Through her tears, she talked about her mother’s divorce, her grandmother’s divorce… and then her own. I had been the lawyer for both her mom and grandmother, and here I was getting ready to represent a third generation divorce in her family.
It was like her family had led her to me, and my family had led me to her. Well, families are what we’re about.
So, how did my family lead me to her? Well, while most kids were saying they wanted to be a cowboy or an astronaut, I wanted to be just like my dad – a lawyer. In fact, you might say law was in my blood. My father’s father was a lawyer, too. There was a history of “lawyering” on my dad’s side of the family, and I’m the third generation.
As a kid, I couldn’t help but look up to my dad because he had such a strong sense of service. He was heavily involved with the ACLU and volunteer work and civil rights. He was always interested in looking out for “the little guy.” He handled a murder case pro bono for more than a decade, along with some other ACLU volunteers, working to get innocent men freed. In some ways, he was almost larger than life.
I tagged along with him on several occasions. I remember waiting in the car outside of the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida (where death row is located). They used the electric chair back then – “Old Sparky.” I could see the passion that my dad and his colleagues had for the case. Their commitment and determination – in spite of long odds – had quite an impact on my impressionable mind.
What happened with the case? My father’s team was successful. Pitts and Lee were ultimately pardoned by the Florida governor and released. (You can read about the case here.) Dad was a small firm lawyer who did big things. You can read about another of his cases here, in which he represented the Church of Lukumi Babalu Avenue, fighting for their religious freedom. I’ll never forget when the Santeria priests arrived at his funeral.
So, you’d think I would have followed in his footsteps, becoming a lawyer for the ACLU or something similar, right? But the same day I got my passing letter from the State Bar, fate stepped in, and I sort of stumbled into family law. A guy showed up at the law firm where I was working, wanting someone to help him get custody of his infant child. Since I had only gotten my letter Friday morning, we had to talk a judge into swearing me in on Friday afternoon so that I could represent the client by Monday. The judge swore me in surrounded by guys chained together in orange jail jumpsuits awaiting their hearings.
With the help of one of the partners at my firm, I tried the guy’s case, and after two days in court, I couldn’t believe it – but we actually won! It was an awesome experience that got me really interested in family law. Funny how winning has a way of doing that.
With a father like mine, I was practically “born a lawyer,” but I also readily admit that I was born a geek. I’m now in my mid-50s, but I’ve been into technology and computers for almost as long as I can remember. (I had a Commodore 64 when I was in high school.)
Today, a kid grows up with an iPhone by maybe the age of four, but when I was a kid, it wasn’t commonplace to be so obsessed with buying gadgets. Trust me – it wasn’t considered cool either! But I couldn’t help myself, even if I sacrificed some popularity for it. And my tech geek status has never waned. Even as an adult, I took that passion with me into the practice of law.
This means that as soon as those weird things called “websites” started showing up, I “geeked out” over it and built our law firm’s first website. It was in 1994, which I think is the first year you could even have such a thing as a website. I was so curious about the whole process that I just had to do it – even if it meant falling on my face in the process.
As we were building our site, I knew I didn’t want to just use it to boast about “how great” we were. What a yawn that would be. So, we decided to write pages that would help answer some of the questions people had about family law. Over the years, we kept adding to the site until we ended up with tens of thousands of educational pages with everything from text to audio to video to forums. It has lawyers answering questions, it has legal forms, it has statutes, and all sorts of articles. What started out as an experiment has turned into something like 5,000 visitors a day to our site. It has become more about educating people than getting business, and that helps me feel a little bit like I’m living up to my father’s legacy, reaching out farther than just my immediate world.
Big shoes to fill
The truth is that it’s been hard for me over the years to live in my father’s shadow. Dad left some really big shoes to fill, and I have often felt that I should be out there fighting for the constitution and human rights and freedom of religion like he did. Sometimes, I’ve even felt like what I’ve done in my work has been trivial compared to the far-reaching effects of his work.
But then, a client like the woman I mentioned in the first paragraph would come into my office in tears, and my staff and I would find a way to help her find a resolution. That would remind me once again that at the individual level, what we do is plenty important. And when I really ask myself what matters most, the answer always comes back to families.
That theme of the importance of family has played out in a variety of ways in my life. I have two children, and while I was building the practice, I started to feel like I was there for everyone else’s family but not enough for my own. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt over the years for not being around as much as I probably should have for my kids. Part of that drive came from the big shadow of my dad’s shoes – wanting to make him proud and somehow live up to what he accomplished.
