Kristen Hall finds the bright side in family law disputes

    Kristen Hall, the founder of her own law practice, is in the business of problem-solving and mediation. But more importantly, she’s in the business of helping families heal — and that’s the way she wants it to be.

    Hall, the sole proprietor of Hall Mediation and Law, says she practices law with a “servant’s heart.” Focused primarily on collaborative divorce and estate planning, Hall knows how to manage conflicts and understands how emotions can get in the way of the decision-making processes.

    “The niche I’ve gone into is helping people resolve conflict so they can still have a relationship afterward,” Hall said. “Because it’s very hard to do that, whether you’re going through a divorce, whether you’re fighting who is going to take care of your elderly parents. That process in itself has a lot of collateral damage.”

    That approach stems from her personal tribulations.

    Hall grew up in Des Moines and graduated from Roosevelt High School. She attended Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and graduated in 1993 with a degree in communications. She then worked with her father in the family business for a couple of years. In 1995, Hall went to law school at Drake University; she graduated three years later.

    But that’s when times started to get tough.

    In 1999, Hall’s mother — just 61 at the time — passed away suddenly. A year later, Hall had a son who was stillborn. In 2001, her daughter was born the day after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2002, Hall’s grandmother died. Her second daughter was born in 2003. It was a hectic period for Hall and her family, to say the least.

    “All of that on top of each other,” Hall said. “It gave me a very good understanding of grief and how it affects how we think and react. It’s very easy to get stuck in crisis mode, and that’s not a good place to make a decision.”

    Hall stayed at home with her children for 10 years before starting her own practice in 2011. She knew she wanted to avoid traditional family law. She didn’t enjoy the constant conflict. She wanted to be a peaceful mediator, especially since these issues leave lasting and sometimes damaging effects on families.

    Twenty-five years before Hall’s mother died, she was diagnosed with an incurable condition. Because of that discovery, Hall’s mother lived a mindful life and was open about what should happen after she passed. Hall considers those conversations a blessing and encourages those discussions in her practice.

    “We would have these very awkward conversations of what she wanted,” Hall said. “And as strange as those conversations were when they happened, we never doubted what she wanted us to do when she died. That was a gift, in hindsight. That’s why I try and help families to have those tough conversations. It’s easier when you have that neutral facilitator.”

    Hall is the sole owner and operator of her practice, but she is a part of a central Iowa collaborative group that includes other divorce attorneys, mental help professionals and financial experts. She is also grateful for the support she receives from NAWBO Iowa, which she joined in 2013 after attending the Women Mean Business Summit. 

    “It is a tremendous resource,” Hall said. “I have found other women and resources I can trust. As my business grows and I’ve met new challenges, I know where to go for answers. I know people who can help me, even though it’s a tricky conversation because you are admitting you don’t know something. Having a place where you can ask questions and you know people won’t judge you is valuable as a solo practitioner.”

    A Culture of Comradery Part 3: A commitment to the mission, leadership and alignment

    NAWBO Iowa has a rich history of empowering and assisting women business owners in the state. From humble beginnings in 1986 to becoming one of the fastest-growing NAWBO chapters in the nation today, the organization has grown and morphed to serve women leaders in many positive ways. This is the third and final installment of a monthly series telling the beginnings of NAWBO Iowa and the years since.

    Part 1: Energy, enthusiasm and success

    Part 2: A roller-coaster ride

    After several years of inconsistency within NAWBO Iowa, some of the more dedicated members of the organization knew something had to change. There were peaks and valleys in revenue and membership. There wasn’t any sustainability.  

    In 2011, a pivotal moment shifted the organization in the right direction.

    After a previous president was relieved of her duties, Lynn Schreder (KHI Solutions), T. Waldmann-Williams (TWW Consulting) and Pam Schoffner (PS Writes) became tri-presidents. They all wanted to pursue the mission of bettering NAWBO Iowa and setting a solid foundation. The new leadership, with Lori Day (FocusFirst, Inc.) joining a couple years later, kicked off a crucial period in NAWBO Iowa’s history, a period that brought the success the organization sees today.

    For Schoffner, the change was a long time coming. A member since the inception of the organization in 1986, Schoffner stuck through the hard times because she believed in the mission. The patience came to fruition with the extreme dedication of leadership, board members and committee members in the years following 2011.

    “We continued to have problems getting dedicated members,” Schoffner said. “We were only as strong as what our board was, and we had weak leadership. Then the three of us came in together, and we knew we had to get this working.

    “I stayed around all this time because I was waiting for a time when I thought we had the strength and the passion of the people to keep with it. With T. and Lynn, then Lori later, we suddenly had those people in leadership.”

    Something had to break

    Schreder was already familiar with NAWBO before coming to Des Moines in 2009. She worked with the organization while with AT&T in Minneapolis, which was a corporate partner. So when Lynn started her small business, KHI Solutions, she immediately turned to NAWBO Iowa as a support network.

    “I could tell something was special was going on,” Schreder said.

    But she noticed a disconnect between the organization and its mission. NAWBO Iowa needed more dedicated board members, new policies aimed toward sustainability and a better network with community leaders and policy makers.

