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What area of family law do you find most interesting?
I focus on custody matters in particular. I’m a child of divorce, and I’m also a divorced parent who is actively and amicably co-parenting with my ex-spouse. So I bring a certain perspective to these cases, especially where children are concerned.
Why did you apply to become an AAML member?
I worked with two highly regarded Fellows, Howard Rosenfeld and Kathy Farmer, who helped me build the skills I needed to apply to the AAML, and encouraged me to do so. But I also hoped that if I was accepted, I could likewise encourage other women of color to apply, because I think sometimes there’s a perception that it’s unattainable—like you’re not part of the club. I want to bring some diversity to the AAML, first as a Fellow and then as a mentor to others.
What do you find most rewarding about the AAML?
I think it’s the confidence that people have with Academy members, not just for our skills but also in knowing that we navigated a rigorous vetting process. For me, there’s an element of enhanced trust in Fellows—perhaps because we’re part a big think tank, in a way, with Fellows across the country.
What are you most eagerly anticipating in the coming year?
My two partners and I co-founded our firm in November 2020; I got my license in 2006, so this step was a long time coming. I’m really looking forward to our continued success for our clients and our firm, providing good legal services to the people who trust us with that responsibility.
Vanessa L. Hammer, co-founder of Hammer Serna & Quinn, LLC in Chicago, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-372-6058.
I like the human aspect of family law. It’s almost like being a therapist in some ways, dealing with people’s fears and anger about what matters most. A good attorney must be open to really hearing where their clients are coming from. I also feel strongly about alternative ways to resolve cases. For years, the only way to address family law conflicts was through the court system. But mediation and collaborative processes have shifted resolution in a tremendously positive direction.
How long have you practiced family law?
It’s been about 30 years. I formed my own practice 20 years ago because I thought without the big infrastructures, I could have more flexibility and give my clients more personal attention. Before family law I practiced in other areas, which really helped, because in family law, we also have to draw on other areas of the law, such as real estate and business.
What do you do for fun outside the office?
My husband and I love to travel. He formerly worked with Interpol, which took us on some remarkable trips to Asia, Australia, Europe, and especially France, where Interpol’s headquarters are located. So traveling is my passion—after my twin grandchildren.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My mentor told me, “Don’t try to be something you’re not; don’t try to mimic me. You have to find your own path; you’re more persuasive when it’s authentic.” Years later, an attorney said, “You’re too nice to be a family attorney,” but I was staying true to myself. And I did learn from a judge that the person who yells loudest does not necessarily win.
Donna R. Farley, founder of Law Offices of Donna R. Farley in Chicago, can be reached at email@example.com and 312-252-1520.
What do you find most rewarding about being an AAML Fellow?
The knowledge! The case experience, and the caliber of knowledge that the attorneys have, are beyond reproach. If there’s ever an issue, I can call a Fellow who has either dealt with a specific matter before or who will brainstorm with me about a solution.
I clerked at Levin & Brend starting with my first year in law school. I became an associate there when I graduated in 2003 and stayed until April of 2022 when I established my own firm.
What area of family law interests you most?
I am a big believer in alternative dispute resolution, so I handle a lot of collaborative law and mediation. I really enjoy helping couples come up with resolutions that are a little outside the box. In court, judges can be limited in what they order due to what the statutes state. But in alternative dispute resolution, we can craft creative solutions with the best interests of the entire family in mind.
What is your first piece of advice for a new client?
I encourage my clients to think about where they will be five years from now, not just five months from now. Our goal is to put them in a good place for the future, financially and, particularly if they have children, in the relationship with their ex. They’re going to be part of each other’s lives forever, with weddings, grandkids and all of that.
Outside the office, what do you do for fun?
I have a six-year-old. Right now we’re learning to read.
Jennifer M. Fletchall, principal and founding member of The Fletchall Group LLC in Chicago, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-803-6965.
What do you find most rewarding about being a Fellow of the AAML?
It’s the camaraderie. When we have cases against each other, the goal is to fight as hard as you can for our client. Court is an adversarial, somewhat combative process. But once you’re no longer in front of the judge, it’s good to temper that with the social interactions that you get through the Academy. When we can see people on a more human level, it makes us better attorneys.
