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Hannah Wince: Building a career in her hometown

Wince

By Tony Hooker
VILLA GROVE–Hannah Wince really didn’t see herself practicing law in her hometown while she was attending the law school.

Through a combination of fate, timing and, as so often happens, the intercession of a family member, that’s where the 2013 cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois Law School finds her self today. I recently sat down with Wince to discuss her career, her family and what it means to be a lawyer in the town where she grew up.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up right around here. My parents live in rural Camargo, and I attended Villa Grove schools from pre-school through high school.

When did you graduate?

I graduated in 2006. 

Wince is your married name?

Yes, my name was Hannah Smith, growing up. My dad is Dave Smith, who owns the Pioneer Seed dealership on the east side of town.

When did you know that you wanted to become an attorney?

Probably not until the middle of college, actually. I went to Eastern for undergrad, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I remember my senior year, Mrs. Pangburn was my English teacher and she said, “I think you should be an English major and then go to law school.” I kind of tucked it in the back of my head, and I think it was near the end of my freshman year or the beginning of my sophomore year that I decided to officially declare an English major and a pre-law minor, and I haven’t looked back since.

Where did you go to law school?

I went to the U of I, so I’ve pretty much just gone up and down 130 my whole life! <laughs>  

Is it what you thought it would be?

Mostly. I don’t know what I thought it would be when I first started law school, but from my second year on I clerked for an attorney, so then I actually knew what practicing law was like.

What’s it like, coming back to practice law in your hometown?

It’s really fulfilling. I always joke that basically all my clients my first year were either people I knew or former teachers. It’s really nice, the people are glad to have us here. It’s nice to do things to help people out. I mostly do transactional law, so it’s things like getting wills done or estates handled, or real estate, so it’s things that people need to have done. There’s usually not a whole lot of arguing in court and people are happy when they leave. They either get money or keys, so it’s a good deal! <smiles>

You don’t do much in the way of criminal law?

I don’t do any criminal law. I used to do some family law, but I don’t do any family law any more. I do a little bit of work in court, when the court appoints me for juvenile cases. I do some guardian ad litem work, which is when there’s an adoption and a neutral attorney is appointed to go meet with the family and make sure it’s in the best interest of the child. I end up in court sometimes, but mostly it’s a lot of real estate closings and will signings.  

So there has been a transition of sorts, recently. Would you like to discuss that?

Yes, sure. Chet is still here, but from the beginning we had a handshake agreement where he would let me come in and practice law very inexpensively to start out, which was wonderful of him, but the idea was that eventually the ownership of the building and more of the expenses would transition over to me. We’ve always been separate, solo practitioners, so really the day-to-day operations haven’t changed at all. My husband and I bought the building last month, and I’m now officially Wince Law Office, LLC (7 North Main St., Villa Grove). There will be a sign going up on the front of the building at some point. <laughs> I have contacted the sign company, but I haven’t heard back from them yet. I’ve been so busy with client work that we’ve done what we needed to do for the transition as it comes up. We’re going to do some cosmetic things in the fall. The building has good bones, but we’re going to do some painting and new floors. These books that everyone love are probably going away. <laughs> I almost regret that they’re going away, but I never use them. They’re all online now, and I need to look at the most current statute and not the one from the 80s. They look really cool, and some of them are historical. We’ll create a special place for those, but we’re going to free up a little space.

Do you want to talk a little bit about your staff?

Our one staff member is Crystal. She’s been here two years longer than me, since 2011, and she’s wonderful. Law offices don’t run without their secretaries. Crystal does a great job of keeping us organized. Chet is in and out a lot, and I’ve got a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old, so I’ve really been in and out a lot, and Crystal’s done a really good job of keeping things running while we’re not physically here. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about your family. You’ve got two children?

I have a 2 1/2 year old named Lilly, and a little boy who (was) four months (Saturday), and his name is Isaac. 

What’s your husband’s name?

His name is David and he’s from Homer. We’re really turning into a Villa Grove family, because he now works at the bank, right across the street.

Do you travel for work at all?

It’s pretty localized here in Douglas County, but I do travel to Champaign County on occasion. I’m not sure how this happened, but I’ve kind of ended up doing a lot of work in the Homer/Broadlands area, especially for real estate. Pretty much all of my clients are word of mouth from somebody else, so it’s one of those things where you help someone from Homer and then other people hear about you, so I’ve branched out over there. I have an estate (client) in Piatt County, once in a while I’ll do some things in Vermillion County, and I’ve gone to Macon County, but it’s mostly right around here. 

