Q: Have you been involved in particularly
emotional divorce cases?
A: Every divorce attorney has stories. I
have some funny stories. The first case
I was ever involved in—I wasn’t even
licensed—I was working with another
attorney in Chicago, and he sent me to
take a deposition about a skunk. That
was when you had to have grounds
for divorce and the parties didn’t have
children. But what happens now—
Q: Wait. What’s the story of the skunk?
A: I had to take a deposition over who was
the better caretaker of the skunk.
Q: It was a pet skunk?
A: A pet skunk. So we’ve come a long
distance where we’re no-fault pretty
much throughout the country. But
because it’s no-fault, because it’s an
emotional situation, sometimes the
anger is displayed through quarreling
over furniture, for example, or wedding
presents that have been stored in a box
and never used. It’s a question of people’s
expectations being shattered. They have
to figure out a way to put it back together.
Go west: Kwoka, with her mother and family, grew up in Lancaster County, Penn., and went to law
school in Chicago, where she practiced for a few years before moving to San Diego.
with the divorce but some are pleased
with their divorce attorney. I’m a pretty
Q: Any other stories come to mind?
A: I took one client, who was alcoholic, to the
treatment facility. When she came out, the
divorce proceeded but it was much easier
to convince the spouse to pay some spousal
support because the argument he had been
using—that she was an alcoholic—was no
longer a valid argument. She just needed
to have monies available while she went
back to school. That was really emotional
for me. Not only did she get treatment, not
only was he willing to acknowledge that she
needed some care, but it helped the children
recognize that their mother was a person. It
was a good family dynamic even though the
outcome was still a divorce.
Q: You have an interesting voice. At what
point in your career did you realize it was
A: When I started doing litigation. I was
very fortunate. I graduated from law school
in 1974 and there weren’t many women in
litigation at that time. I ended up in the U.S.
attorney’s office in Chicago and was thrown
into the courtroom. I was in the civil division,
doing a lot of trial work, and you had to
learn to talk to people and listen to people.
You put a witness on the witness stand and
you need to hear what they’re saying to
make sure you can ask the next question.
Q: How do your clients find you?
A: Most of my clients are referrals now. I
started in the community doing litigation,
and I met a lot of CPAs and other
professionals and those are the people
[who recommend me]. Then, of course,
[I’m referred by] other clients who have
been satisfied. Virtually no one is pleased
Q: Did you go through different
phases? Right now your voice is soft
and quiet. It almost forces people to
lean forward and …
A: … listen. Correct.
The other part of it is: Women can’t be
strident. I’ve been married for 35 years.
My husband only listens to me when I’m
talking in a pleasant tone of voice. Most
people prefer that. It’s respectful. That’s
important to me—to try to be respectful
to the person I’m dealing with. It’s very
helpful in the divorce context. Every once
in a while I will raise my voice, but it’s not
productive. People stop listening to you.
Q: So what drew you to the law?
A: My first year in college I worked in
Capitol Hill [in Washington, D.C.]. I was
pre-med but politics fascinated me; and
most politicians were lawyers.
I was fortunate to work with a
litigating attorney in Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania. John Beyer was a courtly
gentleman who had a wonderful career
behind him—he was in his 60s—who took
me on as a protégé and took me to court,
and let me watch him and help him.
In law school [in Chicago], I had the
opportunity to work for Phil Corboy, who
was one of the pioneers in several areas
of the law, including products liability. He
was a bluff Irishman who could appeal to a
jury. The federal rules were changing and
he was president of the ABA. I was helping
research for speeches he wrote. That’s how
I got interested in doing federal law.
Then I went to the U.S. attorney's office. I
was one of the attorneys who defended the
FBI in the Black Panther case in Chicago—
the death of Fred Hampton—spent 15
months in a courtroom and learned to like
courtroom work. Most people don’t have
15 months of being in the courtroom. The
person who performed the autopsy [on
Hampton] had also performed the autopsy
on President Kennedy so I got to meet him
in Dallas. For a beginning lawyer just out
of law school, you know, it was a case that
taught me a lot.