Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Mary Anne Vance: A Balanced Life

Profile / Mary Anne Vance: A Balanced Life

March 2019 Bar Bulletin

By Jennifer Payseno

Super Lawyer®, teacher, author, wife, mother, business woman, speaker, volunteer, dancer, mentor, and “a really good cook.” Mary Anne Vance has always been able to maintain an amazing balance in her crowded life.

I caught up with the highly regarded Seattle, estate-planning attorney, who is employed full-time at Reed Longyear Malnati and Ahrens in an of counsel capacity, and learned more about her remarkable life and career.

Mary Anne comes from a line of strong, socially involved women. Mary Anne’s grandmother, Marcella Cunningham, ran a successful and substantial Iowa farm business with the help of her sons. She began each day with the Wall Street Journal delivered to her remote farmhouse.

Mary Anne’s mother, Dorothy Cunningham Vance, was a Madison County, Iowa, farm girl who raised chickens and showed horses during World War II. Dorothy married her childhood sweetheart, Walter Vance, who, after World War II, flew as a captain for United Airlines. The family moved to Chicago, where they raised Mary Anne in the suburb of La Grange.

Dorothy stressed service to others as the highest goal in life. She volunteered to run events for the church and the school. While she was observant of religious rules, she also stood up to the administration when she did not agree with its policies. When the school decided it was improper to have dance classes, Dorothy took matters into her own hands. She hired a dance hall and instructor on her own and ran a successful program, ensuring children were given the opportunity to engage in social activities.

Dorothy was a powerful early influence on Mary Anne. From her mother, notably, Mary Anne learned the importance of service and inherited a sense of personal obligation to her community and career.

Mary Anne grew up attending Catholic schools. Accordingly, she started her higher education at a Catholic college in Denver. But having only been educated by nuns, she wanted to try something different. She was granted permission to attend a nine-month program at the Institute for American Universities at Aix en Provence, which was associated with the University of Marseille.

Returning to the Midwest, she enrolled in Drake University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She then attended Harvard summer school to study social issues and modern theater plays, making Harvard her fourth college in four years.

Law was not Mary Anne’s first choice as a career. She was initially drawn to the field of politics and worked for Gov. Dan Walker in Illinois. For two years, she worked on consumer protection and women’s issues. She spoke at public meetings, wrote legislation and undertook consumer investigations, such as checking the expired date of grocery store milk.

Through her work with the governor’s office, she met another female aide who had decided to go to law school. This piqued Mary Anne’s interest and she followed suit, enrolling in Northwestern University School of Law.

In her last year of law school, Mary Anne met her husband, Mark Jaffe, now assistant chief industrial appeals judge for the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. Mary Anne and Mark have been married for 34 years and have one son, Michael Jaffe, who is a technical recruiter at Twitch, an Amazon subsidiary.

Mary Anne always thought she would work in legal aid or government service, but the government policies of the 1980s made such jobs scarce. She found she could also be of service by representing private clients and helping them with their wills or home purchases.

Driven by a desire to help others, it seems natural that Mary Anne was drawn to estate planning. She is grateful that her clients give her the opportunity to help them at difficult times, such as the passing of a loved one. In an Avvo review, one client referred to her as “an angel in my time of sorrow.”

When Mary Anne started her legal career, there were far fewer women in the legal field and they were treated differently than their male colleagues. She recalls appearing in court with a male client and finding the court reflexively directing communications to her client, as if he were the attorney. Examples of subtle and hostile acts of sexism at work abounded.

Knowing that the atmosphere around professional equality would take years to evolve, Mary Anne became interested in how women attorneys were learning, instead, to define their own circumstances and control their own image in the law.

In 1981, Mary Anne wrote an article entitled, “Women: Transition into the Legal Profession,” for a special edition of the Washington State Bar News that was dedicated to women attorneys. The article began by noting how the stereotype of a woman attorney had changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. Once regarded as radical feminists, female lawyers in the ’80s were increasingly viewed as subdued, businesslike professionals who deemphasized their gender. Noting the irony, Mary Anne wrote, “The disconcerting fact is that the conservative appearing, understated women were once the same ones who were the controversial feminists.”

Through interviews with many women lawyers, Mary Anne explored how this shift in perception had occurred through the evolving self-
determination of female professionals, even though the traditional discriminatory setting persisted.

Mary Anne wrote, “In none of the interviews did any of the women say that the causes of their anger had disappeared. Rather, they spoke of how they had rid themselves of their anger so that they could be more effective lawyers and happier human beings. They spoke of dressing in conservative, masculine ways so as to downplay their sexuality: and of not thinking about situations or comments which would have made them angry before.”

She continued, “Sexism, instead of ‘the problem,’ has become only one of the many problems of the world. And women lawyers appear to have focused on the areas which they can control in their professional and personal lives.”

