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Entrepreneurial Spirit and Cultural Insights From a Family Law Attorney With Mervate Mohammad

November 29, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Mervate Mohammad Mervate MohammadMervate Mohammad is the Principal Attorney at Kiswani Law Firm, a legal practice specializing in family law and mediation in the Greater Chicagoland Area. Her expertise encompasses divorce, custody, adoption, child support cases, and prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Mervate brings a comprehensive skill set to her role, including being trained as a mediator through Northwestern University’s Mediation Program, equipping her to handle sensitive and complex family law matters effectively. Bilingual in Arabic, Mervate is capable of addressing a diverse client base. She obtained her JD from the John Marshall Law School, is licensed to practice in Illinois, and has also earned her Federal General Bar admission to the Northern District of Illinois Supreme Court.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Mervate Mohammad talks about what they specialize in at Kiswani Law Firm
  • The many roles of a family law attorney
  • The challenges of navigating cultural and religious differences in divorce cases
  • Why Mervate advocates for mediation as an alternative to litigation in divorce and custody cases
  • What made Mervate pursue family law?
  • How Kiswani Law Firm started and got its first clients
  • Mervate‘s advice for aspiring lawyers

In this episode…

Is it the blend of entrepreneurial spirit and cultural understanding that sets apart a successful family law practice? How does an attorney navigate the emotional complexities of family law while maintaining a strong business acumen? According to Mervate Mohammad, a seasoned family law expert, the key lies in combining legal expertise with a deep appreciation for cultural nuances. Her journey in law, influenced by her background as a first-generation American and her proficiency in Arabic, underscores the importance of connecting with clients on a personal level. Mervate’s approach to family law is not just about legal representation; it’s about empathetically guiding clients through life-changing decisions and understanding the diverse cultural contexts that shape their experiences. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Bela Musits speaks with Mervate Mohammad, Principal Attorney at Kiswani Law Firm, about her unique approach to family law. They discuss her transition from an aspiring business litigation attorney to a family law specialist, the challenges and rewards of establishing her own practice, and the crucial role of cultural insights in family law. Mervate also shares valuable advice for aspiring lawyers and the significance of balancing professional life with personal passions.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to adam@gladiatorlawmarketing.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know but likely don’t. Bela Musits  0:13   Hello, listeners. Bela Musits here, host for this episode of the 15 Minutes Share Your Voice podcast, where we talk with top-notch law firms and attorneys about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing. They deliver tailor-made services to help your law firm accomplish its objectives and maximize your growth potential to have a successful marketing campaign. And to make sure you’re getting the best return on investment, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Today’s guest on the podcast is attorney Mervate Mohammad. Mervate is the principal attorney at Kiswani Law Firm. Mervate’s primary focus is on divorce, custody, adoption and child support cases along with prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Attorney Mervate has further been trained as a mediator through the Northwestern University’s mediation program. Welcome to the podcast, Mervate. Mervate Mohammad  1:31   Thank you for having me. Bela Musits  1:32   Sure. So tell us a little bit more about just Kiswani Law Firm. Mervate Mohammad  1:37   Kiswani Law Firm has been around for about nine years now. It primarily handles family law, it is essentially all that we do, which would include divorce child custody, also represented children, including being a guardian ad litem a child’s representative in Cook County and in DuPage. County. And we love what we do. Bela Musits  1:59   Yeah. Wow. So that, you know, divorce, separations, custody battles, things like that sounds like those are challenging cases, because there’s probably a lot of emotion involved. Right? That must take like a special set of skills on your part. Mervate Mohammad  2:17   Right. So for a lot of family law attorneys, you’re acting as a counselor, an attorney, and sometimes even an emotional therapist. But I would think that the best family law attorneys encourage their clients to seek an individual therapist, because we are not trained to be therapists. So I can hear my client venting, but I don’t necessarily have the advice to help them cope with their emotional struggles. Because divorce is traumatic, it is hard, it is difficult, you know, only once in a while you will see a quote unquote, easy divorce. And that’s usually for people who really want a divorce are on the same page, and most likely have not been married for very long. Bela Musits  3:03   Yeah, yeah. So up, do the laws