I was licensed in 1995 and worked for 22 years at what is now Grund & Leavitt, where I had a long tenure as managing partner. About six years ago, I started a firm with two good friends which has grown substantially.
What area of family law do you find most interesting?
I find business valuation fascinating—discount rates, cap rates and the different methodologies employed in valuing different industries. It affords me the opportunity to learn so much about so many industries. In cross-examination, we need a working understanding of these fields in order to effectively ask questions.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Be overprepared. The more prepared you are, the better attorney you’re going to be—period, end of discussion.
Michael F. Koenigsberger, principal at Dussias Wittenberg Koenigsberger LLP in Chicago, Deerfield and Oak Brook, can be reached at MFK@dwkllp.com and (312)967-7070.
Why did you apply to become an AAML Fellow?
My father, Sandy Kirsh, was a founding member of the Illinois chapter, and it was really important to him that I become a Fellow. The AAML was a big part of his professional and social life, and he wanted me to have the same experience.
What do you find most rewarding about being a Fellow?
I appreciate being able to talk to really good lawyers about our issues. The law is developing all the time, and the Academy takes a position on bills being proposed in Springfield. For me, the best part is that I can help shape how the practice develops.
I handle a lot of guardian ad litem and custody cases, and I love that work. But those cases are emotionally draining. So I also like a good old-fashioned let’s-fight-about-money case. In the end, somebody might get a little bit less, whereas in custody cases, people can get hurt.
What’s the first tip you have for a new client?
Avoid litigation: get your divorce over, even if it means paying a little more. There’s an emotional cost to litigation. Clients and friends say that divorce is the worst experience of their life. Why would you want to prolong it any longer than you have to?
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
My daughter, who is currently my law clerk, is entering her third year of law school and will join the firm when she graduates. I’m pretty proud about that.
Matthew A. Kirsh, senior partner at Kirsh & Associates, LTD in Chicago, can be reached at email@example.com and (312) 981-0109.
I focus on divorce and parentage cases, both through mediation and litigation. Being a litigator is essential to family law. People will dispute issues, whether they are child-related or financial ones, and attorneys must be prepared to litigate these issues.
I began at Prairie State Legal Services in 1977. When I went into private practice in 1980, I worked of counsel for another law firm, but I kept a concentration on family law. I’ve handled family law cases exclusively since I established my own firm in 1994.
Outside the office, what do you enjoy doing?
My wife and I scuba dive. We’ve traveled a lot, to all 50 states, some Canadian provinces, and a few other countries. Lately, I’ve been going to racetracks—for the fun of betting, obviously, but also, some of these tracks are absolutely gorgeous. Saratoga in New York is one of the most beautiful places just to spend the day. And the horses are magnificent.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t ever go back on your word. When you make an agreement, don’t change your mind; don’t get a reputation as someone who can’t be trusted. I was a hearing officer for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) for 20 years, and I saw a number of people who didn’t understand that.
Richard W. Zuckerman, sole practitioner in Peoria, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 309-637-3732.
What do you find rewarding about being a Fellow of the AAML?
Studying for the admissions test made me take a deeper dive into the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. I didn’t take family law in law school; I went into general practice and then started concentrating on family law. So the test, and the subsequent CLE seminars, really gave me a whole different view of family law.
I’m trying to find alternatives to down-and-dirty custody litigation, trying to look at things like collaborative parenting and other mediation. I’m not afraid to go to court; I’ll go to court any day. But at this point in my career, I place a lot more focus on the alternatives.
What’s the first tip you have for a client?
Gather information. I think no one really looks at the big picture things—“Where do we spend our money? What does our retirement look like?”—until they complete a comprehensive financial affidavit. That’s going to help guide the case, from the standpoint of both finances and family dynamics.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
First, take short, frequent vacations. In family law, you have to get out of your own head and out of your clients’ way; even a long weekend will make you a better practitioner. The second piece of advice was to trust myself, and not simply assume that other people know more than I know.
