One naturally thinks that the professional arc of anyone in the legal profession starts at a young age. A Juris Doctor is not so much born of experience as it is born of GPA and internships. Seldom do you find an attorney who was seasoned before they entered law.
Rosaline L. “Roz” Zukerman enrolled in law school in her late 40s, when most women decide to take a breather from the heavy lifting of bringing up a family with four kids. At the age of 50, Zukerman launched her own family law firm. Over the next 35 years, she would build a successful law firm that adapted to the shifts in an ever-changing culture and practice, and where Zukerman could incorporate her background in psychology, education and counseling.
Today, her Century City, Californiabased litigation and mediation practice is thriving.
GETTING TO KNOW ROZ
In her late teens, Zukerman met her future husband, Jack, at a summer camp, where they both recognized each other’s passion for mentoring young people. Together, they attended University of Illinois, where Zukerman obtained her Bachelor of Arts in psychology, graduating summa cum laude. At that time, it was standard procedure to take electives along with your major, and Zukerman’s passion for the law took the place of other “fun classes” that most students elected to take. That was her first experience in law, and Zukerman ate it up! After graduation, she was accepted into a graduate program in clinical psychology, while Jack began the arduous study of law.
In the midst of pursuing their goals, Jack’s father unexpectedly died, and they dropped everything to return to Jack’s hometown of Moline, Illinois. Putting their academic careers on hold, they settled into married life, welcoming four children into the world – Marti, Steve, Jeff and Mike. Today, they are all professional successes in their own right. Marti is a math teacher and social worker. Steve is a cardiologist and electrophysiologist. Jeff is a founding partner of New York’s Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman LLP. Mike is corporate counsel for AAA in Northern California and a number of other states.
Zukerman and Jack both consider their children and 12 grandchildren to be their premier accomplishments.
“If I knew how much fun grandchildren would be, I would have had them first,” Zukerman says.
Once their children were in their teens, Zukerman was determined to return to school, and made the daily commute to Iowa City to obtain her master’s degree in counseling from the University of Iowa, after years of substitute teaching and serving on the Rock Island, Illinois Board of Education.
“You can have it all, but not all at the same time,” Zukerman says.
Once she completed her master’s degree, she taught social psychology at the local community college. While residing in Illinois, she became involved politically – joining the State of Illinois Human Relations Commission and becoming a delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami.
“It was an experience not to be forgotten,” she says.
In 1976, after years of “snow fatigue,” they moved to Los Angeles while their youngest son, Michael, fulfilled his dream of attending UC Berkeley.
Once their nest was empty, Zukerman enrolled in Southwestern University School of Law When Zukerman’s husband pointed out she would be 50 when she finished, she commented, “So? I’ll be 50 anyway!”
So, she enrolled and found a family law mentor in the late, illustrious Professor Max Goodman. He used to refer to her as “Mother Superior,” since she was in school with students the age of her own children.
MENTORS & INSPIRATION
Aside from Professor Goodman, she feels fortunate to have had several prominent lawyers inspire and help guide her through law school. During her last two years of school, she became a certified intern in the L.A. District Attorney’s Office in the career criminal unit, headed by famed DA Michael Genelin, who went on to became head of the major gangs division, and is today a renowned novelist.
He assigned her to work on the murder book in the Sal Mineo case, and also assigned her to solo in at least a dozen preliminary hearings. This helped her become comfortable in the courtroom, which was easily translated to a career in family law. As Zukerman often says, “In criminal law, you meet the worst people at their best, and in family law, you meet the best people at their worst.”
Her mentor in family law was the late formidable Joseph Taback, a close family friend. When she and her moot court partner in their first year in law school thought they had a “brilliant brief,” Zukerman suggested they run it by Taback. Even though it was Valentine’s Day eve, he graciously stayed with the two “youngsters” until 4 a.m., explaining how to turn their brief from a quasi-judicial decision into real advocacy. They won.
On a personal level, her greatest cheerleader and supportive partner has always been her husband of 65 years. Ironically, Zukerman ended up pursuing Jack’s original career goals, and she has proudly watched as he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the lighting industry, where his peers and competitors recognized Jack’s achievements in marketing and technology.
FOUNDATION OF THE LAW
Upon completion of her Juris Doctor in 1980, Zukerman worked for one year at the criminal tax firm of Hochman, Salkin and DeRoy, working with several others on a BNA folio on corporate tax fraud.
She then decided that utilizing all of her life experiences and exposures to the various areas of the law would be the backbone of founding her own family law firm. She quickly gained momentum with referrals from friends and colleagues, who were her generational peers and influencers.
Throughout the years, Zukerman has had the good fortune of adding a diverse group of attorneys to her team, most of whom have been with her for many years.
Debi Graboff has been part of the firm for 25 years. She also has a background in psychology, and her practice has evolved into primarily mediation, some collaborative law, and is extremely active in the community and philanthropic endeavors.
Julia Gandelsman is an active litigator, is fluent in Russian and Spanish, and her contacts bring an interesting demographic mix to the firm. She also does mediation, is a fervent child advocate, and has been with the firm for 17 years.
John Lazor has had large firm experience, is interested in collaborative law and mediation, and has the interesting side expertise in music, both instrumental, conducting, and singing. He also is in Inns of Court, has many organizational activities, and is active in Bar activities.
Ani Shirinian works on selective cases, concentrating now on her new venture, designing jewelry under the label of Victoria Six.
