'Lady' like-- Attorney believes in value of holistic approach to law

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Mindy Hitchcock has spent the past 10 years practicing law in what she calls a holistic manner. And while the word holistic conjures up a mystical combination of mind, body and spirit, dealing with the whole of a system rather than individual parts, it's primarily used in reference to medicine and rarely in the practice of law.

But that's what makes Hitchcock unique in her methods. Her holistic approach got its roots from living through her parents' divorce, going through one of her own, and seeing how divorces tear families apart, often pitting spouses against one another and placing children in the middle.

"So I decided to practice law the way I wanted to practice," she said. "I always thought lawyers had to be the pit bull, bombard (opposing attorneys and their clients) with documents, and make their life a living hell, and I didn't want to practice that way because I didn't feel good about that."

Hitchcock, 57, was born in Detroit, and graduated from Wayne State University in 1982 with a major in communications, believing that whatever field she eventually entered, communicating effectively would be a plus.

Her former husband urged her to attend law school.

"And at first, I really didn't want to, because I thought lawyers were like vultures, just waiting for people's misfortunes," she said. "But I had a feeling about it and I thought, you know, I wanted to go into something holistic. I was interested in spiritual things, and thought I might teach a class on self-actualization, but after my husband and I split up, I realized I can't support a family and my two children on that."

It was not her first taste of the pains of divorce. Hitchcock said her own parents went through a bitter divorce, which caused alienation among her parents, their own children, with alcoholism, drug use, and revenge in the mix. Two of her siblings later died of alcoholism, and another became totally estranged from the family, and she believes her parents' divorce played a major role with that.

Hitchcock jokes that she may have pre-destined to become a divorce attorney anyway, because she used to watch "Divorce Court" on television so much growing up. She started at Wayne State University Law School, and graduated in 1985. Although she and her husband had been together for some time, they married in 1986, and a year later, gave birth to twins, Alex and Alexis, two days after taking the bar examination on her 30th birthday.

It was a tumultuous time for Hitchcock. The marriage was falling apart, and she was working full time through law school, for a criminal defense attorney and arson defense for insurance companies.

Hitchcock got into martial arts, and it made her feel more independent, and "the pieces started coming together," she said. The couple separated in 1997, and got divorced in 2001. Now, Hitchcock advises clients to not stay together for the sake of the children.

"Why, so they can see a dysfunctional relationship and learn that?"

Hitchcock began her practice out of her home, and hauled the twins to court with her. They'd sit in the jury box and scribble on legal pads.

Having witnessed the underbelly of divorce law, where parents squabble and one spouse badmouths the other in front of the kids to gain a measure of revenge, Hitchcock decided to use a holistic approach in her work.

"That's a tricky word," she said when asked to explain it.

Hitchcock said it takes into account the whole person, family unit and both sides.

"My philosophy is I really try to have a win-win for both. And if you look at the big picture, take in the whole body, mind and spirit of people, you can win in court, but if you have animosity, or stick it to the other person, they'll stick it to your client later on, or they'll end up being in court forever."

Hitchcock said she realized the best way to help her clients was to find a way where both people felt they were respected, and each side took into account the needs of children.

"There's a joke that says criminal lawyers represent bad people at their best, and divorce lawyers represent good people at their worst. I'd rather represent good people at their worst, because going they're going through a tough time, and you can reach out to them," she said.

Her Bingham Farms firm is called Lady4 Justice. While Hitchcock represents both men and women, she leans toward men, both married and single fathers, who she believes get discriminated against regarding child custody and visitation.

"There's a huge bias in favor of women," she said.

That stems in part from judges and a family court system, which believes women make better parents. She says kids need both parents in their lives.

"A mom can't be a good dad, and a dad can't be a good mom," Hitchcock said. "Just because you give birth to a child does not mean you are presumed to be the better parent."

In fashioning her cases, Hitchcock said she tries to ensure parental cooperation in final orders.

"Studies show that if parents act like adults, the kids will be OK," she said.

"My philosophy dovetailed from my parents divorce, and my own, to give me a passion that the relationship started with love, so why not end it that way," Hitchcock said.

She's seen divorce attorneys who rev up the contest so that it creates more friction between the couple, and ends up costing both more in the long run. To that, Hitchcock often serves as a mediator, helping both parties finalize an agreement before they get to court. Hitchcock believes her way is helping to keep respect among divorced couples and their children, without an acrimonious battle not only between the couple, but their attorneys.

"There's enough business out there, and at the end of the day, I don't want to feel like I screwed up somebody's life so I can make some money," she said. "I'd feel like a crumb. But if I feel like I'm actually doing a service, then I feel good about it, and they feel good about it."

Published: Mon, Nov 12, 2012

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