3 practice a family approach; Lawyers say firm aims to make cases easier on clients

A mediator and a midwife turned lawyers are trying to build a legal environment that stays clear of the frequently chaotic plots of glitzy, cutthroat court television dramas.

Don't get them wrong. Isabel Millard and Debra Braselton have no qualms about going to battle in a courtroom. They'll be the first "to put on the gloves and jump into the ring when it's necessary," Braselton said.

But as they try to buck the stereotype that "family law" equals "nasty divorce proceedings." they would rather emphasize teamwork, education and alternative solutions as they try to minimize the pain of difficult family challenges.

"Our approach is more family-focused, meaning that we don't just want to advocate for our clients," said Millard, a mediator who received her law degree in 1999 and also has a master's degree in business. "We want to help our clients get through a difficult period of time in the best possible way that they can, keeping the family always as their focus."

"We take a team approach," said Braselton, a former midwife who became a lawyer in 1994 and an adoptive parent who champions adoption rights. "We include our clients in the process so that they are not intimidated, not afraid. Knowledge is power, and if they know what is going on they are more able to make decisions and help us make better decisions."

The two describe the Oak Brook firm as a general practice. "You don't just go to a doctor, you go to a specialist," she said. "When people think of family law, they think we're 'divorce specialists'-and we are. We are skilled in that area and know that area, but family law is much more than just divorce. It's adoption, it's parentage, which deals with never-married couples, it's post-divorce issues, it can even be helping draft wills."

Using alternative tactics in dispute resolution such as mediation and collaboration has worked for the firm.

The two women met while working together for about a year in a nearby firm. Their passions for similar issues almost instantly caused them to gravitate to each other.

Over time, the working environment at the firm became restrictive. The two women, who wanted to embrace a different philosophy, decided to start their own practice.

In October, they opened a modest office in the tall, glass-windowed Oakbrook Terrace Tower. They brought with them a clientele that has grown quickly.

Partners and friends, the women have created a collegial environment in which they know about one another's cases and often spend time working together.

To exemplify their "family-first" approach, Millard notes, the lawyers both work a four-day week, taking one weekday off to spend with their families.

"We put our own families first too," Millard said. "We don't just put the families of our clients first."