Anytime my lawyer friends talk shop, my divorce lawyer friend always has the most interesting stories. A few months ago, a group of us went for happy hour. The conversation turned to a discussion of what we were doing at work. I said that my client was contemplating settlement over his parking lot lawsuit. Everyone yawned. My finance lawyer friend began to talk about securitizing something, but then just stopped talking because she knew her work was even more boring. This trend continued until my divorce lawyer friend talked about a recent trial. The highlights of her story included a lesbian affair and a mail-order bride. We were all rapt.
For that reason, I have wanted to profile a divorce firm for a while. Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with San Francisco family lawyer (I guess they prefer that term) Erik Newton. His firm, Heath Newton LLP, has become a highly regarded boutique law firm that specializes in “Family Building,” “Divorce and Dissolution,” and “Asset Protection”….
Despite the drama that may exist in the lives of their clients, Heath Newton lawyers work hard to make the divorce process as peaceful as possible. Newton and his partner, Terrance Heath, founded the firm a few years ago based on a shared philosophy. According to Newton, the adversarial system in personal matters does not work because it becomes too costly. Instead, an approach that looks toward efficiency, de-escalation, and practicality is a more appropriate model. This view is the foundation for how the attorneys at Heath Newton practice.
Newton and Heath also shared a similar vision for their work environment. At Heath Newton, the attorneys are encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance. And the firm rewards entrepreneurship, too.
I asked Newton what were some of the “hot” issues in the world of family law. He said the firm has many cases falling into three categories. First, cases in which one parent seeks to relocate after a marriage are common. These cases tend to be among the most contentious, as the court attempts to determine the custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child.
Second, division of stock options upon dissolution of a marriage is another common theme. In San Francisco, where many start-ups offer employees options — some of which are vested, and some of which vest later — determining how to divide these assets becomes a difficult question to resolve.
And third, many same-sex couples come to Health Newton for assistance with issues relating to surrogacy and adoption.
I would assume that working in the family law area would make lawyers cynical about marriage and family. Newton, however, still believes in the institution of marriage. In fact, he believes so strongly that he has added marriage counselor to his list of job titles. Well, sort of.
In February 2012, Newton will be unveiling a series of marriage planning seminars. After seeing so many marriages dissolve, he has identified some issue areas that couples should tackle before getting married. These include developing communication skills and discussing issues relating to finances and raising children.
Doesn’t Newton fear this will destroy his client base? No. “There will always be divorce, because no matter how much work you put in to a relationship, some will fail. However, if couples are mature and thoughtful in their relationships, they will have a better approach to the divorce.”
If only Heath Newton would offer a dating service, then it would indeed become a full-service law firm. At least full-service for my needs.
For more information on Heath Newton LLP, check out their website.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.