Lisa M. Nyuli, partner at Ariano, Hardy, Ritt, Nyuli, Richmond, Lytle & Goettel, P.C., with offices in South Elgin and Huntley, can be reached at email@example.com and 847-695-2400.
I joined the AAML in 1978, but actually, my first divorce case was a lawsuit. I was at Northwestern Law School when they opened a legal clinic in the summer of 1969. We drew straws and I got the first case—a 16-year-old mother with her baby, both with welts inflicted by her 18-year-old husband using an electrical cord. At the time, Northwestern did not have a family law class. So we sort of invented the wheel and got an injunction. This was way before the Domestic Violence Act.
Why did you join the AAML?
A judge I respected told me I should. But also, becoming a Fellow showed me that I had arrived, and that I was being recognized as one of the very fine divorce lawyers in Illinois.
What is the number one tip you have for clients?
Be realistic. Nobody gets everything and nobody gets nothing. Somewhere between “I get it all” and “You get it all” is the reality. So start by assuming each side gets half, and then let’s take it from there.
What are you looking forward to professionally in the coming year?
Years ago in Lake County, where I live and work, we met with judges about local court rules. But that changed over time. One judge told me at a seminar, “We’re not here to listen to how you want to do things. We’re here to tell you how it’s going to be done.” I would like to get back to the collegiality that we once had.
Gary L. Schlesinger, senior partner at Schlesinger & Strauss, LLC in Libertyville, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 847-680-4970..
I’ve really enjoyed helping develop the Illinois chapter’s Continuing Legal Education programs that elevate our profession. In 2005, I chaired our first CLE Columbus Day seminar, now called the Indigenous People’s Day Seminar. It is one of the best such programs in the nation.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
First tackle the tough stuff. And be a continuous learner and reader for life: it will make you a better person and a better lawyer.
My entire career, starting in the 1980s, has been in family law. I established my own firm in 2002.
What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
I’m eager to get back to the basics of my family law practice, after finally completing my comprehensive revision of Gitlin on Divorce: A Guide to Illinois Family Law. And I’m looking forward to serving as the next president of the Illinois Chapter of the AAML.
And what do you look forward to outside of work?
Recently I’ve started riding trail horses, and this summer we are taking the horses out to the Black Hills in South Dakota.
Gunnar J. Gitlin, principal of The Gitlin Law Firm, P.C. in McHenry County, can be reached at email@example.com and 815-338-9401.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
When I was hired at my previous firm, my mentor, Alan Toback, said, “You get two weeks of vacation. Take it. You’ll need it.” And he was absolutely right. The practice of family law can be all-consuming; it’s important to take time to relax and recharge.
It’s been 22 years. Before that, I practiced general law—criminal law, bankruptcy, immigration—running from courthouse to courthouse. I quickly learned you can’t know everything about everything. So I focused on family law.
What led you to become an AAML Fellow?
I attended Academy seminars and I was impressed by the caliber of attorneys and their expertise. I felt that becoming a Fellow was a way to take my practice to the next level. I also enjoyed, and still enjoy, the opportunity to interact with attorneys and judges outside the courtroom, at social events like the annual gala—and now I’m co-chairing that event for this year.
Outside the office, how do you spend your time?
I’m taking violin lessons after a long break. I started about 12 years ago, when my son was studying violin and I thought it would be fun to learn with him. Then life got in the way. But before COVID-19, I found a new teacher, so I’ve started again. I really love Irish jigs and classical music as well—just anything that’s lively. It’s nice to focus my brain on something other than work.
Laura Ashmore, managing partner of Davis Friedman, with offices in Chicago and Deerfield, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-782-2220.
What brought you to family law?
I love people, and in divorce law, you’re not only a lawyer, you become a friend to your clients as they go through the most difficult time in their life.
And if that doesn’t work, my advice is: Let’s get through this as quickly and efficiently as possible. Pick your battles.
What aspect of family law do you find most intriguing?
I love the financial issues. I have an economics degree from University of Pennsylvania, and numbers always have been my strength. I really enjoy coming up with creative ways to settle financial challenges for cases.
