This month, as we celebrate women in history and around the world, I want to take a few minutes to celebrate women who lead the legal landscape – today as well as those trailblazers who paved the way for us.
At the Department of Justice, women rose through the ranks to assume leadership positions, with Attorney General Janet Reno serving as the first female AG during the Clinton Administration (1993-2001). But that was remarkable considering that prior to the 1970s, you could rarely find a woman at the level of Assistant Attorney General, let alone higher.
Annette Abbott Adams was our nation’s first female Assistant Attorney General (1920 – 1921) and also the first woman to sit on the California Supreme Court, having been appointed by special assignment for one case. Adams attended Chico State Normal School and the University of California Berkeley, where she earned a Bachelor of Law in 1904. She was the one of the first women to graduate from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, and was admitted to the California state bar in 1912.
The first female attorney in U.S. history was Belle Babb Mansfield – here’s an interesting video about her.
In 1869, trailblazer Myra Bradwell attempted to become the first woman admitted to the Illinois bar to practice law, but was denied by both the Illinois Supreme Court (1870) and the U.S. Supreme Court (1873), who insisted that a woman’s place was not, apparently, in the courtroom.
Bradwell founded and served as publisher for Chicago Legal News. In 1872, inspired by her case, the Illinois legislature passed a state law prohibiting gender discrimination in admitting a person to an occupation. Four years before she died, Bradwell was admitted to the Illinois bar. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court followed with its own motion.
Charlotte E. Ray was the first African-American woman lawyer in the United States. A graduate of Howard University School of Law, she was the first woman admitted to the District of Columbia Bar and the first woman allowed to practice before the Supreme Court of D.C. Her admission opened doors for women seeking admission to the bar across the nation.
Here in Michigan, more trailblazers include the first three female Justices of our Supreme Court were Mary S. Coleman, Dorothy Comstock Riley and Patricia J. Boyle. The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan created a fascinating video about these three leaders.
Patsy Mink was the first Japanese-American woman lawyer in Hawaii, and the first Asian-American woman and woman of color elected to Congress. Here’s a video about her.
And finally, our very own Vice President, Kamala Harris, is an incredible woman whose legal and political career should inspire us all. Not only is she the first female Vice President – she has lived a life devoted to serving the public, as District Attorney of San Francisco, California’s Attorney General and a U.S. Senator.
Although Harris has an impressive and extraordinary career, I am most inspired by her character, dignity and determination to not be cowed by critics. Like all these trailblazers, she sets an example of a strong and smart woman – which can be off-putting to so many, but should not be. Thank you, Vice President Harris, for setting such a great example!
When I started Transitions Legal in 2013, I created a tagline that has served us well: dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise.
Those were the words and concepts I felt were important to convey about my approach to family law. In fact, I named my firm Transitions Legal because I wanted to emphasize that I see divorce as a transition from one stage of life to another – neither good nor bad.
Over the years, I’ve built a name for this firm, and for my approach to family law. After nearly 10 years in business, I felt it was time to change our tagline to represent how we’ve evolved and changed, to embrace insight and innovation in our approach to conflict resolution.
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash
So my marketing guru, Lynne Golodner, and I embarked on a quest to fashion a new tagline, that better represents where we are today.
I was surprised to realize that I could not come up with anything better than what we already have!! A tagline is supposed to serve as a quippy, memorable phrase that explains what we do and how we do it. What matters to us. What values this firm is built on.
Dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise really says it all. The one thing I could change would be the word divorce – though I won’t, because I like the alliteration – only because we do so much more than divorce. Family Law is a far-reaching category of law that addresses any legal quandary or need in a family situation.
So why did I seek this change, then?
Because I wanted to make sure that key concepts were in our marketing messaging. Ideas like curiosity, innovation and insight.
But when I looked at my Guiding Principles, I saw that these concepts were already embedded in Transitions Legal language. My Guiding Principles emphasize how I talk to every client, ask questions and use insight to guide how we approach client cases.
Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash
I reviewed my Mission Statement, too, and was thrilled to see that these ideas were already there, too!
