by Maggie Burch
Seventeen years ago, Michelle Behnke stepped away from the legal career she had known, working at a mid-sized law firm in Madison then serving as in-house counsel to CUNA Mutual Group, and started her own firm with the hopes of creating a work-life balance that would allow her to give as much time and attention to her family as she gives her clients.
Now—and for the past 17 years—Behnke helps her clients do the same: venture out and expand a business or start a new one, lending her business knowledge and real estate law expertise to help them reach their goals.
Michelle Behnke & Associates consists only of Behnke, one associate, and her assistant. Clients praise Behnke for the close personal attention she gives them. Behnke says of her approach, “My personal touch, along with my wealth of experience, allows clients access to a high level of experience in a personalized setting.”
Behnke’s real estate practice focuses mostly on commercial transactions, from the acquisition of new land to a company that’s opening a new franchise leasing existing space. Three of Behnke’s more well-known, Wisconsin-based clients are Welton Enterprises, Southern Wisconsin Foods, and Valley King of Wisconsin, and Behnke likens the work she does for these clients to serving as in-house counsel: They seek out her legal skills as well as her business judgment.
“Being able to work with clients long-term and to understand the whole of their business, and then to consult and guide them, is the core of what I love about practicing law,” Behnke says. “We’re not just putting a band-aid on when something goes wrong. I want to help guide my clients to anticipate and prepare for issues so they don’t hit bumps in the road.”
In addition to her clients, Behnke is also passionate about the community service and professional organizations she has been involved in. Early on in her career, she served on the Madison Community Housing Foundation board of directors and established a first-time home-buyer loan program that helped people attain home-ownership, an accomplishment that has been proven to benefit families as well as communities. She is also active in the State Bar of Wisconsin and the American Bar Association, having previously served as president and on the board of governors, respectively. Behnke said a career highlight for her was being admitted to the American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL) in 2005, a distinguished invitation that is only extended to the best in the practice field.