Jill Hersh

One of my associates once said to me that if I were suddenly awoken in the night and asked who I was, I'd say "I'm a lawyer." I don’t know if I agree. I like to think of myself as a composite of many roles. After all, I am married, have children, have pets, have friends, and many interests. Having said that, I am constitutionally wired as a lawyer. I’ve taken my training as a trial lawyer, combined those skills with an ever-evolving philosophy about this area of practice and an ever-deepening understanding of human behavior, and devoted myself to what I hope is a smart, creative, supportive, frank, and strategic approach to our clients’ problems.

 

I married my childhood boyfriend in 1974, two days before starting law school. For our honeymoon, we stood in line together at Hastings College's book store to buy books. It was unfashionable to get married in those days and many of my classmates contended we'd never make it through law school married. I graduated in 1977, still married. Not only were my classmates wrong, but my many years married combined with my many years of practice in family law have afforded me a rare opportunity to understand marriage and what it must mean to my clients to finally "call it a day" with theirs. My three children have enriched my ability to understand the importance of stability and consideration of my clients' children.

 

When I graduated from law school, I knew I did not want to practice in a big firm and that I wanted to represent individuals. However, I did not know where I would land in the many practice areas that had direct, hands-on contact with people and their problems. I started practicing law at a time when lawyers were less specialized and a general practice was not an anomaly. I began my career at a law firm that primarily was a personal injury practice with a general practice component. Consequently, I was trained as a civil trial lawyer across a spectrum of practice areas – personal injury, medical malpractice, products liability, and marital dissolutions. This was invaluable training as a lawyer and invaluable because it gave me an opportunity to discover my niche – the area of practice for which I had a natural affinity and an intuitive feel. Early in my practice, I gravitated towards family law and the unique combination of legal and psychological issues that my clients presented to me for help.

 

I began practicing shortly after California changed from a “fault” divorce state to a “no-fault” divorce state and the culture in the family law field was going through a tremendous transition. Many of the older lawyers had a background in the mindset of “blame” – a material component to get a divorce and to getting a particular outcome for the client. The field had attracted a few of the few women lawyers who were in practice at that time, some of whom followed the fashion of wearing large hats to court. The judges were still telling litigants to “act like like Sir Walter Raleigh” and throw “your jacket” across the puddle in lieu of granting restraining orders. Woman had just been given “joint” management and control of community assets whereas their husbands had sole management and control until just a few years before I graduated from law school. Notions of custody invariably favored the “mother”, mediation was in its experimental stages, and support calculations were done manually using formulae or grids. There was no such thing as domestic partners and any notion of the unitary family headed by two different-sex parents was implicit and didn’t need to be “argued” as the “norm”. Divorces were granted only by court appearance before randomly assigned judges who entered Interlocutory Degree that required a waiting period before becoming final.

 

Family law practice has changed tremendously over the decades since I graduated from law school. Its complexity and importance increasingly have been recognized by the legislature and the courts. Our ideas about families have changed over the years and that has presented new opportunities and challenges. Our economic environment has changed as well so that the financial or business aspects of divorces have become more esoteric and complicated. The legislation regulating the rights of divorcing individuals was recognized as meriting its own code and was extracted from the Civil Code and incorporated into a new Family Code. Mediation of custody disputes has become a mandatory element of solving co-parenting disputes. Mental health experts have increasingly taken their place in the field to address the psychological consequences for children of parents in high conflict. The “best interests of the children” has expanded to include the father as a material part of the child’s healthy development. Uniformity throughout the state has been brought to the adjudication of support issues. Full disclosure of financial issues has become a bulwark to tangibly recognize the fiduciary relationship of divorcing adults.

 

I have had the privilege and opportunity to mature in the practice of family law during the same time that this discipline as an area of practice has gone through a tremendous and tremendously enriching evolution. This has been an evolution that has recognized social changes, economic changes, and changes in the appreciation of the psychology of divorce. As a consequence, I received formal training in divorce mediation as long ago as 1985. Whether acting as a mediator or representing my client, I try to take in all that is “out and about” in the room with us – the termination of an intimate relationship that is fraught with emotion and the termination of a business relationship that is fraught with financial decisions often encroached upon by emotion.

 

Along the way through these years and even in the present, the vast majority of our cases have involved heterosexual couples presenting with complex questions of finance or custody. However, during the last 15-20 years, we've had the chance to use our resources and expertise to advance the interests and equal treatment of same-sex families. Early on, this was our civil rights work, to create the law to protect the interests of children of same-sex parents. Now, as the rights of same-sex couples and their children have become more settled and more equal, these families emerge as a common part of the family law population. We continue our work to meet their special needs and offer assistance to them with family formation through assisted reproduction and adoption. As always, we continue on with the interesting and creative task of helping our divorcing families make the transition to their new lives, whether out of marriage or domestic partnership.

 

Family law is an unusual combination of business and psychology because a divorce dissolves both an intimate and financial relationship. We realize it takes a sophisticated understanding of both to really address the needs of each client. We also appreciate and recommend alternative forums for resolving disputes, when appropriate. We bring in the expertise of other professionals, such as psychologists and accountants, to help us and our clients. Having said all that, we are trial and appellate lawyers who do family law, happy to use any alternative form of dispute resolution that will work for our clients. Our goal is to contain our clients’ conflicts to the extent possible and provide a well-informed client with the opportunity to reach a resolution in the most suitable way. This is addressed in more detail in the “Firm Overview” and the “Glossary”.

 

We represent our clients from inception of their cases through appeal, if appropriate. As a result, we have made new law through published opinions. We have had the pleasure and challenge of both trying and appealing cases and prevailing. The cases we have argued before the state appellate and Supreme Courts are available under “Published Decisions”.

 

Aside from litigation and mediation when appropriate, we do transactional work affecting clients about to enter intimate relationships. These include prenuptial agreements for people about to marry and intended parenting agreements for gay couples about to have children. The range of services available in this area is as broad as the needs of our clients and as creative as reasonable and necessary to advance their interests.

 

My firm is an interesting combination of different personalities. All of us are hardworking and dedicated to doing the best job possible for our clients. Each of us is unique and brings a different set of skills and perspectives to this task.



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