HJZ is alphabet-soup shorthand for Hollingsworth, Jocham & Zivitz. The three partners are divorce attorneys. They’re blonde, they’re attractive (if I might allow a little male bias to creep in) and — if you haven’t guessed — they’re all female.
Sure, it sounds like a terrible sitcom. “Three blonde women — divorce attorneys from Indianapolis ...” Throw in a wacky dentist down the hall! Give one of the women a gay roommate! Or maybe one of the female attorneys could be married to another attorney! Call FOX immediately! I’ve got something here that’ll crush NBC in the 18-49 demo!
Wait — better yet — let’s construct a scenario where all three of ’em are hitched up to lawyers! Nahh, FOX wouldn’t buy it. Nobody would. Too far out there for the network.
In the universe of HJZ, however, that’s not fiction.
Tripled the size; doubled the space
Kena Hollingsworth, Stephenie Jocham and Christine Zivitz (everybody calls her “Chrissy”) are married to attorneys. Their husbands are not divorce attorneys, but their colleagues are acutely aware of what kind of law goes down at HJZ. The men take as much ribbing as their spouses: “Better hope you don’t split with her ...”
Jocham has already been split once. So has Zivitz. All three are children of divorce. And all three, as Zivitz says, “are recently married. We’re all in a good place right now.”
Zivitz refers to their personal lives, but as far as business is concerned, “a good place” is an understatement. Although the firm is 18 months old, they’ve already tripled the size of the staff — two associates came aboard in just the last year — and doubled the space the firm physically occupies in Carmel.
Maybe you’ve seen the ads. Maybe you’ve seen the Three Nice Looking Blond Ladies in question smiling confidently at you from either a black background or a Standard Office Setting. When you saw the photo, if you’re a guy, maybe your initial — albeit sexist — reaction was, “Hey, if I ever get divorced, there could be worse lawyers to look at.”
So be it, my chauvinist Western friend. HJZ doesn’t care what brings you in the door.
What’s best for the kids
Once you get in the door, you notice that this firm’s HQ doesn’t look like your typical law office. No plethora of big leather-bound books gathering moneyed mold in every corner of the place — we’ve got the Internet nowadays, kids. The joint could be mistaken for an ad agency or a PR firm. Each of the three women’s offices has its own look: Zivitz’s is all clean lines and Scandinavian design, Hollingsworth’s is a hodgepodge of Super Target’s Greatest Hits and Jocham’s office is loaded with weighty furniture and overstuffed chairs.
I comment that in my quick read of their décor, Jocham must be the heavy one. I’m referring to mental gravitas, not weight — and Jocham knows it — but she won’t let me live down the eating entendre.
She gestures toward the kitchen: “Now that’s the heavy room.” She’s smiling while she says it. Pleasantly. She can’t really turn off the Nice Looking Blond Lady countenance even when she’s giving me my recommended ration of crap.
Now, understand — HJZ wants their Three Nice Looking Blond Ladies image to eventually become secondary. Once you’re in, and once you’ve decided that someone from their firm is going to handle the excruciating details of divvying up assets, establishing alimony payments and — gulp — handling child custody issues for you, you will soon realize that they’re not Reese Witherspoon and Her Two Little Sisters.
Hollingsworth: “We’re different. We don’t try to make things contentious.”
Jocham: “Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for the kids.”
I want the dog
And there you have it. That is, simply put, what HJZ believes will trump the Nice Looking Blond Lady image: the notion of a firm that actually gives a damn about all the damage that walks down the aisle with the word “divorce.” They will be brutally honest with you.
They will tell you what to expect and how much it’s gonna cost. They will tell you what cannot happen during the proceedings. You won’t be able to set your own child support payments. You can’t demand custody simply because your ex-wife is letting the kids stay up ’til 9:30 instead of 9. You are acting like a baby. Really. Cut it out.
They’ll also tell you — quickly and forcefully — when you’re acting like an unreasonable jerk.
Jocham: “Most people want what the other person holds near and dear. A guy will want the china his wife got from her mom when they got married. I had one couple fighting over a waterbed that neither of them really wanted. They just didn’t want the other person to get it.”
It’s an immutable fact in divorce proceedings: You hurt me? Now it’s your turn.
You love the dog? I want the dog.
The dog is old? I’ll keep the dog and bill you when he goes to the vet.
Hollingsworth had one man who violated a restraining order — on several occasions — so he could check the status of the ornamental trees he’d been forced to leave behind in the backyard of the home he once shared with his estranged wife.
“He called me to tell me his ex was killing the trees. It was a real crisis for the guy.”
I want the stereo
Guys also get very crisis-driven about keeping their electronics.
Jocham: “A lot of times we hear, ‘I don’t care about anything but the stereo and the CDs — she can have the rest!’”
Hollingsworth: “Guys will spend hours in my office trying to maintain custody of the big-screen TV. Usually they rack up so many legal fees they could’ve bought themselves a brand new one if they’d just let it go.”
HJZ tries to achieve consensus and get the thing — the two-headed monster divorce thing — behind everybody. A long, vicious, nit-picking fight is terrible for any two people under the duress of divorce — and that pain is multiplied exponentially when it’s in any way experienced by the progeny of the two warring factions. That’s why HJZ strives for an equitable settlement and not the “scorched earth” approach that some of their colleagues seem to relish.
Sure, they’ll fight when they have to. And that’s probably when opposing counsel will realize that maybe he didn’t give H, J and Z enough credit as attorneys when he first met the Nice Looking Blond Ladies.
How they came together
Hollingsworth and Jocham, in fact, met as adversaries. They were across the table from one another in a divorce proceeding. When they realized that they were cut from the same legal cloth — that achieving consensus was more important than extending contention — they realized that maybe they should be working on the same side of that table.
