When Allison Schreiber Lee takes on a case, she makes good use of the rules of evidence. She files requests for admissions, interrogatories, discovery motions — all the classic methods to build a case and narrow down the issues.
At least, they’re classically used in civil litigation. In family law, not so much.
“Because they’re judge-tried cases, we’re used to doing things the ways we’ve always done them,” Lee said. The routine use of such evidentiary procedures, she said, “that’s not something that’s typically done in family law.”
Lee, however, is a veteran of one of the hardest-fought civil cases in St. Louis history. In 2011, she was part of a team of lawyers at Lashly & Baer who represented Missouri hospitals in a suit claiming that cigarette makers owed hundreds of millions of dollars for the cost of treating patients with smoking-related illnesses. The case took 12 years to bring to trial, but after two and a half months of evidence and six days of deliberation, the jury rendered a defense verdict.
After that, Lee needed a change. She left Lashly & Baer and joined Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal to build a family law practice. She was drawn to it, she said, in part by personal experience. Her parents had gone through a high-conflict divorce. Her own marriage, however, ended amicably, and she raised two children as a single mother.
“It was a natural transition for me to come to do family law,” she said. She admits that would have sounded foreign to her when she was at Washington University School of Law, where she earned her law degree in 1996.
“I distinctly remember in law school saying I would do any kind of law except tax or family law,” she said with a laugh. “It was a solid, ‘I am definitely not going to be a family lawyer.’”
Lee specializes in cases in which high net-worth couples face daunting issues of asset division, as well as high-conflict custody cases that often involve allegations of substance abuse, mental disorders and domestic violence.
In addition to her civil litigation experience, Lee draws on the four years she spent early in her career as a prosecutor with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, dealing primarily with child-abuse cases.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in divorce, with children anyway,” she said. “But when you have one parent who may not be sober and the other parent may have always been that safe barrier, kids get really worried about that.”
Although Lee’s former practices inform and sharpen her current practice, she points out that guiding families through a dissolution is unlike a criminal case or a civil lawsuit, in which one party prevails and the other does not.
“There is no winning in family law,” she said.
Lee said her practice requires a no-nonsense approach to her clients, with reminders that she is a counselor, not a therapist.
“I’m going to tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear, because that’s what you need in a family law attorney,” she said.