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Elisabeth Donovan ‘12 Makes a Difference Practicing Family Law

January 20, 2015

Shortly after graduating from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2012, Orange County native Elisabeth Anne Donovan opened her own family law practice in Santa Ana, California. “Practicing Family Law comes with many rewards and challenges. The most rewarding part of my career is making a difference in the lives of my clients,” Donovan said. “Many of these individuals come to me during what is the most trying time of their lives. Aside from being their legal advocate, I have the benefit of walking these people through their personal challenges and acting as their counselor and friend. I also have the opportunity to present my cases in court on a regular basis, which is exhilarating.”

Like many law students, Donovan did not begin law school knowing what area of law she would pursue, but she had a clear understanding of the path she wished to avoid. “When I began law school, I did so knowing that I did not want to work in a corporate environment,” Donovan said. “I wanted to find a niche where I could truly connect with my clients and make an impact. During law school, I worked at the TJSL Veterans Legal Assistance clinic and had the benefit of helping disabled veterans with their family law issues. Many of these people suffer for PTSD and have been stigmatized by society, and those are exactly the types of people I wanted to serve. That is when I knew that this area of practice was for me.”

In addition to her clinic experience, Donovan was motivated by the altruism of former TJSL Professor Luz Herrera. “Professor Herrera, was a huge inspiration for me. For those who don’t know her story, it is truly remarkable. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she decided to set up her own law practice in Compton, CA. Although she had many opportunities available to her as a Harvard alum, she followed her passion of helping people she could identify with. In doing so, she was able to provide legal services to individuals who otherwise could not afford them and made a tremendous impact on the community,” Donovan said. “Professor Herrera inspired me to do what I am doing now and made me realize that opening my own law practice at the age of twenty-seven was both attainable and rewarding.”

After graduating, Donovan took the bar and volunteered at The Legal Aid Society while she awaited the bar results. At that time, The Legal Aid Society launched an incubator program and Donovan was given the opportunity to be one of the first attorneys to participate. “The Legal Aid Society’s program, called the Lawyers Entrepreneurial Assistance Program (LEAP), provided new attorneys with the mentorship and guidance they need to start their own practice in exchange for providing legal services to their indigent clients,” Donovan explained. “After passing the bar exam, I took a full caseload of pro bono family law cases to hone my skills. I went to court for a default dissolution of marriage case the week after I was sworn into the California Bar. In September 2013, I opened my own family law practice in Santa Ana and the rest is history. When I was not in court, I spent much of my time attending MCLEs and studying the law to build up my knowledge base. Now, I specialize in providing affordable family law services to low and middle-income clients.”

Despite the success of her practice, Donovan hopes to specialize even further. “Currently, my niche is providing affordable legal services to Orange County residents,” Donovan said. “In the future, I would like to tailor that niche even further and serve as an advocate for family law litigants who suffer from mental health and addiction issues. This is a commonplace problem in family court, and I don’t believe there are enough lawyers who focus on the rehabilitative aspects of these types of cases. One of the most rewarding experiences in my career so far has been working with a client who suffered from bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and watching him recover from his illnesses and become a wonderful father. Now, he has joint custody of his two kids. As a family law attorney, my goal is not only to represent my client’s best interest, but do what is best for the entire family.”

When asked what advice she would give recent graduates, Donovan said, “Follow your heart, and tune out the negativity that currently surrounds the legal profession. Do what feels right for you and don’t lose faith in yourself. If you made it through law school and the bar exam then you will find your way in this profession with hard work and dedication.”