How has being an Illinois Fellow benefited you?
In addition to the prestige, the chance to meet Fellows from all 50 states has widened the scope of my practice. I’ve had the opportunity to attend and present seminars, and some lawyers I met through the Academy invited me to teach each year at the National Family Law Trial Institute in Houston. All of that helps build my reputation.
I’m sort of an audiophile: I like having really a cool stereo at home, with the old vacuum tube amplifiers and turntables and vinyl. And I also enjoy driving classic automobiles. I have a 1971 BMW that I enter in car shows. There’s a lot of camaraderie when you find people who like the same thing.
Robert D. Segal, second vice-president of the Illinois Chapter of the AAML, is a partner of Davis Friedman with offices in Chicago and Deerfield, can be reached at email@example.com and 312-782-2220.
What led you to become a Fellow in the Academy?
Early in my career I looked up to attorneys who were Illinois Fellows. I practiced with an attorney who brought me to Academy seminars, so I was exposed to the work of the Academy, and I had the opportunity to learn from some of them. I saw they were practicing at a higher level than others, and I wanted to be one of them.
What area of family law interests you the most?
I like to guide people through complex financial circumstances. I try to simplify things. For spouses who are disadvantaged by having less information about the couple’s finances, I make time to educate them about their own estates. And I tell a more financially advantaged spouse, “Be generous and be done.”
What are you looking forward to as the year unfolds?
I hope for a return to some semblance of our pre-COVID-19, in-person proceedings, even if they’re not 100 percent back to where they were. As a community and as a profession, we have lost some of our civility and collegiality. I think that keeping Zoom court proceedings makes sense for some situations and not for others. I’m very much looking forward to seeing people in person again.
I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, and they keep me moving—or exhausted—all the time. And they’re a lot of fun.
Adam C. Kibort, partner at Grund & Leavitt, P.C. with offices in Chicago and Highland Park, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-640-0500.
What led you to become an Academy Fellow?
I’ve been practicing divorce law since 1984, and I always wanted to be part of the Academy. When my partner and I established our own firm in 2007, one of my first actions was to apply. I already had a lot of respect for the Academy. Any time I’ve had a case against a Fellow, it was at a different level. They were more professional, more knowledgeable and better prepared, and I wanted to be part of that organization.
What area of family law do you focus on?
I like complex financial litigation—anything from business valuations to prenuptial agreements. I enjoy those so much more than custody and child support cases. With financial issues, I tell clients, “Give us the facts and I can pretty much tell you what’s going to happen within a certain range. It doesn’t make sense to try to resolve this by fighting.”
What do you do outside the office?
I enjoy exercising to stay healthy, and I have become pretty proficient at yoga. I enjoy spending time with my wife, and prior to COVID-19, we enjoyed traveling. I’d like to resume that; our last trip was in 2019, to Barcelona, and it was awesome.
Don’t let anyone say you can’t do something. When people say you can’t do something, it’s because they can’t do it.
Stephen R. Botti is a principal in the Law Firm of Botti Marinaccio, LTD with offices in Oak Brook and Delray Beach, FL. He can be reached at email@example.com and 630-575-8585.
I handle mostly domestic relations cases, not for families who are super rich with $10 million houses, but for everyday people with a nice living, a nice house. We keep our fees reasonable to represent people who don’t think they can afford our quality of work. I find this more rewarding, and they are really appreciative.
What do you find most valuable about being in the Illinois Chapter?
It’s a source for professionals in areas of law in which I’m not an expert, where I know I will get the correct answer and helpful guidance. And I really, really love the seminars that we produce; they’re incredible learning experiences.
What do you do for fun
I do a lot of Pilates. And I do a lot of listening to old rock-and-roll. My daughter took me to an Eagles concert and I almost lost my mind, it was so great.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
It’s sort of the reverse of advice. I wanted to be a lawyer when I was very young. My father was a lawyer, and he would talk about the few women who were lawyers back then—and not in a positive frame. He made them sound awful. I wanted to show him that women could bring a great wealth of knowledge and ability to the job.
