Laurel Stein always had a sneaking suspicion she’d grow up to be a lawyer.
“My strengths have always been writing and research,” Stein said. “Even when I was in high school, my English teacher was like, ‘You’re going to write excellent legal briefs when you’re older.’ When I was deciding what to do after college, I just thought I wanted to go to law school.”
Stein, now a domestic relations and adoption attorney with Nee Law Firm in Westlake, fights to bring clarity to people attempting to bring families together – or apart.
She’s dealt with hundreds of divorce, dissolution and post-decree cases. She also handles custody disputes and child support issues.
But with domestic relations law, Stein knows there’s a struggle to find a balance between parties when emotions are involved.
“A good settlement agreement means that neither party is 100% happy, but both parties have participated in the process instead of leaving it to a third-party magistrate or judge,” Stein said.
CJN: Why did you want to focus on domestic relations and adoption?
Stein: I fell into this type of law after law school. I mostly do divorce law and there are so many emotions tied to that. Emotions and court don’t always go together, so I think part of my job is to help people navigate the realities of what the court can and cannot do. I think I have a personality that’s good for being patient, being calm and explaining what to expect in court to people to help them get through difficult situations.
CJN: What is a memorable moment from your work?
Stein: I won temporary custody for my client of his 4-year-old son after the mother had taken the child out of state without his permission. The parties were not married, but they had been sharing custody of the child after they broke up. My client, the father, had the child for the majority of the time, and one day, he fought with the mother and she picked up the child and moved out of state. We had to file emergency motions to have the child returned to Ohio, and we actually had a full hearing on it. The magistrate announced that the child should be returned to Ohio until we determined the rest of the case. Both parties burst into tears. It was the right thing, but it was an emotional thing.
CJN: What skills do you think are most important in terms of being successful in your practice?
Stein: My work is part lawyer, part therapist because you have to empathize with the clients. A lot of these domestic relations situations are abusive or somebody committed infidelity, and so there are a lot of emotions. You have to be a good listener to figure out what is bothering them and what they think the problem is, especially because some of the stories are years old and you’re listening to everything that happened. You also need to be organized and responsive, because people like to know they’re being heard and involved in their cases.