It was a typical gloomy Portland day in early winter of 1992, and I was sitting at my desk with trial notebooks piled high, when the light came on the first time. My calendar was chock full of upcoming depositions and trials involving car accidents and personal injury cases, but my mind was bursting with thoughts about my first family law case.
It wasn’t a conscious thought so much as restlessness that led me to volunteer to represent a woman with no money in a divorce case. At that point I had been a trial lawyer for 15 years, first in criminal cases and later in civil cases. At times the cases were stimulating, and I was pretty good at what I did. But something was missing.
I had never studied or considered family law. I had never taken a family law class in law school many years earlier. Helping the client with her divorce, however, gave rise to a feeling of connection and meaning that I had not experienced in my civil trial practice.
Also, as my thoughts wandered, I realized that I had studied nothing (not even my own profession) as deeply as I had studied families and the effects of divorce. I had dug into this private space to understand the lingering impact of my parents’ divorce and why I did some of the things I did.
It was then that the light came on. It was as though two wires touched to produce an electrifying new thought: my future could lie in helping families. Within a short time I began to study family law and to represent clients needing a divorce or other family issues. I left the big trial firm and began to specialize in family law. Since then I have represented hundreds of clients in family law cases. I have settled lots of cases, and I have successfully represented many clients at trial.
This change to family law, now made some 23 years ago, felt good and meaningful for a long time. I found greater satisfaction helping clients in such difficult and stressful circumstances (there are few life transitions as challenging as divorce). Also, my professional and personal lives felt increasingly congruent. All was good, until the second light went on.