vary? state by state? I would imagine in this country, is that correct? Mervate Mohammad  3:11   They do. They do. So there’s the laws in Illinois are probably a little different than the laws in Indiana and Florida, etc. Yeah. Bela Musits  3:19   But within a state, are the laws the same? Or are there variations within a state? Mervate Mohammad  3:24   So in the state of Illinois, the law is all the same when it comes to divorce and custody. But of course, you know, can things be different depending on how a judge rules in one county to another or by one case to another, of course, because the facts are probably different. The players, you know, the parties are probably different, what they file may be different, how they react may be different. And all of that impacts the outcome of your divorce or custody battle. Bela Musits  3:52   Yeah, sure. That makes sense. So due to these types of cases go to trial, or we know where the jury sort of, you know, what everyone’s thinking about going to court are these different? Mervate Mohammad  4:02   Well, luckily, in Illinois, there is no jury trial for divorce and child custody cases. So you’re only up in front of the judge. And yes, they do go to trial if there is no settlement. Bela Musits  4:16   Okay. So in essence, you would plead your your plaintiff’s case to the judge, the other side would plead their case, and then the judge makes the decision. Mervate Mohammad  4:25   Right. And like any trial, if you have witnesses, witnesses can appear witnesses testify, you have to present your evidence. And you know, it’s not just about oh my god, I want a divorce or Oh, my God, I don’t want a divorce. There are so many other things that go under the umbrella of a divorce, including property, who’s getting what property what the value of the property is. Is there any debt? Are we talking about child support? Are we talking about alimony? You know, is there a dissipation claim has someone spent funds in a way that they weren’t supposed to? So Usually cases that go to trial are a little bit more complex than the usual cases, because there’s usually some sort of money at play, whether that’s assets, support or even debt. So who’s going to pay the debt? Mm hmm. Bela Musits  5:13   Yeah. Boy, it does sound complicated. Typically, if if something does go to trial, you know, so it’s that contention. So I would imagine, how long does that whole process typically take? Mervate Mohammad  5:24   Oh, my goodness. So I have had trials that have lasted, you know, one day and have other trials that have lasted two weeks. So, you know, the way that a case starts ramping up for trial is if there is no settlement, and usually attorneys try to talk settlement within, I would think the pre discovery phase and even within the discovery phase, but in order for a case to get to the point of trial, and it’s that contentious is probably been around for longer than six months in the court system, or while. Bela Musits  5:57   Wow. So I can imagine it in these types of cases that you handle bias you deal with, sometimes, the cultural norms are different than the law. So I can imagine that makes it really much more difficult. How do you sort of deal with that. Mervate Mohammad  6:14   So I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to represent people from an array of life and an array of culture and heritage. And everyone’s culture does play a role in their marriage, and sometimes and what results in their divorce. So you have to have an honest discussion with your clients, whatever is acceptable in the culture may not be acceptable in the law, and whatever is acceptable for results of a divorce and culture may not be acceptable in the law, or vice versa. So I can give an example, a large amount of my clients are Middle East or a large amount of them are Muslim. So the way that the divorce laws would work religiously, or ideally, under a Muslim state are very different than the laws in the state of Illinois, I usually deal with the issues of whether or not dowry is going to be upheld in the state of Illinois, whether there’s going to be issues of custody, because maybe religiously, father would you know, by default get custody up to a certain age among a certain age. But that’s not the way that it plays out in the state of Illinois. So that just needs to be talked about in the realities of how the law is applied, needs to be discussed very early on in the case. Yeah, yeah. Bela Musits  7:37   So if there are differences between those two norms between what goes on in Illinois, and let’s say, the cultural norms, if the two parties agree that they’re okay with the cultural norms, is that an acceptable settlement? Or does this does the state guidelines rule. Mervate Mohammad  7:57   So the parties can always come up with an agreement, but the agreement has to be legal, it has to be binding, and it has to be equitable, and the judge has to review that agreement. So you can agree to whatever you’d like. But if a judge does not find that equitable, and most of the judges not gonna enter it, so then it goes back to the attorneys to again, advise and counsel their clients as to what it is that they’re agreeing to? What makes sense to can it be entered, can it be legally binding? And of course, as attorneys, we want to make sure that it doesn’t come back and get either dismissed or vacated later, or, you know, cause up