I wanted to create a brand that was me – my personality and my way. The goal is to provide a high-touch service, to deliver quality with a personal touch,” said Raleigh divorce lawyer Carrie Tortora, who recently opened Tortora Family Law after 15 years practicing at another firm.
“It’s down to earth, straightforward advice, like I would give to my sister or brother, or my mom or dad.” She describes her practice as having a relaxed, approachable vibe. “My office has a lot of plants. It’s not institutional or stuffy.”
If Tortora had it to do over again, she said she would have been a stand-up comedian, “But I’m not that funny,” she laughed. “I do use humor in some situations to help bring my clients and aggressive opposing counsel back to reality; it cuts the tension. Humor is a tool to add perspective to an otherwise s***ty situation. While there is nothing funny about separation and divorce, when I get even a slight smile from my client who is undergoing stress, I feel we make a connection and can tackle their issues as a team.”
The Baton Rouge-born Tortora was headed for a career crunching numbers after graduating from LSU with a degree in accounting. “I did an internship in accounting and found it dry and impersonal,” she recalled.
Tortora earned her Juris Doctor from UNC School of Law. “I knew when I graduated from law school, I wanted to make a difference by helping people through traumatic times, but in my early 20s, I didn’t know what that would look like in the law.”
While clerking at the NC Court of Appeals for Judge Sanford Steelman, she found herself drawn to family law. “It touches on everything – accounting, with property division, spousal and child support, estate planning and financial/tax issues, business law, and in some cases, criminal law. Most importantly, it deals with human issues – relationships, fear, growth. Combining it all makes it challenging and ever-changing, and that is what keeps me doing the work.”
“I represent people who are interested in moving forward and making a positive change, not looking at divorce as a battlefield. Their mindset is ‘I want to move forward, not dwell on the past.’”
Tortora said some people expect to hire a family attorney to work everything out so they don’t have to get involved in the details. Her practice is the total opposite. “I need to figure out where my clients are, how they got there and their goals. Sometimes [we have] the hard conversation about the limitations of the system. The system sucks but we work within it. The goal is to fully protect you, make you whole, but not burn every bridge on the way there.”
“There are a lot of reasons people divorce,” explained Tortora. “Every relationship and every life are unique. I like hearing their background and what motivates them because it colors where they want to go. For example, some people come in [and want to] fight for 50/50 custody or primary custody. Sometimes that’s what they feel they should do. But after working through the issues, they may figure out it’s not the best thing for their family at this time. So, we pivot and direct our focus elsewhere.”
Tortora said she was having childcare issues the morning of our interview. She and her husband, Frank, have three children, Louis, 4, Cecilia, 6, and Giuliana, 8. “You see the world differently after you have children. Parenting with a partner is full of emotional ups and downs and stress – just getting out the door can be a challenge,” said Tortora. “I can sympathize with difficult choices of parents going through a divorce.”
Running her own law firm, Tortora channels what she learned as a waitress while working her way through college and law school. “You have to hustle, remember 35 things at a time, read people’s nonverbal cues, make friends, deal with difficult customers, and clean up other people’s messes. It is nearly verbatim what I do on a daily basis. It’s all about customer service and making people feel comfortable.”