Tell us your story. What kind of law do you practice? How did you get to where you are today?
Back in law school, I was crystal clear that there were two areas of law I'd never practice - family law and anything that advertises on bus stop benches. I was so sure of my path that I actually dropped my family law course 3L year to compete on the WashU Trial Team instead. (Incidentally, that was absolutely the right choice as it was the best training I ever received for what I actually do.)
A few years later, with countless hours of commercial and real estate litigation under my belt, I was moved into my firm's family law department to fulfill a vacancy. Only now - after working for two large law firms and then starting my own - do I understand that I was meant for this path.
I am honored to be helping people through what is almost certain to be one of the darkest and most challenging times in their life.
Family law excites and challenges me in a way no other niche ever did. Notwithstanding the bad rap divorce attorneys get, I am honored to be helping people through what is almost certain to be one of the darkest and most challenging times in their life. More than that, I've been there. I'm a child of divorce. My mom was a marriage therapist. My parents were litigating a child support issue the day I took my first bar exam. I was also divorced myself once, but am now happily remarried and delighted to be helping to raise two stepdaughters. So if you can come up with a family law situation, I've probably lived it.
All that goes to say that while I did not set out to be a family law attorney, family law found me. And we're a good fit for each other.
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
I wanted to be a newscaster, actually, so I got a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri. One of the required courses for all J-majors was Communications Law. While my classmates snoozed around me, I was inexplicably on the edge of my seat, and I knew before the semester was over that I would go to law school.
I dreamed of being a champion of the First Amendment, the type of attorney who protected the freedom of the press. I was disabused of that career path by the time I showed up for my first day at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, but I have never once regretted the journey as I ended up exactly where I belong.
Was it a smooth road becoming a lawyer and getting to where you are now? If not, what are some of the struggles you encountered?
I was fortunate to attend a good law school, which opened doors for interesting clerkships and sought-after job opportunities after graduation. I was hired by two well-respected firms - one in St. Louis, and then later another in San Diego - where I was able to work side-by-side with some of the most brilliant and honorable attorneys I've ever known.
The primary challenge I faced, as I came to realize much later in my career, was simply that I was a woman in firms run almost entirely by men.
Far from being unique to me, that experience is shared by female attorneys around the world. And it took years of mustering up the courage, all the while watching countless women colleagues say goodbye, to realize I could create an environment where there is no glass ceiling, no gender pay gap, no requirement to wear nylons and skirts, and no male senior partners to tell me I should smile when they're giving me research assignments (that really happened).
So in 2013 I left big firm life and started my own practice. My then-supervisor (who happens to also be a woman) became my business partner and Smith & Scatizzi LLP was born. To date, we have employed only smart, dynamic and FEMALE legal professionals.
What are you most proud of as a lawyer? What sets your practice apart from others? What do you love the most about what you do?
I'm most proud of the firm I've helped to build and the culture inside it. We are three female lawyers and three female staff members, and we cherish that distinction.
Nearly all of us have been through the family law arena ourselves, so we approach our clients and cases with a level of compassion and empathy that not everyone can. We know we're seeing people at their lowest, and we know the stakes are immeasurably high as we're fighting for their children, their home, or even their ability to put food on the table. We know that, perhaps more than any other legal field, we are going to earn the title of "counselor." And at the end of the day, we know we're going to give them all we've got and that our passion for this often-mocked, rarely-applauded area of the law will hopefully have made these dark days at least a little better.
If you could change, improve or disrupt one thing about the practice of law, what would it be?
Well billable hours aren't awesome, but the one thing I'd most want to change would be access to justice in family law.
With the divorce rate still hovering around 50% in this country, more people will be exposed to the family court than any other. And yet our system is so broken that many of these litigants wait months, even years, to find resolution. They're brought back to court time and time again to file and re-file different forms, to check different boxes. When they do get into the courtroom, they're likely to be standing there without counsel, and facing a judge who, in all likelihood, never cracked open the Family Code prior to being appointed to the bench, so their sense of justice in the outcome of their request for custody, or child support, or division of their assets is shaken.
I think we can do better.
What are you doing when you're not lawyering?
Last summer I finished a two-year term as the president of one of San Diego's oldest and most respected non-profit, volunteer organizations: The Junior League of San Diego. My 11 years in JLSD (including five different roles on the Board of Directors) gave me a wealth of experience not only in servant leadership, governance and the empowerment of women, but in balance. Serving a two-year term as JLSD President while also running a law firm was like having two full-time jobs that I loved equally.
Never one to back down from a challenge, I thought that it would be excellent timing if I also planned a wedding and got married during the first year of my term, and trained for and ran my first half marathon during the second year of my term.
There will come a time in the very near future when I will resurrect my community leadership skills to perhaps run for office or otherwise serve in the public sector. These days, however, while I'm still catching my breath, I happily use my juggling skills to be the best mom I can to my two girls (Parker, who will be 12 in May, and Maren, who will be 9 in June) and to support their endless extracurricular endeavors.
I also travel a great deal with my husband, who is a fellow lawyer and wine connoisseur. (We went to Champagne a few years ago on the first day of the harvest, to the Rhone Valley for our honeymoon, and to Mendoza, Argentina two months ago.) I take every opportunity I can to visit my family and friends back home in the St. Louis area and I take immense pride in the fact that my two California-born children both cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Missouri Tigers, all of which I support passionately.