I consistently operate with insight to learn my clients’ needs and guide them based on what they want to achieve. One key question on my intake form is, what are your goals.
The Our Family in Two Homes workbook, a resource which I encourage all my clients to use, helps people more clearly define their goals. It’s easy to say my goal is to make sure my kids are taken care of. Or make sure I have financial security. But what does that mean?
What does it look like for your kids to be feeling safe and secure? What does it look like to have financial security?
Such questions are not as easy to answer once you start digging into specifics. I’ve asked those questions, and the resources I’m using now are consistent with what I’ve always been doing.
So we are keeping our tagline! With almost 10 years in business, I am encouraged that the marketing messaging I initially created serves us still as we’ve grown and expanded. We are steeped in our values and approach. We are consistent. We know who we are.
This has made me sensitive to curiosity and the importance of asking questions, followed by focused listening. Many family law attorneys and mediators take a directive approach, working through the case to get it done.
But that’s not how we operate at Transitions Legal.
I embraced Collaborative Divorce long before it was a common approach in Family Law circles in Michigan. Even Collaborative Practice has changed!
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Since the Collaborative Movement started in 1990, and has been in Michigan approximately 18 years, we’ve learned that we can expand and evolve the model to better support our clients. Which should be our focus in the practice of law no matter what.
My marketing coach, Lynne Golodner, has always taught me that a tagline should be a pithy statement that is memorable, so that when a potential client learns of our firm, they know immediately what we are about.
We are about gaining insight so that we can innovate in the way we approach family law. Insight is a step deeper than knowledge. I help clients know themselves, their values, their intentions, based on a variety of factors – lifestyle, social affiliations, culture and background and more. From there, they can move forward with clarity.
When you’re thinking “should I get divorced,” you’re sitting in an uncomfortable place. Choosing a firm that will allow you to be dignified, where you will be led with compassion by experts in the field of family law, should be a comfort.
Dignified Divorce Driven by Compassionate Expertise. That’s what Transitions Legal stands for. That’s what we do.
Hello! My Name is Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, and I am a Divorce Lawyer
Hey there – you may already have met me on my “About” page or on the bio page of my website listing my experience. If you haven’t, let me introduce myself:
I am Alisa Peskin-Shepherd.
I have practiced family law for more than 30 years, and I love my work.
Why would Alisa Peskin-Shepherd enjoy helping people end marriages, you may ask?
It’s not the ending of marriages that I love; it’s the opportunity to work with different kinds of people and to help people understand themselves and their emotions better.
I love making people feel better. And working in family law as Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, attorney and counselor at law, I can do that.
The other day, I mentioned to a client that I was thinking about inviting co-counsel into our case who had an expertise that would help. The client said she didn’t want that person joining our team because “she was very cold and she didn’t feel a connection with her” the way she feels a connection with me.
I get it, says Alisa Peskin-Shepherd.
I am the kind of lawyer who wants my clients to feel a connection with me. That makes us a good team in the divorce process.
Some things you might want to know about me:
I’m not very tall, so when I was a new attorney, I made sure to dress conservatively (and wear heels), so judges and other attorneys took me seriously. It was how I stepped into confidence as a lawyer. I looked younger than my age, but I dressed the part! (I still do. And I love to wear bright colors.)
I still get butterflies in my stomach before a court appearance. The adrenaline helps me prepare.
I do a TON of research and preparation. For trial, I use a Trial Notebook to go through the steps and stay organized, so I don’t forget any detail.
I love being outside – even more since this pandemic hit! Some days, I’ll leave the office in the middle of the day to take a walk, and my favorite kind of time off is time spent in nature – hiking, kayaking, anywhere beautiful (these days, in Michigan).
The best part of my work is my clients. I love the one-on-one, hearing their hopes and dreams, and doing what I can to make them come to life.
Over the summer, I was sitting at an outdoor table, with beautiful flowers in a centerpiece and delicious food before me as a dear friend married his same-sex life partner.