humongous legal battle. Bela Musits  8:41   Yeah, that all makes sense. So tell us a little bit more about mediation, that you went back got some special training for that. Expand on that a little bit. For us. Mervate Mohammad  8:52   I love mediation. Because I do think that divorce and custody battles sometimes get lost in rabbit hole when it comes to litigating them, especially when people’s emotions are involved. Mediation is a great process for people who want to sit at the kitchen table, and talk out their problems in hopes of coming up with solutions that really work for them. And that aren’t determined by a stranger, which in this case, would be a judge was simply rule regardless of how you felt about that outcome. So I have been practicing mediation and the parties that have come to me for mediation, do walk out happier, I would say then, you know, parties that go to trial, because in the end, in mediation, you do get to discuss your problems, and it is amicable and it’s okay to disagree. But in the end, you want to find a solution that works for both you the other person and if children are involved, then for the children, because in the end, you get to then have control over your life versus a judge. implementing whatever it is that they’ve seen that onto you, and then you have to live by that. Yeah. So I’m hoping that in the future that there would be more encouragement for parties to actually seek mediation, versus totally litigating everything out in the court system. Bela Musits  10:18   Yeah. So help me understand a little bit how it works, so that the two parties would come to you and sit down with you and multiple sessions and the hammer sort of things out and come to an agreement. Mervate Mohammad  10:31   So both parties have to agree to want to do mediation, it wouldn’t work if one party doesn’t want to do it, right. So they both need to agree that they want to do mediation, I’ve had parties either reach out together to me, or I have separate phone calls with the parties. Sometimes I even meet with them together in person, or separately, depending on what it is that they want. Once I meet with them, we come up with an agreement as to when we’re meeting, how we’re meeting. And the times, this all needs to be, of course, agreeable to both sides. Once that happens, I do usually have three sessions to discuss whether it’s finances or custody issues, and then we just do it in three session blocks. And a lot of these sessions can get very emotional, we do have to take some breaks, sometimes I have to break up what the big problem is between the parties into sub issues, and McKellen Mau one issue at a time. And I would say usually by the third or fourth mediation session, we’ve talked about the majority of the issues and we can at least categorize this is what we’re in agreement with. And then this is what we’re going to work out whether we have to step away from mediation for a little bit and come back and resolve it, or we want to another session right away to resolve it really depends on the parties and how they want to move forward. Bela Musits  11:55   Well, that really sounds like some intense counseling sessions to me. Yeah, yeah. Now, let’s say once you once you get an agreement in mediation, does it then need to go and get approved by a judge. Mervate Mohammad  12:12   So this is what happens a mediator, if I’m acting as a mediator, I cannot also act as an attorney for the parties. So as a mediator, if there is an agreement, I will draft something called the memorandum of understanding. And usually the parties at least one of them might have an attorney. And if they don’t, that’s okay. They can represent themselves pro se. But they have to convert that memorandum of understanding to a judgment to an order, and then put it into the court system and be entered in order for it to be enforceable. If you don’t enter anything in court, then everything and anything you’ve agreed in mediation is not enforceable at all. Bela Musits  12:52   Okay, I understand. Well, this has been very informative. That’s, that’s very, very nice. Thank you for explaining all of that. So, tell us Tell me a little bit. I’m always curious. This, you know, is a pretty specialized piece of the law or section of the law practice of those specialty. And, you know, a lot of emotion evolves, as you said, you find yourself to be a counselor often, in helping people get through these very difficult times. What made you choose going into this segment of the law? Mervate Mohammad  13:22   I always say you don’t choose family law, it chooses you. Not everyone is really cut out to be a family law attorney. It is highly emotional, it can be very complex and very heavy. At times. When I graduated law school, the economy wasn’t in its best shape. I actually did not choose family law, I was looking to be more of a business litigation attorney commercial litigation. And that’s what I was looking for. But one of my friends was working at a smaller law firm. And she reached out to me and said, Hey, we have a position open, come and join us at this family law firm. I said, okay, like fine. I’ll go ahead and join them and start there. started there, I ended up falling in love with family law. And after about a year and a half, I opened up my own practice, and I have not strayed away from family law. Since then. I have met a couple of attorneys who thought family