"I enjoy practicing law from an iconic Victorian house, in a neighborhood. It feels connected like our office is part of the town."
It’s no secret that I started dreaming of becoming a lawyer at a young age. As a child, instead of a lemonade stand, I set up a refrigerator box with a sign like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons. Later, I upgraded from a box to a playhouse, and I pretended it was my law office.
When I was 12, my folks took me on a trip to Williamsburg. In front of several of the houses I saw what I thought were little playhouses, like the one I had back home. When the tour guide told me these were actually law offices, I was thrilled.
As a grown-up, real life lawyer, I am still drawn to this image of a little building in front of a home, right beside the road, easily accessible to anyone in the community. Instead of being a “shiny” lawyer in a big, tall glass building downtown, I enjoy practicing law from an iconic Victorian house, in a neighborhood. It feels connected, like the Held Law Firm office is part of the town. I love when our clients ask if we live here – we don’t, though we do spend a lot of our waking hours here. It truly does feel like a home.
This notion of being connected to our community and our clients, and of creating a safe, homey space for people facing the biggest challenges for any family, all are core to our identity as a law firm.
Our first duty is to our clients, but we are also committed to addressing these issues in a way that builds and supports families. We aim to help them to let go of bad dynamics and find a way to work together for their kids. We also look for commonalities – legal problems faced by all of our clients, and advocate for ways to address those challenges.
One battle we face is a general trend of indifference to the emotional impact of the decisions in the courtroom. Family law judges are up against a huge docket, and many take short cuts and make assumptions that may or may not be true. At Held Law Firm, we work to ensure that the courts actually listen to our clients and show them the dignity they deserve. We also slow down enough to learn the broader context in which our clients find themselves, beyond the narrow legal issue. We look for opportunities to use the litigation process to fit into the client’s life, rather than forcing the client’s life to fit an assumption made by a judge.
While it’s good to slow down long enough to listen, another problem faced by all of our clients is how slow the court process is. People wait years for their day in court, and they also wait months for a simple hearing, or to set mediation, or for depositions. Weeks go by without seeing their kids over something that is often, in the end, a frivolous claim.
To combat these delays, we hired a full-time staff person, Tessa Vazquez, whose primary job is simply manage the litigation schedule – things like setting mediation, court dates, depositions, and other common events that occur in almost every case. To ensure that we are never the source of a slow-down in a case, if one lawyer is unavailable, Tessa will send another attorney who has availability and time to prepare.
Another problem faced by our clients is how mysterious and difficult the litigation process has become for them to understand and participate in effectively. Held Law Firm fights this problem by giving our clients charts, worksheets, and printouts, and by going over the statutes that impact clients in court line-by-line. We do everything we know to do to make the process more accessible.
But I think the biggest thing we do is to try to return the process to something like I imagined it was back in the 1800s, when people stepped up onto the stoop of their neighbor to tell them about their problems or to ask them for advice. Back when your lawyer was your neighbor, and he treated you as such, rather than just as another source of revenue or another checkbook. It seems like the way law ought to be practiced.
Margaret Held is the founding attorney of Held Law Firm, Knoxville’s best team of family law attorneys. You can learn more about Margaret on Held Law Firm’s website, or call 865.637.6550 to schedule a consultation.