An English Family Lawyer in Chicago
I am in Chicago this week; I was delighted to address the lawyers at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP, the largest family law firm in the USA.
The city is buzzing: in a few days’ time Oprah will close the famous Michigan Avenue – the “Magnificent Mile” of top stores – and launch her next series from outside the Wrigley Building. The Black Eyed Peas will be in concert with her! Next month, Chicago will learn if it has succeeded in its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
I am fond of Chicago and find it difficult to do it justice when describing it. Situated on Lake Michigan, its architecture is stunning. The buildings are set off by the vast lake and the river that flows through the city. The views are overwhelming.
As for the artwork in this city: it is spellbinding. Want to see that quintessential American painting, American Gothic? It is here. So too is the best collection of French Impressionists in the world, displayed in room after room at the Art Institute of Chicago.
I took a trolleybus down to Chicago’s South Side, to visit the areas where blues music has a home and to see the relatively modest home where a black American law lecturer and his family lived – before he became President of the USA and left for the White House.
Schiller DuCanto & Fleck is situated on the top floor of a skyscraper on LaSalle Street, which doubles as Gotham City in the Batman films, and its offices provide amazing views across the city. The firm is headed by renowned American “superlawyer” Donald Schiller.
I didn’t know what to expect when I visited, but I needn’t have been concerned. The lawyers there, all of whom have excellent credentials, could not have been friendlier. Our lively session, during which English and American divorce law was compared and contrasted, gave food for thought on both sides.
My topic was Divorce: Discretion v Certainty – a Peculiarly English Approach. Stowe Family Law trainee solicitor Liz Bell, who has been involved in some of our bigger money cases, assisted me with the Powerpoint presentation, as did Andrea Essen of our Children’s Department. The presentation was a whirlwind tour of English divorce law and procedure. I wanted to explain our ethos and approach; I also wanted to examine our law in the context of current procedure.
It was very interesting to note the US reaction to the non-confrontional , non-aggressive ethos that is preferred by our English courts. Examples of this ethos include the lack of conduct issues and the dearth of arguments about the rights and wrongs of parties’ behaviour to one other. My impression was that here in the USA, conduct counts markedly – one way or the other!
I was asked about remarriage prospects and confirmed that in England and Wales, potential remarriage prospects do not influence a financial settlement. Again, this is different in the USA.
I discussed court procedure in England and Wales, in particular the financial dispute resolution (FDR) hearing, which enables the vast majority of cases to settle without the need for a full hearing. I believe that FDRs work well because they give judges valuable opportunities to be frank and helpful, avoiding further confrontation and saving costs. I also explained, in relation to the meeting of financial needs, how injustice may be overcome by the exercise of judicial discretion afforded by section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
Prenuptial agreements were also touched upon. I was asked about the approach that a US lawyer should take, if a client had ended up living in England. I discussed the Radmacher v Granatino case and the principle of comity with other countries. My advice? Our courts clearly wish to act in sync with courts around the world. So if a prenup involves citizens from other countries, who have been properly advised by their lawyers, why not? Their own courts would uphold the agreements.
My visit was an immensely interesting experience. During an enjoyable tour of the offices I was shown the coveted corner offices belonging to the senior partners, the private salon for celebrity clients and the ‘war room’ where prep for cases takes place!
I was also proud, as an English lawyer, to reinforce what I believe to be the just and relatively low key values and standards of our legal practice and procedure. Don’t get me wrong: English lawyers know how to stand their ground, but they appear to be less openly aggressive than their US counterparts.
You cannot easily judge, define or gain a comprehensive understanding of another legal system. However you can certainly get a flavour and an approach. I do like the in-house style of US lawyers: some are trial lawyers and some aren’t, but cases don’t have to be shipped out to barristers. It is a sensitive topic with pros and cons, but it was interesting to hear that trial lawyers still need to be fully briefed by their colleagues, even in the same firm.
I suppose that I will soon be back to reality – coping with horrible jet lag, no doubt. Chicago will become a memory; but what a memory! It has been an honour and a privilege to spend time in this city.
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Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
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