From her early days as a lawyer, Elizabeth Green Lindsey wanted to be in a courtroom.
There might be more money to be made working for big law firms negotiating big deals for big corporations or handling big property transactions, but she wanted to be involved directly in the smaller kinds of cases that could change people’s lives for the better.
“I did not want to be in a cubicle somewhere doing research and drafting documents all day,” she said during an interview in a conference room in the 50-year-old Buckhead law firm where she’s now a shareholder. “I wanted to be in the courtroom working with people.”
She considered criminal defense law, but settled on family law, the kind of legal practice centered on the divorce courts and the kind some other lawyers say they avoid if they can.
She wanted to be where the action was, and she didn’t want to have to wait years for her chance to get involved. After graduating law school in her home state of North Carolina in 1985, she found a job with a “very small law firm” there. “Two days after I was sworn in [as a lawyer],” she said, “I was in a courtroom.”
She moved to Atlanta a few years later when she married another lawyer, Ed Lindsey, who represented Buckhead in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2004 to 2014. They met during a ski trip to Wyoming, she said.
There was a time, she admits, when a career built on divorces and custody cases seemed a little less posh, perhaps, than following some other legal paths. “Back in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, it was kind of a red-headed stepchild of the law,” she said, “because nobody wanted to do it.”
Yet times do change. The standing of lawyers practicing family law has risen over the past generation, and Lindsey has played her part in that rise. She’s been active in both national and state organizations working to improve the practice of family law.
Later this year, the 59-year-old Buckhead lawyer takes over as president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an organization that promotes professionalism in the practice of family law and that’s, coincidentally, about a year younger than she is. She’s now serving as president-elect of the organization, which claims more than 1,650 fellows in the 50 states.
She received that academy’s Fellow of the Year Award last year. She also is a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, a fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and has chaired the family law section of the Georgia Bar.
The academy organizes training sessions for lawyers involved with domestic relations cases and works to promote professionalism among specialists in that area of legal practice. “The Academy
Fellows are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law,” the organization says on its website.
Practicing family law requires a lawyer to be mentally nimble, Lindsey said. “You have to have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things,” she said. “It’s intellectually stimulating, and, on the personal side, you’re dealing with people in crisis.”
One reason divorce courts can seem unlike other courts is because they can involve the dissolution of families. Stress and anger run high. “It’s different because it’s so emotional and so personal,” she said.
As with other types of legal disputes, the great majority of divorce cases settle out of court. Lindsey thinks that’s appropriate. “Good lawyers will help clients reach a reasonable solution,” she said.
But many divorces still end up going to trial before a judge or a jury. “I find that juries are very fair-minded,” she said. “I think they take these cases very seriously. I think they do a good job.”
And getting the change to try cases was a big part of what drew her to family law in the first place. “It was about doing something where I thought I could make a difference,” she said.