Susan Robbins believes that clients are best served when they can make informed decisions about their cases. To that end, she has always seen her role with clients as being the person who educates them and guides them so that they can do precisely that.
Robbins began learning and honing her skills as a counselor during a 10 year period as a social worker, her career path before she became a lawyer, receiving her master’s degree in social work from Arizona State University in 1981. As a social worker, Robbins worked at the Visiting Nurses Association in Phoenix, as a counselor at Phoenix Interfaith Counseling, and also served as director of Cigna Health Plan’s drug and alcohol program.
“I enjoyed the problem solving aspect of working in mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse, but I thought I’d have even more ability to accomplish good by getting a law degree, and that’s turned out to be true.”
Robbins received her J.D. from Arizona State University Law School in 1988 and began practicing law in Phoenix in a small firm and then on her own. She joined attorney Ron Cooley to create the firm Cooley & Robbins in 1998. That firm merged with Mushkatel and Becker in 2012.
The focus of her practice throughout her legal career has been elder law. Although she has ample experience as a litigator handling contested matters in this area, Robbins has been moving toward mediation for resolving disputes.
Her interest in elder law mediation has moved beyond her own practice. She recently spearheaded a committee to launch a mediation project in Maricopa County Probate Court, an effort that has received funding to be taken to other Arizona counties. These court affiliated mediation programs would offer opposing parties an opportunity to resolve their problems quickly and less expensively with the guidance of experience attorneys who are trained in probation and mediation who may provide services on a sliding fee scale depending on the clients’ need.
Robbins considers the creation of this project to be one of her proudest achievements.
“The thing that I like most about my work is teaching people how to understand what the legal issues are, what their options are, and helping people to make a plan—rather than me telling them what to do,” she says. “That’s especially true in estate planning, but it’s also true in guardianship and conservatorship work. If people have the right information, they make good choices most of the time.”
Oftentimes, Robbins points out, people need to consider things they’d rather not think about.
“People don’t like to think about what happens if they become incapacitated and they really don’t like to talk to their family about it. So I see my job as trying to help people understand the consequences of not planning and then help them figure out what’s the most efficient and cost effective way to be responsible and accountable.”
“They have to learn some things they don’t know in order to make those good decisions,” Robbins says. “It’s not me telling them what to do; it’s me teaching them so they know what to do.”