Looking back on her article nearly 40 years later, Mary Anne notes, “I was surprised and somewhat saddened to read my article and realize that women still face discrimination in the law, especially in the equity partnership ranks, even though there are so many more women practicing.”

She adds, “Seeing a photo of so many female congressional delegates wearing white at the State of the Union speech had me thinking, ‘What is old is new.’”

Mary Anne balances and prioritizes her physical and mental health by staying active. In law school, she started taking ballet to manage stress and found that it lifted her spirits enormously. She has kept up with dance ever since by taking a class at least three times a week. She also frequents the West Seattle & Fauntleroy YMCA with Mark, working out six mornings a week. In the summers, she finds joy in paddle-boarding and kayaking on Hood Canal where they own a cabin.

Mary Anne has been on the board of the West Seattle & Fauntleroy YMCA for eight years. She is particularly proud of the major capital campaign that was successfully completed a couple of years ago. She has served on the boards of several arts groups, including On the Boards, which invests in contemporary performing artists. When her son was in school, she was on the board at the University Child Development School in Seattle and the Major Gifts and Endowment committees of Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (“SAAS”).

Throughout her career, Mary Anne has dedicated time to the KCBA. In the 1980s, she served on the Judicial Evaluation and Bridging the Gap committees. She also spoke at CLEs, primarily on transactional real estate issues. In the past decade, she was part of the Membership Committee, chair of the CLE Committee and served a term on the Board of Trustees. She has also volunteered on several short-term committees, such as the Awards Committee.

In having her own practice, Mary Anne explained how instrumental her involvement and membership with KCBA have been for her. She was able to continue her desire for service and was able to build her practice by advertising through the KCBA Bar Bulletin as a solo practitioner.

Mary Anne has the friendship and respect of her colleagues in the Washington bar. She remains close with five classmates from law school: Holly Hill, William Bailey, Ralph Hurvitz, Kelby Fletcher and Geoffrey Groshong. They continue to get together several times each year.

When Mary Anne and her family came to Seattle, she joined the law firm of MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless. While working there, she met Ester Greenfield, with whom she has remained close friends.

Greenfield explains that Mary Anne has an entrepreneurial spirit with legal talent. She says, “Mary Anne embodies the concept of work/life balance. Her balanced life includes service to others and she truly cares about getting to know the people around her.”

Mary Anne met family law attorney Cynthia Whitaker through the Washington Women Lawyers Association in its early days.

“Anne Ellington, Margaret McKeown, Melanie Rowland, Deb Fleck, Sharon Armstrong, were all active in starting the organization. We decided to start a WWL Newsletter. Our first issue was October 1979. I was editor for the first three years and Mary Anne was ‘Lois Lane,’ or ‘Regular Contributor’ as we designated her in the Newsletter,” Whitaker said.

Mary Anne’s specialty in the WWL Newsletter was writing profiles of notable women. Those featured included Dolores Sigbona, a candidate for City Council; Judge Betty Fletcher, who had just been appointed to the Ninth Circuit; Kate Millett, who had just been expelled from Iran and was invited to the country by Iranian feminists for International Women’s Day; Mary Kay Barbieri, who was head of the King County Prosecutor Sexual Assault Unit (the interview was “celebrating” the first anniversary of the unit in December 1980); Kathleen Taylor, head of the ACLU; and Carolyn Dimmick, first woman on the Washington Supreme Court.

Of her colleague and friend of more than 40 years, Whitaker says, “She is a consummate professional: thorough, knowledgeable, and caring. She is also a lot of fun and a really good cook.”

It’s no surprise that Mary Anne has received the top honors of her field, being named a “Super Lawyer”® by Washington Super Lawyers®, one of Seattle’s “Top Attorneys” by Seattle Magazine, and a “Top Lawyer” by Seattle Met Magazine. A frequent speaker and author on estate-planning issues, she also co-authored the “Probate” and “Estate Planning” chapters of Butterworth’s Washington Civil Practice Deskbook.

Considering her enduring career and practice, I asked Mary Anne what advice she would have for other lawyers starting their careers. She recalled advice she was given by Ken MacDonald when she was just starting out. “He stressed the importance of having personal contact with opposing counsel,” she said. “Go and meet with the attorney in person. You want to get to know them and for them to know you.”

Mary Anne has continued to follow this advice throughout her career. She dedicates time to building and maintaining friendly and productive relationships with opposing attorneys and everyone she meets. Through it all, she remains purposeful, dedicated and grateful.

“In the end, we are all people trying to do good,” she says. “As attorneys, we all have the same desire of wanting to help others. I am an unremarkable human being who has benefited from the kindness of many people. Being able to continue doing the work I love with a group of attorneys I admire is a joy.” 

Jennifer Payseno is a partner at McKinley Irvin and first vice president of the King County Bar Association.

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