I’ll admit that I still struggle emotionally with my father’s legacy as a lawyer compared to what I do. I have loved my work more than I can say, but sometimes, I still feel like I should be “fighting the good fight” on a larger scale.
A less than fun family legacy leads to something positive
The love and legacy of the law isn’t the only thing I inherited from my dad. When he was just 38, he had a heart attack and had to have cardiac bypass surgery. His father before him had heart trouble and died of a stroke when I was just one year old. Then, when I turned 37, I had a heart attack… while in a courtroom. I beat my father’s age by a year. (I’m nothing if not competitive.) As a result, I had to have quintuple bypass at that young age.
What’s most interesting about the experience, though, is that I felt very much in the dark in terms of information. It was hard at that time to find out what I needed to know about heart disease. I felt vulnerable, exposed, out of control, and out of the loop. That got me thinking: “That’s exactly how our clients feel when they end up going through a divorce or a custody battle.” So, it really motivated me to take our educational website a step farther. That’s when we started our website seminars, which have morphed into webinars. Becoming a resource for the education of our clients, prospective clients, and people in the community was a way that I could reach beyond my immediate world and fill my dad’s shoes a little further.
I guess this is where my mother’s influence came into play, too. You see, she was an educator.
She started as a schoolteacher and went on to hold positions in administration at the university level. She eventually got involved in politics and advocated for education issues in the legislature. She was a big inspiration to me, too.
And I thought of her when I heard of people who had gotten stuck with the short end of the stick in their divorce settlements. All they could say was, “The lawyers went into a room and came out, telling me I’d better take the deal.” It was all because they didn’t have enough information and knowledge to help themselves, and I thought about how I felt when I went through my heart surgery. Nobody should have to feel like that.
Passing the torch…
Now, at this phase of my life, I’ve moved on from representing clients to coaching the lawyers in our firm and helping other lawyers who have asked me to help them build their practices. It turns out that providing information, do-it-yourself services, and technology to facilitate communication really works. Who knew? We stumbled into the education approach but found out that it has a pretty big impact on people – both clients and lawyers. Pretty cool stuff.
Lee S. Rosen
Rosen Law Firm
P: (919) 787-6667
|University of North Carolina at Asheville||Political Science||BA- Bachelor of Arts|
|Wake Forest University School of Law||Law||JD- Juris Doctor|
|Award Title||Granting Organization||Year|
|7th Annual Blawg 100 – Business of Law||American Bar Association Journal||2013, 2012|
|Legal Elite – Family Law||Business North Carolina Magazine||2013, 2011|
|Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering||American Bar Association||2010|
|Editorial Board – Family Advocate||American Bar Association||1995 – 2012|
|Chairperson – Law Practice Management Section||North Carolina Bar Association||2006 – 2008|
|Steering Committee – Family Violence Project||National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges||1990 -1995|
|Council Member||North Carolina Bar Association Family Law Section||1990 – 1993|
|Chairperson, Domestic Violence Committee||American Bar Association||1988 – 1990|
|Editor, Family Forum||North Carolina Bar Association Family Law Section||1992 – 1993|
|Law Practice Management Editor – Family Advocate||American Bar Association||2000 – 2012|
|Put Into Practice: Risk Management Tips||NC Lawyers Mutual Continuing Education||2012|
|Ethics Panel – Recent Developments||NC Lawyers Mutual Continuing Education||2011|
|Social Media Panel||NABRICO Conference||2011|
|15 Ways to Raise Your Practice to a New Level||ABA Family Law Spring Meeting||2010|
|Family Law Practice Management||Spring CLE Conference||2010|
|60 Technology Tips in 60 Minutes||NC Paralegal Association||2010|
|Law Practice Management Annual Meeting||NC Bar Association Law Practice Management||2009|
|Aerican Bar Association|
|National Business Institute|
|National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges|
|Wake Forest University School of Law|
|Campbell University School of Law|
|North Carolina Bar Foundation|
|Divorcing Smartly: The End Of A Marriage Isn’t The End Of The World||Morgan and Dawson||2014 (expected)|
|365 Divorce Meditations: Daily Lessons For The First Year Of Your New Life||Morgan and Dawson||2010|
|Technology Audit||North Carolina Lawyers Weekly||2008|
|North Carolina Family and Related Laws Annotated (Annual Publication)||Lexis Nexis||2004 – 2013|
|Publisher & Host||Stay Happily Married||2008 – present|
|Publisher & Author||Divorce Discourse||2008 – present|
|Publisher & Host||North Carolina Divorce Talk Radio||2005 – 2012|