Spokane Journal of Business

2021 Rising Stars: Witherspoon Brajcich McPhee PLLC’s Deanna Willman

Lawyer pursues interest in litigation, social justice

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Deanna Willman, who grew up in Cheney and has been practicing law for four years as of this month, says she knew at a young age that she wanted to be an attorney.

“It started as a family joke. You’re chatty and like to argue and you’re stubborn and all of that,” she says. “But the more I went through schooling, math and science wasn’t really a calling for me. I’ve always loved reading and writing and talking to people and the social aspect of being able to help people. As I got older, I never changed.”

Willman, who joined Spokane law firm Witherspoon Brajcich McPhee PLLC in May 2018 after working nine months at a Spokane Valley firm, focuses on civil litigation, including trust and estate administration.

“So far, I really enjoy litigation,” Willman says. “Right now, with my level of experience, it’s more figuring out what practice area I’m most passionate about.”

In trust and estate disputes, the challenge is to find ways to resolve conflicts in families having issues after a family member dies.

“It’s usually people who are coming off this whole huge change in their lives, and they’re trying to figure out a way forward,” Willman explains, “Sometimes, I think there’s too many hurt feelings to resolve it amicably, but the goal is to make your clients happy and do it in a way that minimizes expense and hopefully some of the damage to the family.”

Willman “has become a valuable member and leader of the local legal community in a very short time,” according to Jim McPhee, her mentor at the firm, who nominated Willman as a Rising Star.

He points out in the nomination that at age 29, Willman is president of the board for the Spokane County chapter of Washington Women Lawyers, president of the Spokane County Young Lawyer’s Division, and a member of the Spokane County Bar Association board of trustees.

“Deanna's clients and co-workers are drawn to her practical and personable app-
roach to life and the practice of law, which she carries out with confidence, grace, and focus on how best to serve others,” McPhee adds in the nomination.

Through the Spok-
ane Young Lawyer’s Division, Willman is becoming a mentor to new attorneys.

“We have a wide age range of people involved in the board, and our big push lately has been trying to make sure that we’re accessible to Gonzaga Law School students,” she says.

In the spring, Willman set up a panel via Zoom for law school students who were about to graduate to provide young lawyers’ perspectives about finding their first job, getting into a practice, and transitioning jobs.

“We wanted it to be more of a bridge between younger attorneys and law students,” she says.

She’s also one of the organizers of an event called Judicial Theater.

“We draft skits for ethical issues, and the judges perform the skits,” Willman says. “Though they make it lighthearted, they still include components of ethical lessons. It’s a good chance for local attorneys to get to know judges and work with them.”

Though the event was canceled last year, it’s usually well attended and involves 10 to 12 judges who volunteer their time, she says.

Willman’s volunteer work includes providing free legal advice to tenants facing evection, which she was involved in even before COVID-19 arrived.

“It’s an everchanging landscape,” she says. “Some attorneys are getting paid for it now under the governor’s moratorium. So we’re filling in gaps between the different housing agencies. I still plan on being involved just in a volunteer capacity.”

Willman also is in-
volved in social causes, including the annual Women’s March and LGBTQ+ issues.

She says the firm supports her passion for social justice.

“I think usually attorneys are social-justice driven to get into this career field,” she says.

Willman describes herself as a “Double Zag,” having earned both her undergraduate and law degrees at Gonzaga University, after graduating from Cheney High School.

Beyond legal pursuits, her interests include outdoor activities.

“Growing up with a dad as a survival instructor, we were always outside,” she says. “I really like camping and hiking. As an attorney, you spend a lot of time in the office, so if I can get out and do things on the weekend, that’s definitely a plus.”

Willman says she and her wife, Cass, who have been together for six years and married for two, have a 3-year-old golden retriever and a 5-year-old German shepherd that are “very active dogs that have to keep busy.”


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Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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