A. Marcy Newman, senior partner at A. Marcy Newman, P.C. in Chicago, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-606-9000.
I’m a financial guy. I’m an attorney and a CPA, also an Accredited Senior appraiser for business valuations, and Certified Fraud Examiner. I have conducted many forensic accounting investigations and testify regularly as a financial expert in divorce cases across the country; I’m also retained as a mediator in complex financial cases.
What do you find most rewarding about being in the Illinois Chapter?
As a Fellow, I get to sit at the table when laws are being drafted. If I have a question about a case in another state, I can call a Fellow in that state, and I can also be a reference for them regarding Illinois law. I’ve developed connections with Fellows throughout the country. The most valuable benefit for me is that thanks to the Academy I’ve made lifelong friends.
Pay attention to detail. Practice paranoid.
What do you do for fun?
I love playing with my grandkids. And I play pickleball. This May, I’m competing in the National Senior Olympics for pickleball. I had to qualify among the top four in the state. My dad’s going with me. He’s 88 and still playing.
Jeffrey W. Brend, founding shareholder of Levin & Brend, P.C. in Chicago, can be reached at email@example.com and 312-726-4440.
Mediation. I stopped being a litigator at the end of 2020 and started my own firm to help separated families as they navigate co-parenting, which is a new space for them. I think that’s where I really shine.
What is the main message that you have for couples coming to see you?
“You picked the right path.” I truly believe that dispute resolution is the best choice for most families because it puts the parents in the driver’s seat. This approach allows them to solve their issues without relying on the court.
What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
One of my mentors told me never to compromise my morals. In a practice, there are days when you think, “I could lose this client if I don’t do what the person asks.” But if it isn’t the right way to go, I stand firm and hold on to who I am.
What keeps you busy outside the office?
I’m a sports mom; I’m all in when it comes to my kids’ sports and activities. But when I’m not with my family, you can find me in any kind of thrift shop or antique store. I’m all in on that, too.
Kimberly A. Cook, founder of Dovetail Conflict Resolution in Chicago, can be reached at KCook@dovetailcr.com and 312-487-1594.
What key piece of advice do you have for couples who come to you?
Stay married. The first thing I say is, “My job isn’t to tell you to get divorced.” Then I ask them if they have done everything possible to save their marriage. Counseling? Advice of clergy? Gone on retreats?
How did you get into family law?
After law school, I worked at a law firm where a partner was preparing a full-service legal benefits plan but didn’t have anyone who handled divorces. So he approached me and said, “You want to be our divorce guy?” It was never something I’d thought about. Until then, I only wanted to be a trial lawyer; I wanted to fight for people
But once I started in family law, I realized it was a great fit. I’ve always enjoyed interpersonal relationships not only with clients but also other lawyers and judges.
What do you find rewarding about being an Academy Fellow?
There’s a sharing of ideas. We all want to be the best of the best. So when Fellows collaborate with each other, it elevates all of us. It’s made me a better lawyer.
James M. Quigley is an equity partner of Beermann LLP, with offices in Chicago and Bannockburn. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-621-1225
What do you find most rewarding about family law?
My satisfaction comes from looking out for the child’s best interests. I dedicate 98% of my practice to serving as a child representative or guardian ad litem in highly contentious divorce cases.
Is there one piece of advice you have for parents when they divorce?
Put your children first. Do not include them when you fight with each other. Focus on how your words, actions and decisions affect your kids. I ask parents this question: Do you hate your former spouse more than you love your children?
I cycle. And I collect baseball cards, specializing in old Cubs cards. I still have all the cards I had as a kid. One of my sons is really into card collecting too, so we go to shows together.
How did you get into family law in the first place?
My father was a divorce attorney, and I went to work with him straight out of law school. He was among the first Fellows when the Academy started in Chicago in 1962. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Stuart G. Gelfman, first vice-president of the Illinois Chapter of the AAML, is a member, Birnbaum, Haddon, Gelfman & Arnoux LLC, with offices in Cook, Kane and Lake Counties. Reach him at email@example.com and 312-863-2800.