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MOVING LIFE FORWARD

14At the family law firm of Smith & Scatizzi, LLP, the power of forwardthinking women coupled with big firm experience helps families to successfully navigate their way through challenging times.

"Our approach isn’t clinical, it’s human,” says Rachel Scatizzi, partner at Smith & Scatizzi, LLP. “Our entire team of five women has been touched by family law in some way, so our personal experiences supplement our legal training to give our clients the most well-rounded and thoughtful approach to helping them through the pain of some of their darkest times. We know how difficult this is for our clients and that understanding forms the foundation of our approach to the practice of family law,” she adds.
Partner Marnie Smith adds, “Family law comprises 100% of our practice. We offer a full range of legal services within that niche, including divorce and legal separation, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, complex asset division, domestic violence restraining orders, paternity, negotiation and review of marital settlement agreements, and pre-marital, post-marital and cohabitation agreements.”
Smith, who is also a certified mediator through the National Conflict Resolution Center, continues, “In addition, our family law practice also extends into guardianship, adoption and assisted reproductive technology (ART) fields that most general family law practitioners shy away from. Over the past five years, Rachel has traveled the country receiving training on adoption, surrogacy contracts, and sperm/egg donation agreements. ART is a cutting edge arena, with new law emerging seemingly every month. We are proud to be one of the first family law firms in San Diego to offer this expertise.”

PERSONAL FORWARD MOMENTUM
What’s perhaps most unique about Smith & Scatizzi is that neither partner set out to become family law attorneys. Raised along with her twin sister by a single father for several years, Smith recalls watching The Paper Chase as a young girl. “Professor Kingsfield’s line about students entering law school with a skull full of mush and leaving thinking like a lawyer was compelling to me. I decided to become a lawyer when I was 12, and it stuck.”

Scatizzi says, “As a journalism major at the University of Missouri, I had to take a course on communications law. Most of my classmates literally slept through it but I found it fascinating. Family law is a far cry from the First Amendment law work I set out to do, but I wouldn’t have traded the path I took to get here for anything.”
That path is remarkably similar to Smith’s, which was the basis for the friendship that eventually emerged between the women as the result of working together as civil litigators. Indeed, both Smith and Scatizzi spent many years in a vastly different practice area. In fact, Smith, formally a partner at Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek (SCMV), was assigned as Scatizzi’s supervisor when Scatizzi came to the firm as an associate in 2007.
“The mentoring and experience we received at SCMV was invaluable. We both trained under one of San Diego’s most legendary practitioners in a large local practice,” Smith says. Though both enjoyed their work as civil litigators, each had their own experiences with family law, which made them begin to consider the possibility that transitioning to the field would not only be satisfying for the attorneys, but would bring the San Diego legal community a new type of family law attorney.

“We came from a big firm that handled complex, multifaceted litigation. So we have a wealth of knowledge and skill in areas such as the Evidence Code, discovery, the Code of Civil Procedure, and we think like civil litigators,” Scatizzi says. “When it comes to dividing assets and money between parties, family law is not all that different from litigating a business dispute.”

13Still, Smith and Scatizzi both admit they more or less fell into the practice of family law. “My mentor, Jerry McMahon, asked me to help on a family law case, and I happily waded in and never left. I found it to be more rewarding than any other area of law I had practiced,” says Smith. Similarly, despite having dropped her family law course in law school to make more time for trial competition, Scatizzi likewise had the opportunity to dabble in family law while she was working for a former firm in St. Louis, MO. “It was such a natural fit for my personality,” she says.

After six years of working closely together on nearly all of their cases at SCMV, Scatizzi says, “We realized our approach and style had grown exceptionally compatible and we’d also become good friends. Several times over the years we had discussed in a big picture sense what opening a boutique family law firm would look like.”
Smith adds, “The driving force behind our decision to go out on our own was a sense that we had reached a point in our careers at which we had the training to run a successful firm and there was no time like the present to implement our vision of offering big firm expertise with small firm attention.”
Admitting that it was a difficult decision to leave their previous firm, Scatizzi says, “Ultimately we wanted to be able to offer our services to a broader range of clients and to do it in a smaller environment. It was time to move forward. We are proud to still work closely with SCMV, including serving as co-counsel on a number of cases, and remain grateful to the firm for giving us the tools to help us succeed.”