According to Jocham, “The parties in question are usually hating each other during a divorce proceeding. One can either help to reach a settlement by working with the opposing counsel or make the whole thing worse.” According to HJZ, about half the time attorneys will escalate things to The Nuclear Option. HJZ’s philosophy puts them squarely in the other half of that universe.
These like-minded women had two-thirds of the firm together before all the parts fell into place. Hollingsworth and Zivitz were longing to step out on their own, having known one another since college. When they met Jocham — whose husband had been an undergrad with H and Z — they realized the firm was complete.
We only shop at midnight
Hollingsworth is the boldest of the three — a sports fan; you can find her in Section 335 of the RCA Dome during Colts home games. Most of the folks in her section are from Terre Haute — she calls them her “Colts Family.” She’s also got Pacers season tickets — she’s either working out, watching a game or home with her husband and their two cats when she’s not at work.
Sometimes she works out with Zivitz — kickboxing and spinning seem to be the preferred mode of sweating. When I ask Zivitz what she does when she’s got some time off, Jocham jumps in with a quick jibe: “Lingerie modeling. Say it!”
Zivitz shoots her a look. “Very funny,” she smirks. She ponders the “free time” question for a minute — and then it begins to dawn on her that she hasn’t had much lately. She brightens when she tells me she’s a shopaholic.
Now Hollingsworth pipes up again: “Have you heard of the Thirty-Minute Mall? You can buy a cheeseburger from McDonald’s or a watch from Nordstrom!”
“At midnight,” Zivitz says.
“Which,” Hollingsworth adds, “is the only time we can shop.”
Jocham nods. Yeah, she’s got the shopping bug, but she’s a mom, first and foremost. “I’m my oldest son’s room mother at school. I’m a literacy volunteer. I won’t let those things go no matter when I have to make the hours up.”
I broach the subject: Any tension as a result of your mom-duties taking you away from the firm at critical hours?
Jocham says she’s gotten zero animosity from her childless partners. Jocham has been burdened with her own guilt about it, but Zivitz and Hollingsworth point out that both of them intend to have kids as well.
“We’re getting lessons in how to do all of this from Steph,” Hollingsworth says.
The right fit
Of course, the reason the three went into business was so that they could set their own flexible hours in an environment where a senior partner wasn’t glowering over their shoulders. Dreams of a universe of shortened, family-friendly hours disappeared as the firm gained clients. Jocham had originally intended to work a mere three days a week and take care of her kids with the extra time.
No luck. Hollingsworth says, “Almost everything is an emergency to a client going through a divorce. You never know when a day’s going to go sideways. We’ve never worked so much in our lives. With three of us handling clients, that creates triple the issues that we’re dealing with. Add to all that the exponential growth of the firm, and we’re working long hours every week.”
Sometimes the caseload becomes too much. They talk about this — in a way I can’t imagine three guys talking about these same emotions. Every so often, one of the women will simply melt down. Instead of forcing said partner to Buck Up and Deal With It — which would surely raise the risk of some future burnout — the other two partners pick up the slack. I press them on the root cause of these meltdowns. It’s the hours, maybe the stress of the subject matter they have to deal with every day — but mostly, it’s the hours that the three women spend in the office or in court.
So many hours that staff was quickly added. Staff that was, coincidentally, all female. Hollingsworth: “A few men applied for positions — but the right fit just happened to be women.”
A gender in common
The group hadn’t intended to be an all-female firm per se, but once it shook out, the partners and associates found themselves becoming role models for both clients and legal students in Central Indiana.
Zivitz mentions that the firm got a call from a recent law grad from IU. She was looking for a gig, and had confided in the women that she’d clipped one of HJZ’s ads and put it up on her fridge. It was a motivational tool — an all-female firm can and does exist smack dab in the middle of the heartland.
Their female clients are also fans of the notion of being represented by an all-female firm. Hollingsworth says that women feel empowered — maybe not so much by the fact that the firm has a gender in common, but more perhaps due to the common experience that these women share. Having dealt with divorce personally, the partners are acutely aware of what everyone’s going through — especially the kids.
Apparently, the photo taken in the Standard Office Setting does the trick, too. Hollingsworth: “I get a lot of women telling me that they came in because we look so nice.” Nice — as in friendly, pleasant, kind, compassionate — y’know, the opposite of what comes to mind when I say “divorce attorney.”
Men who come to the firm have different reasons for speaking with HJZ. Zivitz: “I had one client who wanted to prove to his wife that he wasn’t a chauvinist. He figured hiring a female divorce attorney might do the trick. More often, though, guys prefer us over a higher-priced male attorney because we don’t read the client our resume.
“I’ve had a ton of guys tell me their first consultation was with an attorney who said, ‘I beat so and so for this and this amount’ — that’s fine if you and some colleague are comparing business notes, but nobody wants to hear all of that when we’re talking about THEIR divorce.”
Fishing for a date
The image of a firm that features three Nice Looking Blond Ladies also draws a certain element who might not actually be looking for a divorce. Yes, they’ve had potential clients — male — who seemed to be fishing for a date. Hollingsworth says there have been a few consultations that seemed suspect — details that didn’t add up, a question or two about H, J and Z’s personal marital status, and so on. These individuals fade into the ether when they realize that pretending to be involved in a failing marriage is not the best strategy for meeting one of the Nice Looking Blond Ladies in the ad.
“Whatever,” Hollingsworth says. “It’s a billable hour. If you want to talk and spend your money, so be it.”
Ed Wank is half of the Wank & O’Brien Show, airing 5-9 a.m. weekdays on 97.1 HANK-FM. He’s also the author of The Hockey Dad Chronicles — An Indentured Parent’s Season on the Rink, available now at your local Walden’s, Barnes & Noble, The Wild in Noblesville and amazon.com.