Two Tips from a Matrimonial Practice that You Can Apply to Your Practice

This is the first in an occasional series of TWO TIPS from attorneys with specific practice areas. Their sage advice applies to that particular arena, and is very likely relevant to your practice as well. It’s always helpful to be reminded to follow the basics.

Let’s begin with attorneys who have a family law, matrimonial law, mediation or divorce practice. Each was asked to impart wisdom to a new associate who has joined their firm after practicing in a different field of law.

According to Paige Zandri, whose firm Artese Zandri PLLC is based in New York, “The singular best practice that a seasoned attorney must learn is not to REACT! We are paid to be the professionals in the room, no matter if it's in the room with our clients, opposing counsel or in court in front of the judge. Our profession is held to a higher standard of poise and sophistication, and the surest way for an attorney to show their inexperience is to allow themselves to be provoked or lose control of their reactions when conflict arises. The work we do is inherently high-conflict, or at least high stakes, and we are meant to be the cool heads in the room.”

Keeping in mind the emotional experience of her clients, Wendy Samuelson adds, “Clients are going through one of the worst times in their lives. Point out to them that they need to make good business decisions, not emotional ones. In high conflict cases, see if you can get the client and their spouse to go to counseling, so that they can learn good post-divorce habits on how to best co-parent.” Her firm, Samuelson Hause PLLC, is based in Garden City, NY.

At Day Law and Mediation in New York City, Amy Day emphasizes “Make sure to explain and explore all the different process options with the client to determine which process will work best for client and his or her spouse as well. There are pros and cons to each process and clients really need to be informed of the whole spectrum of options before deciding and potentially discussing with his or her spouse. I tell new clients to decide on process first, before any conversations about the substance of a settlement.”

Once the process of mutual discussion mediation, collaborative divorce or traditional representation/litigation has been decided, Day notes, “Make sure clients understand that they will likely not get everything they want or feel they need. Help them make a list of what is really most important to them and prioritize the list, so you know, as an attorney, whether you are focusing on the things that matter most to the client.”

Adding to the client perspective, Shira Katz Scanlon of Martine, Katz Scanlon & Schimmel, P.A. in Cherry Hill, NJ notes, “Establish realistic expectations on the timeline, the substantive component in terms of what the law says, and your own boundaries or time limitations. A client needs to understand how long the process will take, have a general sense of what the possible outcomes could be (which may change and adapt over time, requiring additional discussions to ensure expectations remain reasonable and realistic), and what to expect in terms of communication with the attorney.”

Like all litigation, divorce proceedings extend over a period of time and you will deal with opposing counsel repeatedly: by phone, via email and at meetings, besides court appearances. Samuelson advises, “Always treat them with respect. Be firm, but don’t be antagonistic.”

More specifically, Katz Scanlon counsels, “We can disagree, and we should always zealously advocate for our clients, but it is much more productive for attorneys to work as cooperatively as possible to advance the family’s needs, whether that is in a divorce or a custody case. Attorneys do not need to argue with one another; candid conversations with counsel can really help move cases along and avoid litigation, as opposed to attorneys taking on their clients’ acrimony and bickering with one another.”

Keep your eye on the facts and on the clients, Katz Scanlon adds. “Lawyers love to win and hate to lose, but our clients are whole people with whole lives, and we have to take cases as they come to us, the good, the bad, and all too often, the ugly. We can’t change the facts; therefore, get out ahead of the ugly and make whatever argument the law and facts allow to present as strong a position as possible on your client’s behalf.”

Danielle Konzelmann offers a practical and future-oriented perspective on opposing counsel. “Never burn bridges. You do not never know who is next going to be appointed to the bench, who will be appointed to do a custody evaluation in your case, who will be on your Early Settlement Panel, or who will be appointed by the court to mediate your case. There is no reason to burn bridges. If you are inclined to burn a bridge because you believe that is what zealously advocating for a client requires, keep in mind that harming your reputation as an attorney will have a more lasting impact on your practice.” Konzelmann Law, LLC is based in Ridgewood, NJ.

Of course, there is another important player in the courtroom, namely, the judge presiding over the case. Katz Scanlon reminds, “Prepare, prepare, prepare. Ask trusted colleagues about your judge; see if anyone may have had similar issues presented and how they went. This can help you pinpoint out a piece of information your client may need to highlight or overcome, and it can also help with setting the client’s realistic expectations. Know your file, inside and out, before any conversation with a judge. When attorneys are prepared, things proceed efficiently and don’t waste a court’s valuable little time.”

In sum, be calm, explore the options, be rational and set expectations and boundaries with clients. Be fair with opposing counsel and judges.

Finally, Zandri notes, take care of yourself as well. “Forgive yourself for making mistakes and get right back into the work. When we're starting out, we're especially worried about making mistakes and revealing our inexperience. The truth is, even at the associate level, attorneys are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of our skills and ability to find solutions to difficult situations. Our best effort is what the duty calls for, and your demonstration of grit and perseverance in the face of adversity is what will make you a great lawyer in any practice.”

Take this counsel to heart and apply it to your own practice, whether litigation or transactional. Listening, preparation and being realistic about what you can accomplish are the foundations of managing a specific legal matter, as well as a satisfying and successful legal practice.


Janet Falk is a Public Relations and Marketing Communications professional at Falk Communications and Research. She offers members of WOL a review of their Public Relations and Marketing activities in a Complimentary 30-minute consultation. She guarantees TWO Ideas.


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