I have been practicing family law in Southern California for nearly 37 years, concentrating on highly contested custody cases and complex marital estates. To say it is not exactly a “walk in the park” is an understatement. I often hear clients, friends, and family (some who have stressful jobs themselves) say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Then add to the subject matter of what I do the fact that I practice in one of the most competitive legal environments in the world, and it’s no wonder there is a high rate of divorce and substance abuse among divorce attorneys.
Like Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business, Joel Goodson, who dealt in “human pleasure,” I deal in adversity. Long before clients come to my office they usually have experienced some type of adversity: Their spouse fell out of love with them and in love with someone else, they have suffered business reversals, or they have had to confront serious issues involving either themselves or their children, such as substance abuse, depression, or special needs. After the divorce process begins, they may experience adversity from a judge, the opposing party, or their ex-spouse.
The reality is that, as human beings, we all experience adversity in some form during our lifetimes. Some experience it more than others but no one escapes life unscathed.
The question is not whether you will have to confront adversity; the question is what you do when it happens to you.
Oprah Winfrey, a woman I greatly admire who has publicly admitted to experiencing adversity at a young age, said, “Where there is no struggle there is no strength.” In other words, we get our strength as a result of adverse circumstances. If we didn’t have these opportunities, we would not develop the ability to become stronger.
Certainly that is true for me. I was the eldest of three sisters who fought physically and verbally. Of course the verbal fighting always hurt more. Through those experiences, I learned how to defend myself and, most importantly, how to go on the offense when necessary. After I got married, I had a child with special needs. She has taught me many things about love and life. Some of the most important lessons I learned from her are not to give up, embrace what you have, make it the best it can be, and grow as a person.
Recently in my professional career I faced adversity. Although many of my colleagues supported and encouraged me with words that I would get through it, many exploited my adversity to enhance their own reputation in the legal community. Instead of retreating and feeling sorry for myself or being ashamed, I chose not to hide; instead, I chose to confront what happened, learn from the experience, and become a better and stronger person and lawyer.
Another public figure who has experienced adversity on the world stage is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has perceptively noted, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” We can either give in or we can face what has happened to us and decide to learn from the experience and fight for ourselves.
In all aspects of my personal and professional life, I have decided to fight. To fight for my daughter to ensure she has a wonderful life. To fight on behalf of my clients when no one else wanted to take their cases and to prevail for them. That is what has made me the divorce attorney I am today. There is no attorney who is more committed to their clients than I am. I am committed to helping them overcome adversity, win their case, and make them better people.