bench. Jennifer has also won, on more than one occasion, KCBA’s unofficial “Random Acts of Kindness” award.

Anne Daly, director of KCBA’s Pro Bono Services program, recalls: “I first met Jennifer through KCBA’s Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee about 12 years ago. We then served on the Board of Trustees from 2011–2014. I’ve always been impressed by her calm and unflappable demeanor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her be short or terse with anyone. That being said, she definitely has a strong presence and commands the attention and respect of everyone in the room.

“In my many experiences with Jennifer, she has always made the complex understandable; has demonstrated an incredibly strong work ethic and has infused the room with a positive attitude. She has a great sense of humor; is inspiring and approachable. She will be a fabulous leader for KCBA.”

Jennifer’s life started in Roseburg, Oregon, where she was born. Her dad was in the flooring business, and the family moved around as opportunities presented themselves. From Oregon, Jennifer moved to Federal Way as a kindergartner. At the end of elementary school, her family moved to Chattanooga, a stone’s throw from Dalton, Georgia, aka, the “Carpet Capital of the World.”

Jennifer always had an interest in the law. She graduated from Georgia Southern University with a pre-law/political science degree, which was a prerequisite to attending paralegal school in Atlanta. Her first law job was as a litigation paralegal for a construction-defects firm in Atlanta, where she worked as the sole paralegal on a single, massive case for five years, involving more than 1,000 depositions and rooms full of exhibits, all of which she had to summarize, recall, and manage before and during trial.

Jennifer recalls this as a rich learning experience, which led to her love of litigation. She also assisted in interviewing, hiring and training young associates, which made her realize she knew substantially more about the practice of law than they did. For all these reasons, she decided to go to law school.

She returned to the Seattle area and received her law degree from the Seattle University School of Law, where she chaired the Moot Court Board. After graduation, she began practicing family law and never looked back. Soon after, she married a great guy, Gordon. In 1999, Jennifer joined McKinley Irvin and shortly thereafter became a partner.

As an adversary, Jennifer is tough as nails, doesn’t suffer fools, and will force her opponents to bring their best game, all of which is rooted in her sincere compassion for her clients and her principled commitment to the art of advocacy. As a leader or team player there’s no fussy ego to manage.

She’s at once composed and witty, thoughtful, collaborative, and eager to add value to the mission or task at hand. As a friend she’s loyal, discreet, easy-going, and tons of fun. (Did I mention she’s a great disco dancer?) To her husband and family (both human and canine) she is completely devoted. There’s just nothing not to love about your new KCBA president. 

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