Photo by Hugh Williams.
Ever since she was a child, Stacy Phillips was destined to be a lawyer. She grew up in a renowned family of lawyers, including her grandfather, uncle and father, lawyer Gerald Phillips, who was a top executive at United Artists and is now of counsel and a top private judge with her firm, Phillips Lerner Lauzon & Jamra in Century City.
She started her career in 1983 and in 1990 made the huge leap to start her own firm. She has built one of the most successful family law practices in California, gaining recognition for her representation of Britney Spears conservatorship, Corina Villaraigosa in her divorce from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Bobby Brown in his divorce from Whitney Houston and many others.
Though she is well-known for her work on behalf of the famous, she is most respected by her peers for the counsel she and her partners provide to everyday individuals facing the entire array of family law needs and for her compassionate and wise guidance through separation, divorce, custody and financial negotiations. She is also a noted speaker and philanthropist, each year, with her firm, adopting a charity.
She took a few moments to sit down and talk to Lawdragon about her work as a family law attorney.
Lawdragon:When did you decide you wanted to be a lawyer?
Stacy Phillips:I grew up in a family of lawyers and I always had that legacy in my mind. My grandfather founded Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon (a distinguished New York firm), and my father went to work there when he graduated from law school. One of his first assignments was to write a 90 page memo for one of the partners, who didn't read it. It's a great story in our family how my father walked into the office of my uncle to say he was leaving. And my Uncle Bobby had just bought United Artists with Arthur Krim, so they asked if he would go work there. He became general counsel while staying at the firm.
Because of all those ties, I wanted to make sure I wanted to be a lawyer for me. When I grew up, women became teachers, nurses, but they didn't become doctors or lawyers. The only other thing I could think of was advertising because I liked watching Bewitched!
LD:What do you find most satisfying about your work as a family lawyer?
SP:It's very satisfying to help people work through the most difficult decisions and situations of their lives and achieve a result that enables them to move on, stronger and wiser. I especially like helping children. I'm currently representing a 13-year old girl at the request of a judge, which has really changed how I look at custody cases.
My clients have a heartbeat. How many lawyers can say that daily they truly make a difference in someone's life? That may sound Pollyanna, but it's true. You have people going through one of the worst experiences of their life and I know I can help make that better or easier.
LD:But is that the outcome of most family law matters?
SP:Unfortunately, too many end up with bad feelings on both sides. But what I try to help my clients focus on is putting the past behind them. And, in particular, when there are children involved, I try to keep the focus on providing a solid foundation where the children feel loved by both parents and do not see themselves as part of the parents need to part. It is key to keep the children safe physically, emotionally and psychologically.
LD:Are you seeing more families in distress now with the terrible economy?
SP:Absolutely. I see people paralyzed. I liken it to after 9/11. Wealthy people who used to pay by return mail are not. And divorces are down, in part because people are just plain old scared. Overall, though, difficult financial times put more strain on relationships. I tell my clients to remember that they need to make smart decisions about their lives regardless of what is going on in the world at any given point in time. Relationships are the core of our lives and that doesn't change, in good times or bad.
LD:Do you enjoy representing celebrities?
SP:I enjoy representing all of my clients. I would be completely bored just representing celebrities or women or men. I like the mixture.
Representing celebrities requires me to draw on different types of skills, in particular dealing with the media, helping my clients communicate with the media or at least respectfully saying I will not talk. I will always take the call, but I may refer the reporter to the representative handling the media or politically decline to speak unless my client insists. Oftentimes, my clients also want privacy while they handle these difficult matters and it's part of my job to attain that for them. But at the end of the day, everyone puts their pants on the same way.
LD:What about representing Britney Spears conservatorship?
SP:Britney was challenging because the situation was so different. I love collaborating with all the mental health professionals and other dimensions of such representations.
LD:If an individual feels they are in a troubled relationship, when is the right time to turn to a lawyer?
SP:There is a variety of counseling available to people in troubled relationships, through churches, temples and other community organizations and family counselors. It's important to remember that turning to a lawyer will cost money, and it also often sets in motion a process that is difficult to undo. It can be undone but often people react and act as if it cannot.
LD:We've been hearing a lot about domestic abuse lately and I know you've done some work in that area. Tell us about it.
SP:Domestic abuse should never be tolerated. In 1994, I helped draft a bill that extended the time in which victims of domestic violence could sue their abusers in civil court. That was subsequently enacted into law and provides not only a remedy to those who are abused, but some deterrent effect, I hope, to those who would harm their partner.
LD:Other than the satisfaction you get from working with your clients, what do you find most enjoyable about practicing law?
SP:Three things. First, I get to work with my father, who is of counsel to my firm. I grew up in New York and he was for many years a top tier lawyer there. When I moved to California, he joined me and even took the California bar! The second thing is my work on behalf of charities. For more than a decade, my firm and I have adopted a charity where we volunteer our time and for which we raise money each year. Finally, and most importantly, helping folks. How many lawyers can say they really help a client daily a real live person?