Leslie Hart’s wide ranging legal experiences includes real estate and corporate law and criminal defense in the public defender’s office. For the past seven years Hart has specialized in a type of divorce proceedings that’s part of a growing legal movement called collaborative divorce.
As opposed to a mediated settlement with one attorney, in collaborative divorce each party has its own attorney. There’s usually a non-partisan financial advisor and sometimes includes “divorce coaches” to help keep discussions on track. Hart said the process offers a more customized divorce settlement, especially when it involves custody issues, compared to what a judge, or even a mediator, might decide.
“More and more people are going this way because a lot of things are happening,” she said. “In my opinion, the court room and court system have never been suited for a family law case or any case where you want to preserve the relationship.”
While Hart specializes in collaborative divorce, she’s also a certified mediator, and if necessary is prepared to take cases to trial.
“The fact that I came to family later in my career, having litigated for many years, allows me to utilize my business and real estate background,” Hart said. “I’ve found that to be real helpful that I have a broad depth of knowledge.”
The Palos Verdes resident is the daughter of an international businessman who moved the family often. She lived in Europe and went to high school in Mexico City, where she became fluent in Spanish. She is a graduate of UC Berkley and Pepperdine University School of Law.
“What’s so great about collaborative divorce is that it’s open as to how you forge a settlement,” she said. “You’re not limited to what the judge is going decide. He’s going to put a number in and pop out a child support figure. Judges are too busy to give their cases personal attention. In collaborative divorce there is room for trading and compromise and coming up with creative solutions that just aren’t there in litigation and sometimes even in mediation.”
After years of doing real estate cases, Hart said she stopped feeling a personal connection to her work until she sought training in collaborative divorce.
“It was just dividing up the pie and deciding who gets the money,” she said. “I was thinking of making a change when I ran into a colleague and he told me about collaborative divorce. He said I’d be great at it because I tended to be a mediating, solution-oriented attorney. Although I did a lot of trial cases, I tried to keep cases out of court.”
Collaborative divorce requires a different mindset for attorneys. And for the clients, it offers a compassionate and respectful approach that considers foremost what’s best for the children. For the process to work, both parties must agree they are not going to take the case to court.
“You get two people trained to be different types of lawyers,” Hart said. “It’s more difficult than litigation for a lawyer in the sense that when you’re a lawyer walking into a courtroom it’s not in your hands. You know your side of the case and you present it, but that’s all you can do, and it’s pretty black and white. And then it’s up to the judge. In a collaborative setting, there are a lot more grey areas so it’s just much more challenging work, but it’s also much more gratifying work.”
When she’s not working on her caseload, Hart likes to ride her Harley Davidson with her husband.
Law offices of Leslie Hart, 1500 Rosecrans Ave., #500, Manhattan Beach. (310) 706-4164. LHart@LeslieHartLaw.com. LeslieHartLaw.com.