In 1993, Magruder graduated from Washington University with a Master of Social Work degree and began her legal education at Saint Louis University School of Law. She sought to emulate her mentor, Robert Benjamin, who earned both a law degree and MSW degree from SLU, and who in the 1970s refocused his career from practicing attorney in St. Louis to mediator.
Now based in California and known nationally for his work in mediation and conflict-resolution, Benjamin has said he realized early in his career that issues facing his clients often reflected underlying conflicts that could be more effectively managed out of court through mediation. Magruder said he suggested that going to law school could help her to establish her credentials and a strong foundation for her career.
“As a mediator, being a lawyer seemed very important,” Magruder said.
When she earned her juris doctorate in 1996, she immediately hung out her own shingle and began practicing family law. But that, too, was simply a strategic step on her way to breaking new ground in mediation.
“I loved what I did,” said Magruder, who operated from an office in St. Charles. “I worked my whole career around it.”
In the world of mediation, what Magruder did was revolutionary, according to those with whom she worked. Magruder herself acknowledged that she did things “differently.” In materials submitted to nominate Magruder for an ICON Award, however, the Collaborative Family Law Association of St. Louis described her use of mediation in family law as a first-of-its-kind approach.
“Twenty or so years ago, when Becky began her mediation practice, the handful of active divorce mediators in her part of Missouri practiced primarily in St. Louis. Mediation had not yet taken hold in St. Charles and was viewed with a high level of skepticism among family-law attorneys,” association President Susan Amato wrote.
“Now, through Becky’s efforts and gentle, yet insistent and effective influence,” Amato wrote, “the St. Charles County Circuit Court has a rule allowing judges to require the use of mediation in family-law cases and encouraging lawyers and parties to elect mediation to resolve their family-law issues.”
Nearly a dozen other members of the legal community echoed that praise in their own nominations, lauding her as “skillful,” “highly regarded” and the “very definition of an icon.”
Magruder described her style of mediation as akin to facilitation in that she allowed her clients to make their own decisions. She started sessions by asking questions, trying to help clients to find for themselves the cause of the conflicts in which they were involved.
“I gave them space, and I gave them time,” she said.
To instill a sense of calm, Magruder set up her office to resemble an art gallery. There, she aimed to turn her clients away from potentially contentious litigation by instead talking through their problems and reaching a resolution of their choosing.
Magruder encouraged other legal professionals to embrace low-conflict divorces by mentoring and supporting other mediators and attorneys through much of her career. She also was a founding member of the Collaborative Family Law Association and served on its board of directors.
Now retired, Magruder said she still relies on everyday conversations and interactions with others to try to build a world that is a little more peaceful, and a little more conducive to conversation and understanding. She offers this simple but important advice:
“Be kind to people. This world is so stressful,” she said. “If we can help bring about that change, we can make the world a better place.”