A: When you’re in front of a jury, you learn
to look at the cues the jury is giving you as
to whether or not they’re paying attention,
and how they’re paying attention, to what’s
being done in the courtroom. There were a
great many attorneys [in the case], so you’re
watching other people and seeing what’s
effective in terms of presentation. I’m a big
believer in exhibits—even in divorce cases.
You can talk in the courtroom but a good
diagram or flow-chart is critical.
My parents are both retired doctors, and
I have a bit of a medical malpractice-type
background from Corboy’s office; so I got
to do the poisoning part.
A: There was an allegation that Fred
Hampton had been poisoned. So when
I went out to private practice, that was
helpful, too. I was doing organophosphate-pesticide poisoning cases and you
have to learn the testing techniques.
Organophosphate is a neurotoxin. [People
who are exposed] develop symptoms like
tingling in the hands and the feet. So the
defense from the chemical companies
was that [such people] were either
hypochondriacs or hysterical. And when I
started meeting all the psychologists and
doing that part of the case, it sort of flows
into child custody cases.
Q: And that’s how you got into family law.
A: Also because I was pregnant with twins,
and my husband said, “You cannot do any
more contingency cases, you’ve got to take
on more areas of practice.” Well, I didn’t
have to, but it flowed.
Q: What’s the best advice you received?
A: In law school I had a professor, Soia
Mentschikoff, and she was a big believer in
being prepared and looking at not only the
beginning of your argument but logically
where it led, and making alternative
arguments. Flexibility. Her concept was you
have a flexible mind and to look not only
at your perceived path but what the other
side is going to be arguing or saying. She
was big on using case law to develop your
position because every case is a new case
but it’s an old case as well.
A: Even though there’s a past ruling,
there’s always novelty. Especially in family
law, the facts are almost always unique.
So you have to look at the past precedent
but you also have to look at the facts that
you’ve got and what can you do with those
facts and the law.
Q: During your career, beyond the
technological, what are some of the
biggest changes you’ve seen in the
practice of law?
A: Juries’ expectations, in terms of proof,
are now fed in some part by what they see
on TV. And in most pieces of litigation, the
parties don’t have the resources and the
ability to marshal the evidence they do
The second thing: When I first started
practicing, you could spend a day or
two or even three picking a jury in a
complicated case. Because the courts
are so impacted and need to move the
cases along, the process, every part of
the process, is speeded up. Jurors also
want to get to the end more quickly. Now
when you give a closing argument, you’re
fortunate if you have an hour or two.
Attention spans in general are perhaps
not what they used to be.
Finally, when I first started practicing,
there was a certain formality in the
courtroom that has diminished over time;
and there are many more persons who are
representing themselves in the courtroom.
Q: In family law or …?
A: Especially in family law. If one looked
at the filings, I would expect that 60
percent of the persons are representing
themselves. With assets not increasing
in value, and in some cases decreasing
in value, people perceive that they can’t
afford attorneys; that if they spend money
on attorneys they’ll have nothing left.
Q: Has business dropped off during the
global financial meltdown?
A: I’ve found that to be true. I think
people have postponed making certain
decisions. They’ve recognized that you
can’t live in two households on the same
income. Especially with the foreclosure
problems, where the value of what used to
be the most important marital asset has
Q: Anything you’d like to add that I
A: One of the questions asked of family
law attorneys is: How do you handle the
fact that when people on a daily basis are
in your office and they’re unhappy with
themselves and where they are in life?
What I’ve come to appreciate is there’s a
measure of collegiality among family law
practitioners. We’re all facing the same
emotional issues in the practice. So you
come to appreciate your fellow lawyers.
And because the bar is smaller, you come
to know more of the family law bar than
you would if you were in the civil litigation
field, as I was in. So your reputation
becomes more important.
Q: Does this mean there are family law
practitioners you try to avoid?
A: [Pause] There are certain family law
attorneys who you know, if they’re on
the other side, it’s going to take longer
to compromise—if you’re going to
compromise. You know the attorneys’ fees
might be more than they would normally
and you can prepare your clients for it. It’s
true in almost any field. There are certain
civil litigators who employ a scorched-earth policy for awhile.
Q: What is it you love about family law?
A: Family law is one of the unique fields
where you can actually help people to
envision and work toward a better next
six months, next year, next two years. Civil
litigation is often about events leading
up to an event, a major crisis, an auto
accident, so you’re focusing only on the
past. In family law, if you can help people
focus on: OK, our goal is to separate but
also to maintain family unity. You feel
like you can bring some life experiences
[to the problem], as well as the fact that
other people have gone through this
torment—and it is torment—and come out