law was for them, you know, only for them to run away from it after one case. So I don’t think family law is for everyone. I do think it is an acquired taste, if you want to use that statement for practicing law. Bela Musits  14:34   Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So I have another curious question here. I think you said you went to went to work for a law firm that was doing family law, you fell in love with it. Then you decided to open up your own law firm. Tell me a little bit about that decision of of hanging your own shingle sort of speak and going out on your own? Mervate Mohammad  14:54   Yeah, so I come from a family of entrepreneurs. You know, everyone owns a small business. So it was kind of something that was expected something that ran in my blood that I just wanted to be my own boss. So I was a little fearful of it. I was a little scared, I was still a new attorney. But I would say that my mom and dad definitely encouraged me to go out and hang my own shingle. But it was exciting. And it’s worked out for the last nine years. Bela Musits  15:24   Yeah, that sounds great. So if if there’s, you know, some attorneys listening to this podcast, and they’re sitting in their big corporate law firm offices, and they have these inklings of going out on their own, what advice would you give them? Mervate Mohammad  15:41   Do your research, I made sure that I reached out to multiple attorneys that opened up their own law firm before I opened up mine. And I would say a lot of these attorneys did not know me at all. I called their office, I introduced myself and I told them exactly what it is that I was looking for, and I invited them out for a cup of coffee. I also reached out to professors of mine that did introduce me to current mentors, who’ve practiced family law, and they definitely helped me setting up my shingle telling me exactly what to do for in it. For example, I know that my mentor, stressed malpractice, insurance, insurance, insurance insurance, especially for a younger attorney, and as a younger attorney, I just would not have thought of that as such a important part of practice, unless my mentor had told me, so I would say do your research, it’s not as glamorous, as some people make it out to be, it’s a lot of hard work. But if you are willing to put in that hard work, and you’re willing to, you know, kind of wear all the hats, at least in the beginning, then it’s worth it. If you do think that your job right now as an associate or working somewhere else is very stressful. Owning your own law firm is just as stressful, if not more. So. That’s my bit of advice. Bela Musits  17:05   Yeah, yeah, I can imagine that you said you’re wearing all different types of hats. You know, you’re an associate or a junior partner someplace, you don’t have to worry about paying the rent on the building, you don’t have to worry about paying the electric bill, there’s all these things that you don’t have to worry about. Now, all of a sudden, you open up your own place, you got to worry about all sorts of stuff. Mervate Mohammad  17:25   Right? Right. And especially when you start out, because it’s only you, and then slowly building up your practice, you can of course, you know, assign different tasks and different people have different departments, etc. But when you begin, you’re the administrator, you’re HR, you’re the payroll, you’re the attorney, you’re the business person. It’s all on you. So it’s it’s hard work in the beginning, but I mean, it was worth it for me. Bela Musits  17:51   Yeah, that’s great. That’s fabulous. So when when you blaze out on your own, you know, the legal profession is very competitive. There’s lots of firms out there, you see advertising all the time. So how did you sort of market yourself in the beginning and get those initial clients? How did that process go? Mervate Mohammad  18:12   I definitely wanted to connect with my clients. And I wanted to connect with people who are like me, I am a first generation American, my parents are immigrants. I am a female, the first female, my family to go to college and law school, I understand the struggles that a lot of people have gone through or are going through. So I think having the human side of me is really what attracted a lot of people to retain my services. I would also say speaking Arabic did help. Many attorneys in my area do speak fluent Arabic. And also being a minority has helped as well, because minorities do see things in a different light, they shoe had struggles. So that helped and I think just connecting on a human level did help. That helped me attract a lot of clientele. When I first opened the firm, yeah. Bela Musits  19:08   And And were there any big turning points, once you opened up your your firm that sort of, you know, really gave you a big boost in in sort of, not only your own confidence and saying, Hey, this is this is starting to work out and be successful, but also from a business perspective. Mervate Mohammad  19:25   When I first opened up my law firm, I had a small office in my family’s trucking business. And I think that gave it a unique spin because people were like, Oh, she has a office in her family’s trucking business. So it was very family oriented. And people knew that I had just started. I would say that that attracted a lot of people. Within five years, I was able to open up my own office, and I think that