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Litigator thinks family law should stay out of the courtroom

By: Jane Pribek//December 17, 2012//

Litigator thinks family law should stay out of the courtroom

By: Jane Pribek//December 17, 2012//

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Marta Meyers
Marta Meyers - Boardman & Clark LLP, Madison (Staff Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Although she’s trained as a mediator, it was an interest in litigation that got Marta Meyers started in law.

Fresh out of law school, Meyers worked as a litigation associate at a big firm and soon realized that her position resulted in very little court time.

Then she noticed the lone attorney at her firm who did divorce, who always seemed to be hurrying off to court. So she switched practice areas.

“But I found that the more I went to court, the less I liked it and the less satisfying it became,” Meyers said.

So she got trained as a mediator and later as a collaborative law practitioner.

Although Meyers, now a family law attorney at Boardman & Clark LLP, Madison, still does traditional divorce litigation, she strongly believes that few if any family law cases should be tried.

“Sure, I’ll take that test case all the way to the Supremes. That’s wonderful for my reputation, career and fees,” she said. “But how great is it for the client, who has to live through all that, take the risk and maybe get the result?

Family law cases, by and large, are screaming for collaboration and alternative ways to get them resolved.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What are the most attractive features of mediation and collaborative law, in your opinion?

Marta Meyers: With mediation, a lot of clients still get that opportunity to tell their story, not to a judge but to a mediator. That’s very important to them. It’s an equivalent to their day in court, but a lot less expensive, in a conference room rather than an open courtroom and they haven’t had to pay their attorney for three days prep time to formally present it to a judge.

Collaboration is an even better model. But the ingredients have to be right: The parties need to be accepting of the process and the eventuality of the divorce. When that happens, it’s so much more meaningful, because the parties have so much more control. It’s not the attorneys talking back and forth and the judge dictating things. It’s very empowering, and the parties can do what’s right for them and their families. It’s a challenge, but it’s really worth it.

Every time my client’s case settles in mediation, and I feel good about the settlement and see how relieved they are, it’s a great feeling. And with collaboration, it’s so much more rewarding to see people being so real and letting their guard down. There’s none of the artificiality that can happen with litigation.

WLJ: Have you seen any trends with ADR as it pertains to family law?

Meyers: It’s becoming standard practice for most of my colleagues and myself to talk in initial consultations with clients about the various processes, rather than possible outcomes. We’re also seeing more arbitration or a mix, “med-arb,” in family law. A lot of retired judges offer both, and it can work very well for parties who need finality but don’t want to pay for five days of trial.

WLJ: What is the No. 1 mistake you see attorneys make in preparing either themselves or their clients for ADR?

Meyers: Timing is everything. If you do it too soon, or too late and people feel rushed, it’s less likely to work. Or sometimes mediation fails if someone hasn’t done enough of their homework. And once in a while you have the outliers, where people are so emotionally entangled that they can’t see the forest for the trees; which relates back to timing, in some cases.

WLJ: What is your definition of success?

Meyers: It’s not earning the most money you can, because there are definitely a lot of people who do that who are not happy. For me, it’s finding satisfaction in helping people one-on-one and finding satisfaction in your daily life in even the smallest ways — connecting with people and feeling like you’ve made a difference in their lives.


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