FORWARD-THINKING FAMILY LAW FIRM
“We had a lot of credibility when we launched Smith & Scatizzi,” says Smith. “We had a strong base of clients, and we weren’t just two young attorneys starting our own firm. We also decided to continue to focus exclusively on family law, so referring attorneys never had to worry that their clients would come to our firm for other legal services.” Scatizzi also explains that they held themselves accountable to a few guiding principles. “We started our firm with the goal of being as green as possible. We are paperless for the most part, everything is scanned and saved on a secure cloud server then shredded or recycled so we do not accumulate reams of paper in our file cabinets. We do not maintain a file room or an onsite server. We also use technology to make our lives and our clients’ lives a bit easier. For example, our phone system allows us to send and receive text messages and faxes to our direct number using our cell phones so we can conduct business anywhere we have cellular reception. Our billing system is also entirely electronic, and we are continuing to explore e-signing options to save our clients’ time and money.”

Smith and Scatizzi’s practice quite frankly exploded from the start, and it is partly due to a natural division of labor commensurate with each partner’s respective strengths. “Because we were mentored by the same lawyer, our litigation styles and courtroom personalities are quite similar,” says Smith. “Within our firm, however, we’re yin and yang. My background in finance lends itself to serving as the firm’s managing partner, responsible for looking after our bottom line. Rachel’s advertising degree and community volunteer experience uniquely qualify her to handle our marketing and business development.”
12Scatizzi adds, “While we both have a great deal of training and experience in all areas of family law litigation, we have a time-tested and client-approved style of teamwork.” To that end, Smith & Scatizzi has added additional team members as the firm has continued to grow. That team included Marissa McArthur, associate, who has practiced exclusively in the field of family law for five years. Danielle Vasquez serves as the team’s file clerk, while Suzanne Mascarena’s responsibilities include serving as secretary, paralegal and office manager.

Continuing, Scatizzi says, “We were lucky in that we already knew each other well and had worked together for years before venturing out to start Smith & Scatizzi. The five of us are a close-knit group with years of both friendship and shared work history. The trust and affection our team shares make coming to work a pleasure. We have such a strong sense of camaraderie and loyalty. We have built a true teamwork approach that enables us to give our clients the attention they need, whenever they need it, while maintaining balance in our own lives.”
As a team, Smith says that all five women meet regularly to informally brainstorm and to formally update one another on the status of cases in trial. “We all know what is going on with each case. A client will not be told that his or her attorney is out of the office, so we cannot help. We jump in for one another, and consider everything we do to be very much a team effort.”

In regards to the fact that the team is entirely women, Smith says that it wasn’t, in the slightest bit, intentional, but the women are now proud of the fact. “I don’t exactly know how we became an all-women firm. It just kind of happened, and one day we looked around and realized it was all women, and since then we’ve embraced it.”
The team at Smith & Scatizzi, LLP has also embraced the fact that they are fulfilling their goal to take on cases that perhaps would not have made sense for larger firms to take. “We have a good range in our rates, and we are able to take on a broad array of cases,” Scatizzi says. She reports that the majority of the firm’s first-time clients are referred from past clients or word-of-mouth referrals. “Marnie and I were trained that if you do good work, the clients will come, and they have. In addition, other attorneys know we are not a threat to their business, because we only practice family law, so they have referred a lot of cases to us.”
11Furthermore, as a forward-thinking firm, the attorneys at Smith & Scatizzi are incredibly dedicated to serving the San Diego community and the legal community as a whole. Both Scatizzi and McArthur are heavily involved in the Junior League of San Diego (JLSD)—which works in the community, in part, to train women to be leaders and volunteers—with Scatizzi having served three terms on the Board of Directors and Executive Management Team as the Vice President, Fund Development Director and Nominating Chair. McArthur has served as the chair of one of JLSD’s most note-worthy fundraising events and as the leader responsible for recruiting new members to the organization. For her part, Smith helped run the Lawyer’s Club golf tournament for years, while Scatizzi served three years on the Women’s Resource Fair Task Force.

MOVING THE FIRM INTO THE FUTURE
“We started our practice with the idea that we could take our big-firm training and couple it with the attention and kindness clients receive in a more intimate environment, to offer family law representation unlike any other firm in San Diego,” says Scatizzi. The fact that both Smith and Scatizzi recently were certified as Family Law Specialists by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization serves as testament to just how serious they are about being on the forefront of their chosen field. “With over 30 years of experience amongst our attorneys and over 30 years of experience amongst our administrative staff, there is no facet of family law that we have not handled.”