was the turning point. After five years. You saw the success you You saw that you can go ahead and open up your own office without the help of family without the help of friends. And clients saw that in a lot of my clients have been repeat clients not to say that they’ve been divorced more than once. But if you have children who are young, and things often change as they grow up, whether that’s modifying custody judgments or support judgments, or whatever it is, so they saw my growth. So I’ve had clients who have seen me from year one, and they’ve been with me in year nine, and they’ve seen the change. So the 100 degree change. And I think that’s what what’s attracted clients. And again, that’s what’s had them refer their friends and family to me as well. Bela Musits  20:39   Oh, that’s wonderful. So if I’m listening to this podcast, and I’m thinking of maybe going to law school to becoming an attorney, or I’m getting ready to graduate next year, I’m in my final year, and I’m going to graduate. What words of advice would you give to someone like that? Mervate Mohammad  20:59   I would say if you have not already clerked somewhere, go out and clerk, because in law school, they teach you the law. It’s all theory based, but it’s not real life based. And you can only go so far with a textbook, it really comes down to what you know, and who you know, in real life. And practicing law is very different than simply learning the law. So connections and networking, I would say should be a priority for law students if they have the ability to do it. Bela Musits  21:31   Excellent. Now, as a layperson, I often hear that word clerk I clerked for this judge or I clerked here. What does that mean? Mervate Mohammad  21:41   So it’s just assisting so you can assist the judge, usually for clerking for a judge or just observing in the courtroom might you might help the judge draft up a judgment or an order but of course, the judge is the one supervising it and finalizing it. Same thing with clerking in the law office. So you might be helping with the paperwork, you might absorb observe court appearances, but you’re simply assisting so you’re just kind of in the background assisting, but it gives you a lot of experience. Bela Musits  22:10   Yeah, yeah. So it’s, is it similar to what some places by call an internship? Mervate Mohammad  22:16   Yeah, but you know, with clerks are usually getting paid. As you should, I don’t believe the opposite and should work for free. But, yeah, it’s a paid internship. Bela Musits  22:28   Very nice. Very nice. Sounds like a great way to get experience just just as internships are and some internships are paid for sure. In the business world. Yeah. So one, one last question. What sort of triggered you to, to go into law to decide to go to law school? Was there an event? Did you wake up one morning and say, oh, I want to be an attorney? Or was it? You know, how did that process go? Mervate Mohammad  22:54   So when you grew up in Middle Eastern family, you’re either a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, when I was in high school, I thought I was going to be a doctor, I took AP Biology, I could not deal with the blood. So I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. So I figured being a lawyer would be the best way for me to help people make a difference in their life. In for family law. When people ask me, Well, how are you making a difference in people’s lives as a family law attorney, and I would say I’m helping them move to the next chapter of their life. They’re already in a terrible relationship. Abusive, it could be, you know, whether it’s emotionally, physically, financially, or they’re simply miserable. And they need help to move past that, and then get on to the next chapter of their life. So that’s what family law attorneys are usually doing, versus the stereotype that we’re breaking up families, the families already broken, and they just come to us. Bela Musits  23:53   Yeah, very nice. So where can listeners learn more about you and your firm? Mervate Mohammad  24:00   You can go online at his kiswanilawfirm.com. They can also call the office at 708-210-9247. Bela Musits  24:07   Okay, great. I will make sure that information is in the show notes so people can find that and reach out to but So my last question, is there something that I have not asked you that you would like to share with our listeners? Mervate Mohammad  24:19   I think we went over everything. But I would like to give a tip to attorneys in general. Yeah, I would say make sure that you have a hobby outside of practicing law, to balance out the stress that we have to deal with. I personally like swimming and golfing. So if you pick up a hobby outside of law, it will make a world of difference. Bela Musits  24:46   Yeah. I think that’s good advice for any profession. Right? Yeah, you gotta have some interest outside of work. Let’s have a life. You have to have a life. So that’s a great way to call was the podcast. Mervate, I thank you very much for being a great guest on the show. I really enjoyed our conversation. Mervate Mohammad  25:06   Thank you so much for having me. Enjoy the rest of your day. Bela Musits  25:09   You too. Thank you. Outro  25:13   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes. Be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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