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, right?

It’s nice to hear that someone liked us enough to give someone else our name.  People are very excited to have “their” attorney, and to be able to make a recommendation.

What’s your day-to-day like?

A lot of emails. That’s one thing I didn’t realize, how much the practice of law was emailing people. A lot of phone calls. I am coming in a little later and leaving a little earlier right now, trying to spend a bit more time with my little ones, but I start checking my email at seven and don’t stop until five. There’s still a lot of work being done. You can hold a baby and hold a smart phone in the other hand! I do have a lot of client appointments. Mostly I do estate planning, estate administration and real estate. I do a lot of will signings here in the office. Closings aren’t usually here, they are usually at a bank or title company. We are very glad to have the Tuscola title companies that recently started doing closings, so we don’t have to go to Champaign quite as often. 

What is your favorite part of your practice?

I really like it when something that we’ve been working on for a really long time gets done, and you can tell that the client is relieved and happy, like when we were worried about a real estate closing and everything went through OK and everyone has good feelings at the end. Everyone always dreads doing their estate planning so it’s really nice to get it signed and know that they’re walking out of here, relieved that it’s done! <laughs> I love being my own boss. It’s really nice to make my own schedule. If I need to go home to be with the kids, I just do it and don’t ask anyone. It’s really engaging work, and it’s fulfilling work. It’s really nice when the checks get written to me! <laughs>  

What’s your least favorite part?

Sometimes there are things that I can’t solve. Maybe it’s not that they’re unsolvable, but it’s a problem that I don’t do, and I can’t. That’s the worst, when someone has a problem that there is no good way to fix, or when the way to fix it is really expensive and they weren’t planning on it. That’s the worst part, telling people no.

What advice would you give to an aspiring attorney?

They should definitely work in a law firm before they’re done with law school. We joke at closings and will signings that in law school they don’t tell you how much time you’re going to spend making sure that you have the initials right. There are a lot of little details that you’re going to learn, and it’s not going to be anything like what law school is like. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of phone calls and emails. It’s good work. At the U of I, everybody wants to go to Chicago, and they don’t realize that down here, there’s a lot of work to do and the bars, especially in these smaller counties, are a lot older and they’re going to want to retire. There’s a lot of really good, fulfilling work. If there is someone who wants to go to court, there are many opportunities in these smaller towns, and you don’t have to be from there. Most smaller towns are really accepting, especially when you’re providing a service that they need. Law school isn’t made to do the nuts and bolts of legal practice, there are a few classes where they’re trying to do more, but law school really hasn’t changed. For those first-year classes, it’s nice to know some of the terms already. 

What’s the future of Wince Law Office?

Wince Law is planning on staying right here. I don’t want to speak for Chet, but I think he’s planning on staying here for a while. We have a really good setup here, and we want to keep it. I’m not totally opposed to having someone else in the practice someday, but I’m not looking right now. There are a lot of benefits to being a solo. It’s also nice to have a backup, as well. We’re going to stay right here doing what we’re doing. We try really hard to keep on top of things for clients.  

Is there anything you would like to add?

I should probably share the story of how I ended up here, because it’s the most small town, Villa Grove story ever. I was in law school, and my grandma (Sally Morris) is really good friends with Chet, and just happened to mention that “My really smart granddaughter is in law school right now. What are you going to do someday with your practice?” Chet and I set up a meeting for Christmas break, my second year, and we talked about how I would come into the office, he would clear out a room and refinish a desk for me and we would both kind of hang our own shingles. We had a handshake agreement, and it was comforting knowing that I had a job waiting when I graduated. I also would like to add that I clerked for John Phipps in Champaign, and he’s been a wonderful mentor. From working with John, I knew how it works, and that I could do it. I learned how a law practice runs. There are little things that you don’t think about like what kind of letter to send with your bills and how to keep track of your time, so I was lucky that I knew how to do things like that when I started. I graduated in May of 2013, took the bar at the end of July, got married ten days later, got my bar results in October, got sworn in the last day of October and got started here on November first!

That’s quite a compressed timeframe!

It worked really well for us, but I don’t know that I would recommend getting married ten days after the bar exam! <chuckles>

How did you meet your husband?

We met at Eastern. He said, “You’ll never know where I’m from,” and he told me, and I said, “We’re in the same conference!” 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just that my clients are wonderful about family. Everyone totally understands any kid things. There are pictures of my kids everywhere, we’re definitely not hiding them, and everyone always asks about them. I represent a lot of people who are doing things for their families, and they definitely appreciate that we all have families too.  

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