The partners’ personal resumes speak to this accomplishment as well. The attorneys at Smith & Scatizzi have been celebrated as San Diego Top Family Law Attorneys, Super Lawyers Rising Stars, and San Diego “Women Who Mean Business.” They have handled numerous appellate matters in state and federal courts, have published cases, and have been featured speakers on topics ranging from “Estate Planning from a Divorce Attorney’s Perspective” and “Legal Ethics in California.”
With such a meteoric rise in just two years, what do Smith and Scatizzi have in store for the future? “We have already seen growth beyond our expectations in the first two years our firm has been open,” says Scatizzi. What started in the spring of 2013 as two women meeting with clients in coffee shops while their office space was built out, and wearing all of the hats of office management, has turned into team of legal powerhouses with three lawyers and two administrative professionals. “Our downtown office space has already grown too small, and we are working on expanding both sides of our suite to add additional conference rooms and offices. We anticipate bringing in another paralegal and one or two more administrative professionals. If our firm and case load continues to grow at the rate it has over the first two years, we will bring in another associate attorney,” says Smith.
Suffice it to say, Smith and Scatizzi are both incredibly humbled by their success, and grateful for the referrals, and support from the San Diego legal community. Scatizzi sums up the primary cause of such success so quickly by simply saying, “It is true. When you give your heart to your work, people can tell.”

10

MARNIE SMITH» EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT BACKGROUND

  • Bachelor of Science in Finance, 1993, California State University—Sacramento
  • Juris Doctorate, cum laude, 1996, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law
  • Trained as a mediator by the National Conflict Resolution Center
  • Significant experience in family law and complex business litigation
  • Practiced at Magana, Cathcart & McCarthy in Los Angeles and was a shareholder at Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek in San Diego prior to founding Smith & Scatizzi, LLP in 2013
  • Has handled numerous appellate matters in state and federal court, including the California Second and Fourth Appellate Districts, the California Supreme Court, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeal and the United States Supreme Court
  • Publications include Mercury Ins. Group v. Superior Court (1998) 19 Cal.4th 332.

» HONORS

  • Named one of 2008's top family law attorneys by the San Diego Daily Transcript

» PROFESSIONAL & COMMUNITY AFFILIATIONS & ADMISSIONS

  • Admitted to the State Bar of California, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal
  • Certified Family Law Specialist
  • Member of Lawyer's Club of San Diego, San Diego County Bar Association, and the San Diego Family Law Bar Association
  • Has been a featured speaker on "Estate Planning from a Divorce Attorney's Perspective," "Women in the Law," "Navigating Waivers, an Ethics Presentation," and "Legal Ethics in California"
RACHEL SCATIZZI» EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT BACKGROUND

  • Bachelor of Journalism in Advertising, magna cum laude, 2001, University of Missouri—Columbia
  • Juris Doctorate, 2005, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law
  • Practiced at Carmody MacDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, where she also served as the firm's pro bono coordinator, and at Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek in San Diego prior to founding Smith & Scatizzi, LLP in 2013.
  • Clerked for the Hon. Michael J. Reagan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and with the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Illinois.

» HONORS

  • Named a 2015 Super Lawyer's Rising Star, an honor which is bestowed on no more than 2.5% of lawyers in the state
  • Named as a finalist for the 2014 San Diego Business Journal's "Women Who Mean Business" Awards
  • Named one of 2011's Top Young Attorneys by the San Diego Daily Transcript
  • Received the Milton F. Napier award for Excellence in Trial Advocacy in St. Louis in 2005

» PROFESSIONAL & COMMUNITY AFFILIATIONS & ADMISSIONS

  • Admitted to the State Bar of California, the State Bar of Missouri, the State Bar of Illinois and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
  • Certified Family Law Specialist
  • Has been a featured speaker on topics such as "Intellectual Property Rights Under a Community Property Regime" and "Planning for a Stable Financial Future," and, outside the law, regularly speaks to women's groups and organizations regarding work/life balance, as well as promoting voluntarism and women in leadership in community organizations

 Contact:

Smith & Scatizzi, LLP
www.smithscatizzi.com
rms@smithscatizzi.com
619-344-0440
600 B Street Suite 2150
San Diego, CA 92101

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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