Open Arms: AAML president takes a new approach to leadership role

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In a treasured family photo, Laura Eisenberg and her late husband, Darren, with their daughter Emily at her hooding ceremony upon graduation from Detroit Mercy Law in 2021


By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

When Birmingham attorney Laura Eisenberg was sworn in as the new president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in late June, the ceremony took place in an atypical setting.

The Yard at Corktown, a combination restaurant and entertainment center that offers such games as cornhole, pinball, shuffleboard, and axe-throwing.

As one of Metro Detroit’s most prominent family law practitioners, Eisenberg is not a proponent of axe-throwing when handling or mediating nettlesome divorce cases, preferring instead to take a more civilized approach to resolving such inherently difficult matters.

In other words, there was nothing strangely symbolic about her choice of venue for the annual AAML ceremony except to formalize a new approach to bolstering the ranks of the prestigious organization that is national in scope.

“I wanted to take a different approach in an effort to attract new members,” said Eisenberg, who will serve a one-year term as president of the Michigan Chapter of AAML. “I wanted to invite as many young lawyers to the ceremony as possible to get them acquainted with our organization and how it can become an important part of their legal careers. The goal was to make it a fun and welcoming event, and to help dispel any belief that our doors are closed to new members.”

Eisenberg, who grew up in Southfield and earned her law degree from the University of Detroit, said she is determined to help the organization overcome an “intimidation” factor that has served as an artificial barrier to membership among family law attorneys.

“It’s a rigorous process to become a Fellow of the AAML,” Eisenberg acknowledged of the organization’s selective nature. “Rigorous but by all means attainable for those who are committed to learning and to serving the legal community.”

According to Eisenberg, attorneys considered for admission to the AAML must possess a minimum of 10 years of experience in matrimonial law, demonstrated a commitment to continuing legal education, earned the respect of members of the bench and bar for their legal expertise, and passed a comprehensive written examination pertaining to matrimonial and family law.

“Becoming a Fellow requires a commitment of time and energy, but the benefits of being a member are life-lasting in terms of the relationships and the connections you make,” said Eisenberg.

A 1988 graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University, Eisenberg began her legal career in 1991 with the Public Defender Office while pulling double duty as an associate at a local law firm.

“They made me do family law cases and I was scared beyond belief,” Eisenberg said of her somewhat unsteady start.

Her worst fears were soon realized when she faced the prospect of dueling with trailblazing attorney Carole Chiamp in her very first family law case.

“She had a reputation as one of the very best matrimonial attorneys in the state and had a series of cases that made law in Michigan,” Eisenberg said of Chiamp, a past president of the Detroit Bar Association and a recipient of the Champion of Justice Award from the State Bar of Michigan. “It was a tough way to begin my career as a family law attorney.”

But the case produced a side benefit for Eisenberg.

“Carole became one of my mentors and encouraged my involvement in the Academy,” said Eisenberg. “She has been a role model for me and many other female attorneys in the state, and for that I will always be grateful.”

The case also coincided with the birth of Eisenberg’s first son, Gabriel, who is now 28 years old.

“It was an interesting first case in many respects,” Eisenberg said with a smile.

As a young lawyer and a first-time mother back then, Eisenberg somehow was able to juggle the demands of a career and parenthood, methodically building a family law practice to the point where she branched out on her own in 1996.

“I was the beneficiary of being mentored by some outstanding lawyers,” said Eisenberg, mentioning the likes of Chiamp, Hanley Gurwin, John Mills, and Judge Edward Sosnick, who helped develop a number of innovative family law programs while serving on the Oakland Court Circuit Court bench. “They all were very generous with their time and their advice, and helped give me the courage to open my own firm.”

Her Birmingham-based firm – Eisenberg & Spilman, PLLC – includes her partner, Amy Spilman, and associate Mekel Sebestyen Miller. Like Eisenberg, Spilman is a AAML Fellow and chairs the Michigan Chapter’s seminar program while also serving as co-editor of its newsletter.

The Michigan Chapter of the AAML currently counts 41 members, while there are more than 1,600 AAML Fellows nationwide, according to Eisenberg, who currently is “mentoring and encouraging” a half-dozen attorneys to consider membership in the organization that prides itself on “professionalism, competence, and integrity.”

Eisenberg’s increasing involvement in the AAML comes at a time when “practicing family law has become more difficult” due to the residual effects of the pandemic.

“There are so many families who are in crisis due to the impact of the pandemic,” said Eisenberg. “The mental health challenges so many people face because of job loss, illness, and isolation have been devastating, and also have tested us in the legal profession as we deal with remote hearings and court proceedings. The general level of civility has been declining, and we’ve lost some of the sense of community that we experience by dealing with people face-to-face.”

A product of Southfield Lathrup High School, Eisenberg suffered a profound loss of her own last spring when her husband, Darren, died after a 10-year battle with cancer.

“We were high school sweethearts and were married in 1989 after my first year at U of D,” Eisenberg said of her late husband, who spent his career in compensation management before becoming ill. “His death has been hard for all of us to process, but it would have been even more difficult had it not been for all the support I’ve received from friends and those throughout the legal community. It’s been remarkably helpful.”

In wake of the loss, Eisenberg draws strength from her three children – Gabriel, Emily, and Noah, ranging in age from 23 to 28.

Gabriel is in a master’s program at Wayne State University with plans to become a teacher. Eisenberg’s daughter, Emily, is an attorney with Dickinson Wright, focusing her practice on mergers and acquisitions. Her youngest, Noah, is a farrier, who recently moved to Lexington, Ky., long known as the “Horse Capital of the World.”

“Incredibly proud of all my children,” said Eisenberg. “They are at the heart of my life.”


 

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