Family law attorney Gemma Allen of Ladden & Allen on
creative applications of the law, overcoming sexism and
why it’s riskier for clients to dance on tables nowadays
INTERVIEW BY ROSS PFUND
me and gave me some insights on how the
practice works and what to be aware of.
But it still didn’t make me polished.
The long and the short of it is I did very
well, for a number of reasons. She was
a lovely woman. It was an affluent case.
The husband was not out to eradicate
her or eviscerate her. So those are good
cases. They stayed friends. She would
tell everyone, “Look what my lawyer did
for me.” And that’s how I had a divorce
practice. Because then all of a sudden one
became two, and two became six.
Q: So your practice area found you. But
what first got you interested in the law as
A: I grew up with everyone telling me, “You
should be a lawyer.” I’m going to take from
that that I was a little bit argumentative. I
think I am obsessed with justice. Also, for
a woman, I saw some flexibility. I watched
my older sisters who were both super
smart, super competent, try to figure out
how to have careers and have children.
All of that attracted me to it, but it was
mostly about justice. Of course, in family
law, the courts do the best they can and
I really commend them. But it’s such a
balancing act. It’s very hard in a busy court
system dealing with families to deliver
pure justice, and I just admire the courts for
trying. I admire what we do accomplish.
Q: You went to law school at Michigan
in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Do you
remember how many women were in
your law school class?
A: I’m going to say nine, and that might
Q: You were inspired to go into family law
by a heartfelt plea from a friend of your
mother’s. What’s the story behind that?
A: I was doing chancery work—special
remedies like injunctions. I was a new
lawyer. My mother’s best friend was
getting a divorce. So she called my mother,
and of course my mother called me. You
know the way it goes. And I said, “Well, I’d
be glad to meet with her and I’ll talk to her,
but I don’t do divorce work.” So she’s like,
“Well, it’s my best friend. Please, please.”
So of course I did.
The woman was charming, just
absolutely lovely in every way. I said to
her, “I’ll get you some referrals. I’ll stay
in the background.” I explained what I do
believe, which is divorce is certainly a niche
practice, and if you don’t do it day in and
day out, there are things that you can’t
find in black-letter law that you need to
know about the practice. And I was aware
of the fact that I didn’t know those things. I
can study the law, I can recite the law, but
there’s a lot more to a divorce and family
law than what’s written down.
So I explained all of that and sent her off
to see some people. Then she came back
and said, “You know what, I just would rather
have someone who doesn’t know what
they’re doing that I completely trust than
someone that may be more experienced, but
I don’t necessarily trust their experience to be
working in my best interest.”
I said, “OK.” No more Thanksgiving
dinners at home for me unless I did. It
forced me to focus on a different level. I
did talk to a couple people that I had tried
to refer the case to, who were very kind to