By Jennifer Hadley
“FAMILY LAW, AS A GENERAL RULE, IS FRAUGHT with emotion, trauma, drama, anxiety and tension. It’s not easy to get divorced, break up the family, and then try to move on. Knowing that, I practice with a focus on the family, primarily the children; the innocents in every divorce action,” says Bonnie Rabinovitch-Mantel, Founder of Families 1st Law & Mediation, APC. Continuing she says, “There is also a significant difference between what one may be entitled to under the law versus what is reasonable in light of a client’s particular facts and circumstances. Most people forget that difference and it is part of my job to conduct a ‘cost benefit analysis’ that explains that what one may achieve after lengthy litigation may not always be worth the ultimate upheaval, both emotionally and financially—not just on that party, but on the entire family. That doesn’t mean that I ignore what my clients are entitled to, nor which aspects are important to them. I always zealously advocate for my client’s position, while trying to focus on the big picture in each family law case.”
IN PURSUIT OF WHAT IS RIGHT
According to Rabinovitch-Mantel, no one was surprised when she decided to become an attorney, even after years of success in business. “According to my father, I have been an attorney since I was about four years old,” she says with a laugh. Still, she didn’t decide to attend law school until she was 29, after already having earned two business degrees and having run her family’s successful business for nearly a decade. But she took to the study of law immediately and after only her first year completed at McGill Law School, was hired to work in the medical malpractice department of a large firm in her hometown of Montreal, a rare accomplishment for law students who usually must wait until at least their 3rd year of Law School to obtain employment in the legal field. Over the next few years, Rabinovitch-Mantel would also publish multiple articles in publications such as Canadian Lawyers Quarterly. However, Rabinovitch-Mantel admits that even she was surprised by her decision to pursue career in family law. “I fell into family law, and if someone would have told me I’d one day be working as a family law attorney in San Diego, I’d have laughed,” she says candidly. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
After finalizing her own divorce, Rabinovitch-Mantel was contacted by her first love, who’d she’d met in Florida as a teenager, and had kept in contact with over the years. Their relationship blossomed while he was in the process of his own divorce. “When I moved to San Diego, my husband was going through his divorce which was being handled quite poorly and didn’t make sense according to the particular circumstances of his case. While awaiting the Bar results in California, I did a ton of research and got a job as a paralegal in the field. It was while I was working as a paralegal in family law that I realized I could do a far better job, with a much more caring and practical attitude than so many family law attorneys I was coming into contact with. Once I was admitted to the CA Bar, really wanting to help families going through such a traumatizing process, I stayed in the field,” she explains.
Since being admitted to the Bar in 2006, Rabinovitch-Mantel has found her work as a family law attorney extremely challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. She recalls a particular case that reinforces precisely why she works so hard for her clients.
“I was walking out to my car after court one day and a young lady hailed me down and asked for a card. She looked disheveled and quite beaten by the system. I met with her later that week and looked at the circumstances of her case and realized that without the proper avenue to explain her case, the abusive father of her children would end up getting custody and/or making good on his threats to kill her. At the time she was on welfare trying to raise 3 children, and working as a horse trainer-making no money. She was bright and organized and did a lot of the legwork to help her save on her fees,” Rabinovitch-Mantel says.
Continuing she says, “When I saw her true nature and abilities, I suggested she enroll in paralegal school so that she could get off of state aid and begin turning her life around. She took that suggestion and worked hard to earn her paralegal certificate. Meanwhile, I was able to represent her in court which resulted in a permanent restraining order against the father that provided for no visitation until he completed several court approved courses. She now works as a paralegal in a prestigious law office, is no longer on state aid and her children have been progressing beautifully. It made me feel really good to help, when all that she needed was someone to care.”
A REASONABLE LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
“Essentially, I try to teach grown people how to share their children while understanding that each case has its own particularities and therefore, different nuances that need to be considered. It’s not just as simple as filling out a bunch of forms, which far too many people who ‘dabble’ in family law think is appropriate. I care about my clients, their children, their financial condition and their smooth transition from married life to unmarried life, and I practice with that caring at the forefront,” says Rabinovitch-Mantel. “Family law cannot be practiced as if it were an assembly line. These are people’s lives and people’s children,” she adds.
To that end, Rabinovitch-Mantel firmly believes that part of looking at the big picture for her client requires absolute integrity when it comes to working with opposing counsel. “As attorneys we have to work together, as strife and mistrust between the attorneys makes it far harder and far more expensive on the clients. I believe in building rapport with opposing counsel for the benefit of the client and the resolution of the case,” she says. However, this is no way should be taken to mean that she will forsake her client’s best interests to reach a global settlement. “When the situation requires it or the circumstances make it the best option, I will zealously litigate for each and every client,” she says.
“While I enjoy litigation, I also understand when negotiation is the more viable option. There are times when you really have no choice but to litigate a matter, but there are also, many, many times when a case can be completely resolved with reasoned negotiation. Trying to get clients through what is ostensibly the most difficult time of their lives with as little trauma as possible is usually the best course of action,” Rabinovitch-Mantel explains.
With her incredibly straightforward demeanor, and her “east-coast work ethic,” it’s no surprise that Rabinovitch-Mantel’s business is built almost entirely on referrals. “Being an attorney is not just what I do. It is who I am,” she says. As the result, “My reputation with fellow attorneys is good, and I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of referrals from older family law attorneys who are beginning to wind down their practice,” she says.
As far as her firm’s future is concerned, Rabinovitch-Mantel intends to stay the course that has proven successful thus far. “I run my practice like a business, keeping in mind that my primary objective is to get my clients through these difficult times without bleeding them of all of their assets. I don’t want these cases to drag out for 2, 3, 4 years. It is my job to help get these people through the terrible times as unscathed as possible, with their dignity intact, and a reasonable resolution to all aspects of their dissolution action,” she says.
Families 1st Law & Mediation, APC
2635 Camino Del Rio South
San Diego, CA 92108