When it comes to qualities most admired about great lawyers, seven attributes rise to the top: compassion; attentive listening skills; clear communication; assertiveness; noteworthy organization; creativity; and perseverance. Family law attorney Tonya Page, founder of St. Louis-based Page Law firm, is known for these qualities, along with getting equitable results.
As a partner of this full-spectrum law firm, Tonya practices exclusively in the area of family law and domestic relations. Some say she's paved the path when it comes to regional family law matters.
Tonya handles complex legal matters such as prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, divorces, division of marital properties, child custody, child support, alimony, spousal support, paternity disputes, guardianships, grandparent visitation, domestic violence and orders of protection.
Chesterfield City Lifestyle got the opportunity to ask Tonya about personal skills that make her a truly successful lawyer and what constitutes rewarding achievements.
Being a bartender/server during college and law school provided cash to help pay for education, while she says also surprisingly practicing invaluable, on-the-job skills in dealing with difficult people. The best lesson? To listen and empathize with people from all walks of life. "I had to deal with customer complaints, and often acted as a quasi-therapist for regulars who came in after tough days and needed to vent about work, relationships and life," she recalls.
"My former boss and mentor recognized my ability to deal with challenging situations, and said I was wise beyond my years. I jokingly told him it wasn’t hard to be wise beyond my age since I was only 25 when I started my career as a family law attorney working at his firm," she says.
She says operating within a bartender environment also helped her be more "thick-skinned" and not take things too personally.
"As attorneys, especially in family law, we often see people at their worst, or when they're going through one of the most difficult, traumatic times of their lives. When clients are frustrated or upset, I remind myself most of the time they aren’t angry or frustrated with me, but the situation they're going through or sometimes the system, which doesn’t usually move as fast as litigants would like, and which they oftentimes don’t fully understand," she says.
Yet, helping people and making positive differences in their lives is still the most rewarding part of being an attorney for Tonya.
"I keep my cards and thank you notes in a drawer to pull out once in a while when I feel like I'm getting fed up. It's the truly appreciative clients who keep me going. One lady I represented over 15 years ago still sends me notes, stating she prays for me and thanks God that I came into her life and helped save her children from a horrible situation," Tonya shares.
Another instance she says stands out is the message she receives every Christmas from a former client thanking her for helping save his marriage by referring him to a marriage therapist and convincing the opposing attorney to dismiss the divorce case so the parties could attempt reconciliation.
"Being an attorney satisfies my competitive side and it's never boring. Although I'm certainly shocked less often than when I was as a young attorney, the stories of people's lives never cease to amaze me," she adds.
Tonya verifies that analytical skills are critical in practicing law. "One of the most important roles we take on as family law attorneys is that of problem-solver. Analytical skills are used every day in every case."
Regarding how to balance being assertive versus being too aggressive, Tonya says there's a time and place for both.
"While it's important for clients to know they have someone on their side who can, and will, fight for them, that doesn’t always mean battling it out in the courtroom," she says, as a proponent of mediation in most cases.
One of the silver linings of COVID-19, she says, is many jurisdictions adopted a mandatory mediation rule. "While this doesn’t guarantee a case will settle, it forces both parties to at least attend mediation in an effort to resolve some or all of the issues. That being said, not all cases are appropriate for mediation, such as where there's been abuse. However, I find most cases can be settled when the time is right."
Tonya assures, "When cases aren't settled, I have no problem going into trial mode and being aggressive when it’s necessary to fight for my client. Even after 20 years of practicing, I still really enjoy trying cases when they need to be tried," she says.
How staying passionate and knowledgeable comes into doing her best job: "Life is too short to devote as much time and energy into a career if you’re not passionate about it. I try to put 110 percent into everything I do, including family law cases. Clients deserve attorneys who are knowledgeable and passionate about their case's specific issues," she says. "Focusing on one or two practice areas is key to being at the top of your field. That's why I’ve continued to devote my career exclusively to family law. I also don’t hesitate to consult with experts and attorneys in other practice areas when necessary."
Her motivation comes from really enjoying what she does. "However, the practice of law in general, and certainly family law, can be emotionally taxing on attorneys. After all, we're taking on the problems of our clients and trying to 'fix' or problem solve and fight for them. We hear and see some really heart-wrenching situations, especially in highly contested custody cases and certainly cases involving physical or emotional harm," she says.
Taking time for vacation and family, she says, is crucial for her not getting burned out.
"Family law is a highly emotional area of law, so it can be difficult to shut off because I'm constantly thinking about my clients' cases, especially custody matters or cases involving mistreatment. This aspect is always a work-in-progress, so when I feel like it's taking a toll on me emotionally, I try to implement new ways to deal with the stress," she says.
She enjoys reading self-help books, such as Finding Gratitude, which was full of ideas for inspiring joy and appreciation.
Tonya also applauds contributions of female attorneys as a whole in the St. Louis/St. Charles region. "There are so many amazing women in the local legal profession, including two other family law attorneys in my firm, Alexandra Kohlfeld and Julia Dillow, along with our experienced support staff, all of whom are also women!"
She says she appreciates consulting with female attorneys at other firms when she needs another opinion, or happily refers cases when Page Law has a conflict.