Mary Colwell ’01 has found her niche in family law. Now, she’s paying it forward by fostering a workplace at the Colwell Law Group that allows associates to have a rewarding career and focus on themselves as people too.
Colwell and her husband Kevin lead the rapidly growing firm, which concentrates in most facets of family law including adoption, divorce, support, domestic violence cases, and child custody cases.
“We decided that family law was the area of practice that we could really make the most difference in people's lives and to serve in a way that was meaningful,” she said.
That passion for advocacy was fostered at Albany Law School particularly through involvement with the Anthony V. Cardona ’70 Moot Court Program, the Women’s Law Caucus, and interning at the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.
“You get real world experience. It [Albany Law] was the place where I started to see that advocacy was impactful and really what I was passionate about,” she said. “There is a lot of opportunity for practical experience and I recommend all students take advantage of the opportunities afforded them at Albany Law School."
Family law can be demanding, emotionally-charged, and practitioners can sometimes suffer from compassion fatigue as they work with clients fighting for their children, leaving difficult situations, and making major life changes.
“We try to make sure work isn’t the only thing that our associates focus on . We try to foster an environment where associates are treated as professionals and trusted to accomplish their expectations realistically and still have time for themselves,” she said. “We focus on their ability to know it’s worthwhile to lend yourself to the team, then they lend themselves to you, and everybody can get what they need accomplished for the client.”
And for those times when they need a hand, there is always someone to help.
“We set the expectation with the client at the outset that they have a team to work with. So the burden is not all on the attorney. Throughout the process, a paralegal, a legal assistant, or member of the administrative staff can assist clients with whatever the issue is so that they can receive valuable service in an efficient and expedient manner.” she said.
Working in a smaller firm can also help new attorneys gain courtroom experience quickly, she said.
“Our associates can hit the ground running and really get involved with cases from the outset. They get to be part of something bigger and they grow with us,” she said.
After some time in private practice and as a law clerk at the District Attorney’s office in Monmouth County New Jersey, Colwell has seen the profession from many angles. Now, she works on hiring associates who are ready to learn.
“While you're in school, I think you should get as get as much practical experience as you can. It serves you very well and it allows you to see what you’re comfortable with so you can start to understand what it means to be a practitioner. “When I am hiring, I am hiring for personality and empathy in addition to experience. We can teach certain things about our area of law but we can’t teach you how to be your genuine self. That helps not only our office culture but relating to and having empathy for clients as well.”