More than 30 years into the family law practice started by Arlene Koslow, she and her daughter Pia, now running the firm, spoke to the AJT, reflecting on the past, discussing the present and looking to the future.
When Arlene first moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University Law School, it wasn’t the straightforward route it is today. Not knowing anyone in the city is daunting enough, and to add to it, her first interaction with faculty wasn’t necessarily a good one.
“I sat down for an interview and they said to me, ‘We don’t give many interviews to women.’ They asked, ‘Do you want to get married? Because the women who graduate here are full-time students and aren’t interested in marriage,’” she said.
She met her husband Harold shortly after at an Atlanta Jewish Community Center pottery class and the couple had two daughters, putting her legal aspirations on hold.
“When they were five and three, I did decide to go for it, but Emory had stopped their evening law school class by that time,” she said, explaining that she was working as a dental hygienist at the time.
She attended Woodrow Wilson College of Law and graduated at the top of her class.
Arlene opened her first office in 1985 in Peachtree Center. She can still remember the small office and the pride she felt putting her name on the door.
“I’d been practicing about a month and my husband gave me a call saying two of his workers were at the Hyatt Regency working on an elevator and that it had fallen from the 27th floor to the 11th,” she said. “They knew I was an attorney and asked if I could help, so I went over to the library and read up on workman’s compensation and said, ‘Sure!’”
In 2004, after graduating from an Emory Law class of more than 50 percent women and spending two years in labor law, Pia joined her mother’s practice.
“The labor and employment area was my firs introduction to the world of law and I quickly realized I wanted to work more directly with clients,” Pia said. “I saw my mom and her independence in working in a variety of areas and I decided that I wanted to give that a shot.”
While Arlene is basically retired, she remembers the days of their partnership fondly.
“It was the best time of my life, working side-by-side with her. Youth and experience are great teammates and so are Pia and I,” she said.
Working with family can be challenging, but watching her mother build the firm when she was a child, Pia knew how much work she’d put in.
“My mom was an amazing mentor in a field where mentorship can be really lacking,” she said. “She is exceedingly tough and has very high expectations, and she is a tremendous thinker.”
Shortly after joining the practice, Pia began to specialize in family law, which she’s done for 15 years.
“My philosophy is that your beginning sets the tone for your end,” Pia said. “When I sit with someone initially for a consultation, I want to get a sense of their vision for a divorce process, their goals and their priorities. If they don’t know that coming in, I want to help develop that framework.”
She elaborated, saying that while divorce can certainly feel like an adversarial, antagonistic process, setting a cooperative tone on one side can often cause the other party to respond in-kind, and avoid a lot of the hostility involved.
There are, of course, cases that have no option but to be resolved by a judge, but Pia explained that such a case is rare, and that close to 95 percent of her cases are resolved outside the courtroom.
Just as her mother was for years, Pia has now been in a solo practice since
her mother stepped back in 2016. Arlene still takes on cases selectively.
“The daughter of one of my first clients, whom I met at juvenile court, called me,” Arlene said. “We remained friends all the way through the years and, of course I’m going to help her; I’m not going to turn her away.”
Arlene’s biggest focus in her retirement is volunteerism through Congregation Shearith Israel, and she’s jumping in with all the passion that first launched her practice.
Pia has four children of her own on top of being a board member at Atlanta Jewish Academy and co-chair of the strategic planning committee at Shearith Israel. She has learned from her mother about the importance of passion in her work as well.
“I grew up watching my own mother do it, so I knew it was possible,” she said. “I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that if I do things that I’m passionate about, they’re less burdensome. If you care, it’s never a struggle.”
She added that while people can often react negatively to hearing that someone is a family law attorney handling divorces, she takes pride in her specialty area.
“It’s not a happy topic and people look at me like, ‘oh that’s awful,’ but I really feel like I’m helping people get through a time that’s difficult for them,” she said. “The marriage may not be a success, but you can be intentional and make meaningful decisions that help you move forward in life.”