In a recent two-part series with the Women in Law: On the Record podcast, KJK Family Law Partner Janet Stewart Scalley sat down with host Allison Stewart to discuss her work as a Domestic Relations attorney with KJK.
The two-part series features graduates from the Ladder Down program in Cleveland, Ohio. Ladder Down is a national, year-long program that provides direct training and career development through a combination of coaches, sponsors and participants to empower women lawyers in three critical areas: leadership, business development and mentoring.
In Janet’s individual interview, she discusses some influential factors that led to her career path:
“When I went to law school, I thought I wanted to do domestic relations… I’ve enjoyed [working with] issues that primarily involve women and children. So, when I was in college, I was very much so involved in volunteering around the issues of domestic violence and human trafficking and I just had a general interest in those types of issues.”
As the interviewer points out, however, this area of law can be quite tumultuous, and many attorneys shy away from the often serious and emotional nature of the job. Janet responds:
“Honestly, that’s the most common response I get, ‘I could never do that.’ I get that response, it’s not an area of law for everyone… I could never do corporate work; I just don’t find it interesting. I like working with families. I find that that’s where I can make the most practical difference for people.”
Expanding on that thought, Janet adds:
“In terms of separating personal life and work… and kind of the emotional aspects that naturally come with domestic relations matters… It can be hard. I’m not going to lie, some matters hit you differently. Sometimes the situation just does not feel right, right? As a lawyer, you naturally want to come in and save the day or really help this person because they’re in a tough spot and those can become… both personally gratifying and personally challenging when things might not be going the way you think they should be going.”
However, recognizing her unique ability to help through knowledge and experience, Janet has learned to separate her work and personal life in order to approach and address complex situations with the clearest mind:
“Somebody early in my career gave me good advice on this, who was also a domestics relations lawyer, and he said, “You know, you can’t make your clients’ problems your problems.” While of course you’re trying to do your job as a lawyer and do well by these clients, you have to separate yourself because you’re not going to be a good lawyer if you can’t separate yourself from them. Kind of like, when you’re on the airplane and you have to put your own mask on before you help a child.”
Crediting her growth with Cleveland’s Ladder Down program, Janet explains her mindset when approaching her day-to-day and her involvement with her casework:
“I see it much more so as building a brand… It is a business; it is what we do. [I try to] think about, what do I want people to see when they see me as their domestic relations lawyer? What do I want to help give people in my representation with them? Kind of thinking about it that way, being more introspective in terms of what I offer for my clients, Ladder Down has really helped me to have those thought processes to really figure out how I can put my best foot forward and honestly, deliver the best representation for my clients.”
Listen to the full podcast here, with Janet’s interview beginning around the 21:00 mark.