    “We tried to strengthen our board with the types of people who were committed to the same things we were,” Schreder said. “It was elevating what NAWBO Iowa actually was to the right people”

    Another big reason for NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround was the first two “State of Women-Owned Businesses” reports released by American Express Open in 2011 and 2012. The studies, which sifted through all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranked Iowa 51st, the worst state to be a woman business owner.  

    “You could see that poor ranking, and it was time to do something on a larger scale,” said Day, who joined the organization for a brief time in 2003, then rejoined in 2012. “It was time to find a solution to make our state better. We tried to beat the drum a little bit to help us grow.” 

    Waldmann-Williams and Schoffner transitioned out of the presidency during the next few years, and Day was named a co-president with Schreder in 2013. Under their leadership, the NAWBO Iowa board and its committee members stepped up and drastically changed the organization’s foundation. It was a massive undertaking, but one that needed to be done.

    Mission and vision

    When Day talks about what fueled NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround, she continuously points to one thing: Staying true to the mission.

    NAWBO has a powerful and captivating mission: to create a network of women business owners and advocate on their behalf. Iowa has more than 87,000 women-owned businesses, which makes the mission all the more important. That had gotten lost in the years prior. Going forward, any new programs, events or discussions had to revolve around the core message.

    “We had to stay true to the mission of the organization,” Day said. “It’s a fabulous mission, and we didn’t want to stray from it. If it doesn’t fit with our mission, we don’t do it.”

    One of the biggest changes came via NAWBO Iowa’s bylaws. In 2009, a co-presidency policy was implemented, and it was extended a few years later to board members. Each board position could be headed by two or three people. This took some of the burden off board members, who were running businesses of all sizes themselves, and allowed more women to pick up the slack.

    The presidency role, which is usually shared by two or three people, was a sparkling examples of just how well co- or tri-chairs could work.

    “Lori and I couldn’t have done all of this change alone,” Schreder said. “We could only do it together. Today, that model has been well recognized nationally, too.”

    To bring some stability into the organization, board members were allowed to continuously serve over a period of years, giving members the means to complete long-term projects. It also ensured consistency.

    A couple of years into Day’s and Schreder’s tenure, they implemented one of NAWBO Iowa’s most recognizable events: the NAWBO Iowa Celebration of Excellence.

    Before 2014, the organization gave out several awards in several categories at a monthly meeting. But NAWBO Iowa wanted to create one event special for all women business owners — one that would engage community leaders and recognize women-owned businesses. In 2014, NAWBO Iowa held its first awards event, handing out three awards: Advocate of the Year, Women Business Owner of the Year and the Hall of Fame Legacy Award. Every year, the event welcomes more than 250 attendees and sponsors.

    “The awards were incredible for the visibility and the momentum for all women business owners,” Day said. “It quickly became our largest event and became our largest fundraiser. The whole point was for the world to stop and, for that day, everyone would celebrate women business owners.”

    During NAWBO Iowa’s shift, it also created regional satellite teams in the state with the goal of reaching out to metro and rural markets, a unique challenge in Iowa. The satellites use NAWBO Iowa’s website, registration system, communication channels and other infrastructure pillars, but still operate on their own with a committee.

    Currently there are two satellite teams — one in Central Iowa and another in eastern Iowa — with plans to add more. The NAWBO Iowa satellite model has been used for other chapters across the nation.

    “The benefit is they don’t have to build an organization from scratch,” Day said.

    Success rolls in

    With consistency, dedicated board members and a progressive structure, NAWBO Iowa, which switched its name from NAWBO Central Iowa a few years ago, has grown tremendously in the past few years, adding new members, partners and programming. But it took a couple of years to notice a change while the new leadership caught its bearings.

    “It took a couple of years to see us growing,” Schoffner said. “But in the past three or four years, it’s been incredible. Our corporate partners have stepped up. We have more resources. We’ve added programs, and they keep growing.”

    Day said she noticed a changed when there were more corporate sponsorships joining the organization. NAWBO Iowa was also retaining members at a greater rate than before.

    “I could also see it through the talented and wonderful people on our board and committees,” Day said. “It’s just amazing what can happen with you bring together smart people with a clear vision and mission.”

    The organization’s hard work has been recognized. In 2018, NAWBO Iowa was recognized as the fastest growing mid-size NAWBO chapter in the nation, an award it won in 2014 and 2015. It was also tabbed as the mid-sized chapter with the highest member retention rate.

    In just five years, from 2011 to 2016, NAWBO Iowa tripled its membership, an incredible feat that speaks to how much work the board and committees put in.

    “I’m just thrilled. I couldn’t have more joy,” Day said. “I’m proud of the contributions and respect of women business owners and the sisterhood that comes from that community. We had board members and committee members step up many, many, many times with their time, talent and expertise.”

    NAWBO Iowa’s turnaround over the past seven years has created a strong foundation for the organization’s future. New co-presidents Kendra Erkamaa and Kathryn Towner, who took over for Day and Schreder in 2018, have a strong support system to work from.

    “I couldn’t be more excited,” Day said. “We’re going to get a lot of strength from them and from the board, and I think we’re going to continue to grow.”