Attorney Profile Cindi A. Spence

Cindi A. Spence

Helping Families Through Crisis and Change

By Haley Freeman

A solo practitioner with a distinguished family name, Cindi A. Spence continues a legal legacy begun nearly a century ago by her grandfather, Thomas J. Spence, and sustained through the next generation by her father, Thomas W. Spence. With nearly two decades of experience in her own right, Spence helps Minnesota families meet the legal challenges posed during some of life’s most trying circumstances. Spence has carved out a niche practice, focusing almost exclusively on guardianship and conservatorships for the elderly and developmentally disabled.

Spence earned her business degree from Creighton University, thinking that she would depart from family tradition and pursue a career in accounting. However, she found that a career in law held an unexpected appeal, and she went on to earn her Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota School of Law in 1996.

After clerking for Wright County District Court Judge Bruce Douglas, Spence joined a small firm in Buffalo, Minnesota, where she later became a shareholder and managing attorney.

Her years of experience working for a general practice firm in a relatively small community provided Spence with opportunities to practice in many areas of the law, representing in both transactional and litigation matters.

About four years into her career, she represented a man who believed that his 90-year-old father was being exploited by his much younger caregiver, a woman who had convinced his father to change his estate plan to include her.

“I filed a petition seeking guardianship and conservatorship for the elderly man,” Spence said. “The case was extremely contested, so it presented interesting challenges for me as a young attorney. The case was also being closely watched by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which was investigating the caregiver for potential criminal charges.”

Spence won at trial, where a guardian and conservator were appointed. The caregiver was later charged criminally by the attorney general’s office.

“This case sparked my passion for guardianship and conservatorship law,” Spence said. “I am passionate about this area because I feel like whichever side of the case I am on, I am truly helping families and individuals in crisis. I have represented all of the players in these types of cases – the family member who is petitioning to have a guardian appointed, the elderly or disabled individual over whom the guardianship is being imposed, as well as the guardian or conservator (who sometimes is not a family member and is instead a neutral professional).”

Spence began her own firm in June 2010. “I went out on my own because I wanted the flexibility to run my firm and focus my practice in the way that I wanted. Leaving the security that comes with being in a firm with other lawyers – in terms of financial security and having the support of other lawyers and staff on cases – is scary. But I knew that for me, it was the right thing to do. And I have loved it. I remember talking to someone as the one year anniversary of being a solo attorney approached and telling that person, ‘I have seriously loved coming in to work every single day for the past year.’ How many attorneys can say that about where they work? I feel very fortunate.”

Spence describes her father, Thomas W. Spence, as “the greatest influence on my career. I would not be the lawyer, or the person, that I am today without him. He officially retired from practice the year after I was admitted to the bar. However, he continued to do pro bono work on the North Shore and served as of counsel to my law firm for several years.”

Having her father as a sounding board, ethical touchstone and mentor has been invaluable. “Throughout the last 18 years, when I was faced with a challenging case, I would call him and run the particular situation by him. He always knew exactly how to handle it. I still call him frequently to share things about my cases, but more often than not my calls are now telling him how I’m handling a certain situation. And I love hearing him say, ‘That’s exactly how I would have handled it.’”

In a practice where she deals regularly with families in crisis, Spence’s attention to her own work-life balance is crucial to her success. Her children, Meghan, 17, and Carter, 16, are her greatest priority, and she describes them as “young adults who I am extremely proud of.” Three years ago, Spence met Scott deVillers, who “shares the same passions and outlook on life that I do. It took me 41 years to find the love of my life, but it was worth the wait.”

Spence is also an avid runner, who started running marathons in 2008 and finished the infamous Boston Marathon in 2013. “I crossed the finish line 12 ½ minutes before the bombs went off and was still in the finisher’s chute – less than two blocks from the finish line – when the explosions occurred. Being a part of the chaos and terror that surrounded the finish line that day is something that I will never forget.”

That extraordinary experience, combined with a perspective borne of her close proximity to her clients’ tragedies and challenges, has had a profound impact on Spence’s outlook. “It made me realize how precious every moment is, because things can drastically change in just one second. It has caused me to take more risks. I don’t want to be in a nursing home someday wishing I’d done things differently – realizing I didn’t take the path I really wanted to in life.”

Today, Spence has the satisfaction of knowing she chose the right path in her life and career. “No matter which side I’m representing, I feel like I’m adding good value because my perspective is not limited. I’ve seen matters from all sides. I feel that my experience, knowledge, passion and compassion are helpful to my clients and others involved in a guardianship action. It is a very rewarding area of the law that I truly love.”


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