One of the most important qualities of any good family lawyer is being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's easy to say, and surprisingly difficult for some lawyers to do. It's about having a capacity for objectivity, and it's what makes us effective in negotiation and deal making. And honestly, the longer I practice, the less I see of it.
That's not to say there aren't some excellent lawyers here in Chicago. I think we have the best divorce lawyers anywhere. Competition will do that. After all, we have the largest family court system in the world.
I've always been proud that my mother and father were founders of our profession. In many respects they set the professional bar, certainly for me. They helped make divorce, and divorce law, respectable, even back in an age when it was nothing more than a screaming match. After all, they were practicing law a generation before the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers was even founded.
The screaming matches are pretty much gone now. The intensity isn't: People still try to double-cross and deceive. You don't want to get on my bad side. I don't have to remind the opposition that I'm half Sicilian.
But over the years I've become very good at sizing up the prospects and possible outcomes of my clients' cases. How is the process likely to play out for you, given current law and your circumstances? These are answers I can provide, and generally fairly quickly. That creates a level of confidence for my clients, as well as a level of economic efficiency they would not otherwise get.
It's true that we settle 95% of our cases. We generally don't engage in mediation or collaborative law, although or firm makes them available to our clients. Why? Because any good lawyer, with any negotiating skills, is better than any mediator. Mediation has its place - for addressing a specific point of custody or, say, visitation schedules. But the threat of tough and expensive litigation has a way of focusing everyone on reaching a lasting settlement.
But the fact is I think people are more litigious today. The law has largely removed fault from the process of filing for divorce, so people are often frustrated that they can't vent their anger. Some want a nice juicy - and public - accusation. The process doesn't allow for us to "take it out on the spouse" the way we once did.
Illinois is not a community property state - the laws are based on equitable distribution. And that doesn't mean equal distribution. That allows the high-quality lawyers to put our creative skills to use - and we do it every day. I like that. I know my clients do. And these days our clients may live in Chicago but they originate from all over, China, India; sometimes they bring cultural assumptions that don't always fit with the law and divorce. As with every client there's a certain degree of education involved.
You have to have the temperament and personality for our line of work. You must always be trustworthy and have an ability to bring people together. It helps to be a "people person". I knew really from the start that I had the skills to be effective for my clients - and I have been for more than 50 years.
This is a great life. I enjoy the camaraderie of the legal community, and the friendships, often lifelong, you can make with your clients. You can't imagine the satisfaction that comes with all of that.