Filling the Gaps: Local attorney develops family law 'strategy'


By Debra Talcott
Legal News

After practicing law with Detroit area firms for 19 years, Diana Gertsmark Brown decided the time was right to launch her own practice, Strategic Divorce Consulting PLLC, in January of this year.  That decision has provided a multitude of benefits for Brown’s clients, her family, and the attorney herself.

During her law career that began in 1994, Brown had worked at two general practice firms that also handled family law matters. She also performed contract work for other family law attorneys in the Metro Detroit area.  In 2007, Brown joined the family law practice group at Hertz Schram in Bloomfield Hills.

“In 2012, I was at a crossroads in my career. I felt I was not reaching my full potential.  Personally and professionally, I had to make a decision, and I chose to work for myself,” says Brown.

In the past eight months, Brown has not looked back. Her expertise and experience in divorce and family law told her a gap existed in the legal market, so she designed her new practice to resolve the problems faced by clients as well as other legal professionals.

“Working with clients across different demographics revealed a common theme:  people were lost when it came to divorce—understanding the legal process, finding the right attorney, realizing the financial implications, and accessing other means of advice and support—and they needed help. People were in desperate need of a plan that would work before, during, and after divorce, but they did not know where to turn.”

Strategic Divorce Consulting addresses all of those needs. Brown chose the name because it describes exactly what she does:  consults with clients at various stages of the divorce process and guides them in crafting a strategic plan for their unique situations.

“The plan may include preparation for a divorce, an analysis of the pending divorce case, addressing modifications to their judgment of divorce, and a referral to the right attorney or another professional to meet their needs. In some cases, I represent clients myself. Finally, I provide legal research and writing services to other attorneys on a project basis,” explains Brown.

Since Brown works on a consulting basis, clients typically retain her services for a limited purpose and time.

“I help clients by analyzing their situation and creating a strategic action plan, which may or may not include filing for divorce.”

If divorce is the direction the clients decide to take, Brown provides services such as preparation for divorce, representation of witnesses, review and drafting of documents, a second-opinion analysis of their current case, and various post-judgment matters.

Depending on the extent of work each case requires, Brown will either handle the matter herself or engage the second part of her practice, which includes providing professional referrals.

“After meeting with the client, I match them with the right person or company to help them take their next step. My referrals are listed on my website and include attorneys, financial advisers, therapists, private investigators, and other experts who can be helpful to my clients. Sometimes a client is not ready to file for divorce but needs financial planning, counseling, or a mediator.

After practicing law for almost 20 years, I have a network of competent professionals who have served my clients well.”

The professional legal research and writing services Brown provides for other family law attorneys are another rewarding part of her practice.

“I have always enjoyed this part of practicing law. Many attorneys are busy in court, meeting with clients, and generating new business. They are unable to devote time to research and writing on their files.  When a complex or time-consuming matter arises, they hire me on a contract basis to perform the research and writing necessary to the case.”

This work may include legal memos, motions with supporting briefs, mediation summaries, settlement agreements, witness depositions, trial briefs, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, trial preparation, judgments, and appeals. Providing these services allows Brown’s colleagues to keep their clients, maintain their workload, and limit their fixed costs.

Brown has worked on many interesting and intense cases.  One she will never forget involved a couple who had been divorced for a short time and were parents of young children. Not long after the judgment had been entered, the father began manipulating the mother, who was a client of Brown’s previous firm, and instigating trouble over the agreed upon-parenting time.

“The father falsely accused our client of abusing the minor children in an effort to gain full custody. Over many months he executed a meticulous and calculating plan to document alleged abuse, and he involved numerous third parties,” says Brown. 

Although the father’s allegations were unfounded, the case went to a lengthy trial on custody, parenting time, and attorney fees. The case involved a tremendous amount of work for the attorneys on both sides.

“Through it all, the father behaved in ways to make the mother’s life miserable, and it was clear he would continue on his quest. Shortly after the court’s opinion was issued, he planned to appeal, but that was not to be. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 41. This reinforced my belief in karma—that what goes around comes around.”

Brown is someone who aspires to send good emanations into the world while fulfilling her various roles.  Born in Riga, Latvia, she came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 8 years old. 

When she arrived, she spoke only Russian and learned English here.  She grew up in Southfield and West Bloomfield and went on to graduate from the University of Michigan before earning her law degree from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“My fondest memories of college are the friendships I made, living in a dorm on the Hill, and walking through the beautiful U-M campus in Ann Arbor,” says Brown.  “Whenever I go back to Ann Arbor, I feel extremely nostalgic.”

At UDM Law, Brown remembers gathering with friends in the atrium and studying late at night. While there, she served as moot court adviser for first-year students and was a law clerk for Wayne County Circuit Court Judge James Chylinski.  She also worked at a downtown Detroit firm during her law school years.

Brown had always been interested in law and, early on, thought she might pursue a career in international law because of her Eastern European background.  However, earning her highest grades in law school in the family law class could have foreshadowed the path she would ultimately follow.

“I ended up working at general practice and full-service firms which included divorce law.  So I began my career in family law, and it grew from there.  After a while, I handled family law matters almost exclusively. I have also represented many Russian-speaking clients from our immigrant communities who needed to communicate with me in Russian.”

Brown has been married to her husband, David Brown, for 15 years and calls him her strongest source of support.

“He has always believed in me and encouraged me to start my own practice. David has both a creative and business background and has been very helpful in developing my business plan. His job as a sales director of services for American Tower Corp. involves new business development and frequent travel.”

The Browns are also the parents of 9-year-old triplets—Ian, Isabella, and Dean—whose schedules are growing busier all the time with sports, piano, and social activities, in addition to school.
“They keep us very busy, and they love that mommy has her own business.”

Besides being the kind of parent who is present in her children’s lives, Brown also sees the importance of setting a good example for her children through community service.  She is a member of Women of Bloomfield, a nonprofit organization that supports CARE House of Oakland County and other charities through fund-raising and volunteer efforts.

“I am also a member of the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, which holds wonderful community and networking events and is a great resource for its members.”

Like many other working mothers, Brown has limited free time, but when she does find herself with some personal time, she enjoys reading. 

“I usually have several books and magazines going at once, because I like a variety of reading material,” she explains. “I also enjoy cooking, spending time with my family, and planning home improvement projects.”

While Brown masters her recipes for Brady Bunch-size meatloaf and casseroles and envisions her next project around the house (a new mudroom), she also thinks about what the future may hold for her professionally.

“I have a vision for the next 5-10 years. I will continue to grow my business one client at a time, one referral at a time, while providing superior service. It has been rewarding to experience the positive reaction to my niche practice and see my efforts result in new business. My colleagues and clients have been very encouraging, and I couldn’t have done this without my family’s support and enthusiasm. As my children grow and become more independent, I plan to sow the seeds for a great company.”