The newest member of the team is Canadian import, Jennifer Winestone. She came to Los Angeles after practicing law in Toronto for eight years, in order to obtain her master’s degree in alternate dispute resolution. She has her own mediation practice, and is a brilliant addition to the litigation staff.
Of counsel to the Zukerman firm are two specialists. Maureen Isaacson who is a seasoned estate planner and probate attorney. Having her expertise available adds a service to newly divorced clients who have to construct new trusts, estate plans, or have to protect their assets of which they have not previously had control.
Wendy Sheinkopf has had years of practicing civil litigation, as well as family law. She handles interspousal torts, any civil litigation needs of the firm, as well as the occasional crossover of family law and civil law.
Together with their seasoned support staff, the firm concentrates on a variety of life crises, both good and bad, which can arise in the lives of their clients.
The office is truly a “family” of professionals whose goal is to help those in need.
AN EXPERIENCED APPROACH
While Zukerman left her academic pursuit of psychology and counseling in the past, she definitely draws on that experience in her daily interaction with clients and in the culture she has built. Her practice is focused on the best results for her clients, bringing in experts in every area of the practice, whether it is tax, therapy, real estate, entertainment, business, the health sciences, intellectual property, or the new electronic media. Family law is a very eclectic discipline, and the facts surrounding each case requires a specialized attention to detail, and a characteristic empathy that rounds out Zukerman’s direct approach on behalf of her clients.
Zukerman and her team have maintained a 95 percent settlement rate, a fact in which Zukerman takes great pride.
“When it comes to family law, we are representing good people who are facing one of life’s greatest challenges, whether they are dealing with divorce, custody, pre- or post-nuptial agreements, domestic violence, concealment of assets, adoption, surrogacy, bankruptcy, business failures, child abuse, etc. Each case is unique, just as all people are unique,” she says.
The great cultural diversity in this city also contributes to tensions in marriage, Zukerman points out, and she is very cognizant of recognizing the family dynamics surrounding each situation.
When it comes to the practice of family law, Zukerman knows that communication is paramount to success. With that in mind, she assigns an associate to each of her cases. “If I am unavailable for any reason, I want my clients to be able to have an available contact for any concern.”
In her practice of over 35 years, Zukerman has had a remarkable record of effectuating over 40 reconciliations. “When children are involved, it is important to cause as little harm to the family unit as possible,” she says, “I don’t think that many parents realize the harm they do to their children during family law crises. Children need to feel that they have permission to love the other parent, who is, after all, the other half of them.”
Even adults whose parents are divorcing in later life have the need for understanding, and family therapy, with open communication as an emphasis in Zukerman’s approach to practicing family law.
Obviously, not all family law matters involve children. Complex business issues require the expertise of forensic accountants, who assist families in the fairest distribution of the community assets, in preparing prenuptial agreements for families with great wealth, and for determining future royalty distributions in the entertainment world or other creative endeavors. Confidentiality is obviously key in dealing with the world of celebrities, and dealing with the press requires discretion and expertise. Zukerman’s team is savvy to highly visible clients, and the conference room at The Law Offices of Rosaline L. Zukerman APC has seen its share of celebrities.
Accessibility to counsel is extremely important to a client in crisis. With that realization, Zukerman goes the extra mile by giving all her clients her cell phone number so that, should a crisis arise, she can be reached 24/7. While their emergencies are not medical in nature, emotional pain can often be as compelling, according to Zukerman.
A BALANCED LIFE
“Jack and I have an inside joke … the secret to a long marriage is a sense of humor and a short memory.”
While Zukerman claims not to have a short memory, she says it is important to find a healthy balance in your life by prioritizing. Obviously, family comes first. While being available to clients and family, caring for one’s health is crucial. Th e losses the family law community has recently endured is an example of that.
While Zukerman serves as an avid advocate for her clients, she also enjoys and works hard to spend as much time as possible with her family who now reside in many areas of the country. She and her husband try to have family vacations where they can celebrate the many events involving their four children and twelve grandchildren, only two of whom are not yet adults with their own lives and agendas.
They enjoy combining their East Coast family travels with as much NewYork theatre that they can squeeze in, oft en taking grandchildren with them. In order to follow the kids’ many activities, social media allows Zukerman to keep up with them. Having grown up in Chicago, museums and art galleries are another way of having balance in one’s life.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Belonging to civic activities and mentoring is a priority of Zukerman. She has been a member of Beverly Hills Rotary for several years, is a member of the Los Angeles Library Foundation, and several other groups. However, her favorite extracurricular activity is mentoring young people, which she considers an extension of parenting, which she truly enjoyed.
Th e Jewish Vocational Service has a subgroup called WoMentoring, which pairs up business and professional women with mentees who need guidance in their goals. Zukerman has been a member of this group, and several successful young women have benefitted from her mentoring. She also is part of another mentoring group which is sponsored by the Jewish Federation. In her personal life, countless young women and young men have been mentored by Zukerman.
Zukerman sits at her desk, surrounded by the framed images of family, friends and clients. Files holding the records and notes of current legal projects teeter precariously from almost every corner of her office. Zukerman oft en turns to survey the panoramic view outside of her Century City office window on the 23rd floor. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that it’s too late in life to start another career. I was a success in raising four productive and empathetic people. When they grew up, life was not over — it just changed.”
Indeed it did. Richard Stellar