When attorney Susan Hais graduated from law school, she was among only seven women in a class of 220. Clearly, these days the numbers are more balanced. But it was a different world back then, according to the founder of Hais, Hais, Kallen & Goldberger, who started practicing law in 1974.
“It’s become more sophisticated, you need to have a wide array of knowledge of various legal subjects,” she says. Her firm concentrates its practice in the area of family law. “Just like the medical profession, there are reasons for specializing, no one can be a master of all aspects of the law,” she says. “The practice of law has become so complex, people who are looking for divorce lawyers need to find a firm that specializes in family law.”
Hais says issues such as dual working spouses and child care and custody have become more complicated and that they’ve changed the way divorce is handled in the courts. She says throwing financial matters into the mix makes litigation even more involved. “Tax laws have changed: If you get property from someone, you’ll have to figure out the tax consequences and deductions and maintenance. Pension and bankruptcy laws are also different.” In addition, Hais says modern divorce lawyers have to understand issues like relocation. “We represent CEOs who move around, so one of the big questions is how do you adapt parenting plans for people who travel?”
Specializing in family law is not something an attorney can pick up casually, says Hais. “That’s why it’s the only thing we do. The families we handle have corporations, pensions, trusts and assets that are complicated,” she says. “Each case is very specific, and our firm has attorneys who are well-informed in the areas of taxes and business. It’s also important to know and have access to experts such as therapists, psychologists, counselors and social workers.”
While the law has changed over the years to make divorce litigation more gender-neutral and focused on the well-being of children, Hais points out there are areas still in need of improvement. “Years ago, they changed the system to allow for only one year to finish a divorce case,” she explains. “But you can’t just demand certain cases be finished within a certain amount of time. Each case is different and needs some flexibility.” She’d also like to see more family law practitioners appointed to the bench. “Many judges don’t choose to be in family court, but they end up there. That creates an attitude of impatience,” she says, but is quick to add that many judges are completely comfortable in family court. “Patience is required in family court cases, and we have some very emotionally generous judges, they’ll listen and take the time to do what’s right.”
Divorce is one of life’s most emotional and stressful passages, and it’s important to find the right attorney, says Hais. “Ask your good friends about their experiences with their attorneys, that will tell it all,” she advises. “It’s similar to finding a good doctor: Don’t go through the yellow pages, but talk to people who’ve gone through the same experience. They’ll tell you how good (or bad) their lawyer was.”