Over a career spanning more than 30 years, Lisa Helfend Meyer has built a reputation as an accomplished family law strategist and trial attorney.
Her clients include celebrities, professional athletes, and prominent business executives; and, while she concentrates on representing high-net-worth individuals in complex dissolutions, she has also developed an expertise in high-conflict child custody litigation.
“Custody cases are probably the most complex cases I handle,” Meyer says. “These are matters where the client truly has the most to lose, and that makes it all the more satisfying when we win.”
Meyer, who is certified as a family law specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, reflects on the strategies that have helped her succeed in some of her most memorable cases.
Be Proactive About Difficult Facts
“In every case there are going to be good facts and bad facts, and you need to be proactive about addressing the bad ones,” Meyer says.
In one of her early cases, Meyer represented a woman who had been in the process of adopting a child with her husband when they decided to separate. The woman still wanted to adopt the child as a single parent, but her husband tried to stop the adoption, accusing his wife of being addicted to pain medication.
The case went to trial, where Meyer prevailed for her client, who was awarded custody. “Even though the husband testified against his wife, we had addressed the issues early on and the evaluator felt that the child should not be separated from his adoptive mother,” Meyer says.
Develop a Theme to Your Case
“Judges are like jurors — even though they have the professional expertise, they’re human beings like the rest of us,” Meyer says. “So you have to approach these cases individually and develop a theme at the outset.”
Meyer recalls how in a move-away case where a woman was transferring from Mexico to the United States for a job and wanted to move with her daughter, the custody evaluator initially missed how abusive the father was and recommended that the girl stay with him. But after a recorded argument showing the father yelling at the mother was played in court, the custody evaluator changed his mind and the judge awarded Meyer’s client custody.
“Only when you’re intimately familiar with a case can you expand on the facts that will be important to the judge,” Meyer notes.
Know Your Audience
As part of her approach, Meyer makes a point of learning the background of the presiding judge in each of her cases. For example, in a matter where she was representing her best friend from junior high school, Meyer went to court after her friend’s ex-husband stopped their son from seeing her on Passover; however, Meyer notes, “the opposing side didn’t think about the fact that our judge was Jewish.”
Outraged, the judge found the father to be in contempt of court and sent him to jail. “We were fortunate to have a judge who understood the importance of Passover,” Meyer says, “and that illustrates how important it is to know the judge you’re trying your case before.”
Empower Your Client
Regardless of whether she is representing men or women, Meyer strives to empower her clients and help them understand their options.
“I had a case where my client’s husband was emotionally abusive to her, and initially he bested her in the divorce process because he knew how to provoke her,” Meyer recalls. After a custody evaluation, the evaluator recommended that the couple share custody of their children, despite the father being a resident in medical school.
“In those days, nobody challenged the custody evaluator’s report, so this was one of the first times that someone really took an evaluator to task,” Meyer says. “The trial ended up lasting 30 days, which was emotionally difficult for our client, but we brought in a team of people, including a psychiatrist, to support her. And in the end, she got primary custody of the kids.”
“Ultimately,” Meyer adds, “I would rather roll up my sleeves and tackle those cases that people think are impossible than take on cases you could do with your eyes closed.
Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyers llp
10100 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 1425, Los Angeles, CA 90067
ph: 310.277.9747 • fax: 310.277.4847 • www.molfamlaw.com