"And they lived happily ever after” might have been true back in the 1940s, when five out of six married couples stayed together til death did them part. But as times change, so do statistics. These days, the fairy tale often turns into a horror story, and half of all marriages end in divorce.
Social trends may shift, but the needs of families in crisis remain constant. “People who are going through a painful divorce need an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with every nuance of family law and the family court system,” says attorney Susan Hais. That’s why her firm, Hais, Hais & Goldberger, P.C. focuses solely on family law, an area that deals with divorce, child custody and other complex, emotionally charged issues.
The firm, now entering its 30th year, started out as a solo practice, with just Susan and a paralegal. “But thanks to Susan’s reputation as a caring, tenacious advocate, the practice grew rapidly,” says Sam Hais, Susan’s husband and business partner. “We now have seven attorneys, and we plan on adding one or two more.”
“Actually, a lot of the firm’s growth was spurred by Sam,” Susan Hais says. “When he joined in 2002 after 25 years as a family court judge, clients were drawn to his unique expertise. We were able to expand to accommodate more complex cases.”
Divorce is an increasingly complicated matter, involving the evaluation of financial matters and tax issues, disposition of marital property and debt, and knowledge of pension and bankruptcy laws, the Haises note. Child custody problems often require psychological or psychiatric evaluation and the use of vocational experts to resolve questions of maintenance and support.
But the emotional complexities can be every bit as thorny as the technical ones. “In our opinion, general practice firms may not be equipped to handle these needs,” Sam Hais says. “Our clients develop strong relationships with us because we’re helping them during a difficult time. They feel protected and reassured. They know we’re going to listen to them and fight for them.”
He has been known to talk clients out of filing for divorce. “It happens once in awhile, if it’s the appropriate thing to do,” he says, “and our clients are grateful for it.”
Because decisions made during a divorce affect the rest of a client’s life, and the lives of their children, too—it’s important to choose an attorney carefully, the Haises say. “Get a referral from a friend who has been through a divorce, or a trusted family adviser, like a clergyman,” Susan Hais advises. “Interview more than one attorney, if need be, until you feel a connection. Does he or she understand you, answer your questions, return your calls?” And make sure the firm has enough staff to take care of you. “We have a paralegal for each attorney,” she adds.
The Haises are equally careful when choosing the attorneys who work for them. “Skill and talent are important, of course, but equally important is a strong desire to help people,” Sam Hais says. “This is a tough area of practice, requiring a tremendous amount of work and sensitivity. We are fortunate to have so many extremely talented people with us, including Elliott Goldberger, Robert and Amy Dennis, and our latest hire, Kevin Greene. And Joseph Lambson, who will join us in June, is so impressive that we hired him before he got out of law school!”
Their goals for the future are simple: “To continue hiring the best lawyers and paralegals, and to keep providing the highest level of hands-on service to our clients,” Susan Hais says.