Where Family Comes First

A veteran attorney invests her experience in a nonprofit that helps families in crisis—and a fellow alumna pitches in.

Attorneys Lesley Friedland ’82 (right) and Shanée Brown ’07

For more than 25 years, attorney Lesley Friedland ’82 worked on a legal team that provided support services to parents and children in New York City’s Family Court. But the 2008 economic meltdown wiped out many of those services, leaving families to navigate major life changes with little or no outside guidance.

“I saw firsthand how helpful these support services were for families: mediation, parent education, and education for kids experiencing their parents’ separation or divorce,” Friedland says. “Lawyers and courts really cannot do it alone.”

Friedland resolved to fill the void. She left her job with the state and co-founded FamilyKind, a nonprofit that helps families in transition. The group works with a sliding fee scale, making sure all people get the same high-quality services. “I never thought I would leave the Family Court,” she says. “It was a very good job and the kind of law I wanted to practice. I enjoyed helping people through a difficult time—the pay was good, with a good future, all of that—so I had to do a lot of soul searching.”

FamilyKind has no formal arrangement with the family courts for referrals, so Friedland relies on outreach to connect with families in need. That’s where fellow attorney Shanée Brown ’07 enters the picture. Brown, who grew up in New York City, met Friedland two years ago at a Sarah Lawrence networking event for lawyers in the New York area. Friedland mentioned her organization. “She asked if I would be interested,” Brown recalls, “and I thought it was a great idea.”

“I saw firsthand how helpful these support services were for families.”

Brown’s work at FamilyKind dovetails with her career aspirations. She is primarily interested in public interest and family law, and she has worked as a pro bono trial attorney with the Children’s Law Center in Queens Family Court. “My reason for going to law school was really to help fellow members of my socioeconomic community,” Brown says.

In addition to doing research and writing grants, Brown brainstorms new ways to reach families in transition. Her efforts have led to presentations at churches, synagogues, and hospitals. “When a child is ill and going from household to household,” Friedland says, “it’s really important that the parents are on the same page to make sure the medication is given and protocols are followed, lifting burdens off the children.”

Divorce and separation do not necessarily present heightened risk factors for children, provided the transition is handled well, Friedland says, and FamilyKind has plenty of testimonials from grateful parents who have benefited from its services. “We’re pretty much about prevention,” she says, “helping people before things get too gnarly.”