At my table sat another gay man who is also a lawyer, and the conversation turned as it will to the question of the right of same-sex couples to marry. It’s been a big issue lately in the news, especially in the wake of a recent Michigan decision that it is still not legal for same-sex couples in this state to become a legally married couple.
However, I cautioned the attorney at my side that the right to marry also means a couple has to abide by the laws of divorce. It’s something that some couples don’t consider when they’re advocating for equal rights in marriage – there are equal rights in divorce, then, too.
The other attorney agreed. He lives in California and he realized that after the law there changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, he noticed an influx of clients coming to him to legalize their divorces. They could no longer just break up like they did in their pre-marriage days. They now need something legal to say their marriage has ended.
When you’re so focused on the fight to win the war, are you looking at the consequences? There are obligations that come with being married. One of those is that if you want the state to recognize your marriage, now you’re obligated to the laws of the state to end your marriage.
From a divorce attorney’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if spouses are same gender or different – issues of support, parenting time, division of property and more also don’t see gender difference. They loom large and they need resolution all the same.
It’s something to think about as we venture into this brave new world. With the benefits of any new, hard-won right come the obligations, too.
Note: The most popular month to file for divorce is January, when people are past the holidays and starting a new year on a fresh note. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how long a divorce can take, and how to build patience for the process.
It can take some people years to finally make the decision to leave a marriage.
Once they get there, and they find their attorney and begin the process, they’re probably eager to get it done and move on to the next phase of their lives.
Which is why so many divorce clients are frustrated by “The Wait.”
Divorce cases can, and often do, take on a life of their own.
In the state of Michigan, the soonest a divorce can happen legally when you have children is 6 months. Without kids, the law only requires a 60-day waiting period. But most divorces take longer.
I know, it feels unreasonably long. Here are a few practical and legal points clients should think about as they embark on divorce. I have this conversation all the time to set realistic timeline parameters for my clients because it does take time to complete the process.
The couple must agree on the terms of the divorce. If you are divorcing, in all likelihood, you and your spouse do not agree on many things. So imagine how long it might take to discuss details like property division, parenting time, spousal and child support and more within the context of your divorce. What can you do to get you and your spouse to agreement?
A divorce begins when one person files a divorce complaint. That complaint is served – which means delivered – to the other person, usually by a process server or certified mail. The recipient has 21 days to answer the complaint if personally served or 28 days if served by mail.
Discovery is required in most divorce cases to gain information. Both husband and wife must gather information disclosing assets and liabilities; and often this discovery includes obtaining facts that may be relevant to property division or parenting time.
There may be hearings to determine details toward resolution. That requires scheduling within the court system where motions are only heard by the judge once each week.
A pre-trial or settlement conference date is usually scheduled by the court when additional deadlines will be set to keep your case moving forward. A judge may require parenting education classes, mediation or other meetings before the trial date.
Emotions can cause setbacks. One spouse may not want the divorce and may slow down the proceedings. Emotions can also obscure clients’ focus on the legal matters at-hand. The more we lose focus, the longer “The Wait.”
You’ll need to divide property and resources. That can include bank accounts, retirement accounts or pension plans, investments, your home, other real estate, a business and more. To propose a property division, a preliminary determination needs to be made to identify what exactly the marital property consists of, and then to value it. It’s a more complex process than it sounds, even in “easy” cases.
When there are children in a marriage, custody and parenting time must be determined. The same goes for child support and spousal support. If the parties are not in agreement, there are many facts and a lot of information attorneys need to gather (through discovery or other resources) to support a client’s position as to what is in your best interest and the best interests of your children.
Remember, you are not the only divorce happening at this time! The court must juggle all the various cases to schedule dates for everyone. Plus, your attorney has multiple clients and is working on many cases at once.
While this feels like – and may very well be! – the biggest thing happening in your life, in other settings you are one of many, which slows the process.
Ultimately, keep in mind that your divorcewillfinish and you will be able to put this difficult time behind you as you enter a new phase of life with strength and optimism. Focusing on how long it takes doesn’t make it go faster.
But you can be a partner to the process, easing your perspective about “The Wait.”