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Front Page - Friday, December 13, 2019

Mochel’s practice, building rebranded

Meredith Mochel is a criminal defense attorney with her own practice in Chattanooga. She also owns and manages the former Hardie & Caudle building downtown. - Photo by David Laprad

Meredith Mochel’s life is best described not by a famous quote or celebrated poem but by a Whitesnake power ballad.

“Here I go again on my own,” she says, sounding a little like she wants to break out in head-banging song and dance.

That might not be out of character for the free-spirited Mochel. But she maintains her composure and focuses on the change that has brought her to a new place in life – starting over in her 40s after divorcing her husband of 12 years.

Mochel is known to many in Chattanooga as Meredith Ziebold, criminal defense attorney and owner of the Market Street building that bore her married name and still houses her solo practice.

She separated from her spouse in August and left their home with only her tabby and the clothes on her back, she says.

Mochel means this metaphorically, as she also left with full ownership of her building and businesses. But leaving the person who had been her companion for more than a decade did feel like being stripped of everything except what she was wearing as she walked away.

“The hardest part of the change was going from sharing my life with him for 14 years to him not being a part of my day,” she says, adding the two years she and her ex-husband dated to the dozen they were married. “That was challenging.”

Although divorce is never easy, Mochel already seems revived. Rather than lapsing into the woeful Eric Carmen classic, “All By Myself,” she’s reverberating with the energy of a heavy metal power chord.

And she sees her divorce not as an ending but a new beginning.

Part of that fresh start involved rechristening her law practice with her maiden name. It also entailed removing “Ziebold” from her building and replacing it with “Mochel.”

“It was important to me to establish my independence with my maiden name and for my father to see his last name at the top of this building,” she says. “He’s been a huge source of support as I’ve made this major life change.”

Mochel placed her first and last name in large uppercase letters at the top of her two-story building and removed the Ziebold sign she had placed on its Market Street facade when she and her husband purchased it in 2016. This uncovered the structure’s original Hardie & Caudle sign, reviving a small piece of historic Chattanooga.

While Mochel was eager to begin the new chapter in her life, she experienced other challenges as she turned the page, including becoming solely responsible for the upkeep of her 7,000-square-foot building and addressing maintenance issues as they arose.

While married, Mochel had relied on her husband, a mechanical engineer, to either repair what was broken or call one of the many contractors he had on tap. But when the space leased by Mexiville sprung a leak only days after the building was all hers, she was left standing alone in the rising water and she thought she was going to drown.

Fortunately, Mochel says, she had hired a paralegal who was capable of finding an appropriate contractor and overseeing their work.

“All of a sudden, I was responsible for a 120-year old building,” she explains. “It was stressful, but I worked through it. Now I don’t panic when one of my commercial tenants needs something fixed.”

Mochel also needed to become comfortable with living without a financial parachute. She and her ex-husband had purchased her building together while married, and she had always rested in the knowledge that if her practice or business suffered a slow period, she could fall back on him for support.

“That never happened, but it was wonderful knowing it was there,” she notes.

Shouldering the responsibilities that came with her independence ultimately motivated Mochel, and she dug deep within herself and found the physical and mental fortitude to press forward.

“I have always cared greatly for my clients and their cases,” she says. “But the difficulty of becoming solely responsible for supporting myself, making sure the building doesn’t crumble like Cheeburger Cheeburger, and keeping the lights on did focus me. I thought, ‘Why would I go through this big change if it wasn’t to give 120% to everything I do?’”

Mochel scarcely needed to worry about keeping the lights on. Since starting her solo practice in 2015 after more than a decade of working for others, she’s become only busier. What’s more, the uptick in business has coincided with a bump in self-assurance.

“Some of my cases have worked out well and others have been a struggle,” she acknowledges. “But over the last four years, I’ve grown in confidence and experience, and when I walk into a courtroom, I’m equipped to handle whatever problem they’re facing, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor.

“I work as hard as I can for my clients,” she continues. “Protecting someone’s record or saving someone’s job means more to me than I could have imagined when I first became an attorney.”

If another song also provides a fitting description of Mochel’s new life, it’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles.

The tenaciously independent Mochel has never been at ease with relying on others. But after surrendering her portion of the home she owned with her ex-husband, she needed a place to stay. She found a home with friends instead.

“[Attorney] Kristen Williams and her wife, Laura Williams, took me in and told me I could stay as long as I wanted,” Mochel says. “And then they loved and fed me. So, my how-to guide for divorce starts with moving in with your best friend and her wife so they can nurture you around the clock.”

Kristen Williams also drafted Mochel’s divorce, while Laura Williams designed her firm’s new logos, letterhead and business cards.

After purchasing a home in St. Elmo in October, Mochel left with not only a profound appreciation for her two friends but also with newfound understanding of what those kinds of relationships will mean to her moving forward.

“I learned through this time to lean on my friends,” she says. “I’ve never liked to lean on others. I was happy to let my friends lean on me, but I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Learning to lean on my friends has enhanced many of the relationships in my life.”

When Mochel moved her solo practice to Market Street in 2016 and then stocked her building with all-female law firms, she was partly making a statement about the ability of women attorneys to thrive on their own without male partners. Many in the Chattanooga bar vocally supported her endeavor, but a few local attorneys greeted her faith with skepticism.

Mochel proved her naysayers wrong, and in an interview with the Hamilton County Herald in 2017, said she hoped her accomplishments would inspire other females, especially young women who were beginning to map out their place in the world.

“When I was unhappy working at a big firm and doing things someone else’s way, I never dreamed I would someday be my own boss,” she points out. “I hope I can inspire a young woman or two to pursue independence.”

Mochel still hopes to serve as a source of encouragement for other females. A recent speaking engagement with a group of high school seniors at East Ridge High School gave her that opportunity.

“When Girls Inc. asked me to speak, I thought, ‘Why me? There are doctors and lawyers and engineers out there who are smart and make more money than me, so why would they listen to me?’” she says.

“And then I thought, ‘Don’t sell yourself short. You’re proud of what you do and of what’s yours, so go tell them you cherish the freedom of being a solo female business owner. I don’t answer to anyone; I control my income, my schedule, and what I do with my life.

“Having a husband and a family is a beautiful choice, but you can also choose to be independent and have the freedom to do your own thing.”

Step two in Mochel’s how-to guide for divorce includes everything that comes after spending a season with friends. “Get out there and kill it,” she says. “Live your life and do your best.”

For Mochel, “killing it” might someday consist of owning and managing more commercial real estate. It will definitely involve spending time with her friends, staying fit, and caring for her newest family member, a 4-month-old chocolate lab named Jolene.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to rock the boat and divorce my husband after 14 years, but the chance at personal happiness far exceeded the security of having a second income in my household,” she says. “And now I have the freedom to make my own future.”

Since the lyrics for “Jolene” don’t pertain to Mochel (she has no intention of stealing anyone’s man, let alone marrying again – at least not without a strong prenup), the Whitesnake song will have to serve as the anthem for her life.

“Here I go again on my own,” she repeats. Mochel might be on her own, but she’s not alone. Her friends have taught her that.