Head of the Family Law Division, Goyette & Associates in Gold River, Calif.
Area of Practice: Family Law
Year Graduated: 2004
From a relatively young age, Neil Forester recognized that his inquisitive mind made him well-suited to a career in the law. Mr. Forester received his first taste of advocacy as a member of his Wyoming high school's nationally recognized debate team. He noticed that his personality fit well with the task of researching, drafting, and articulating arguments, and he set his sights on law school. Although Mr. Forester's career path took him away from formal education for a number of years during his undergraduate studies, he received his Bachelor's degree from California State University, Sacramento, in 2001 and enrolled at University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of that same year.
Mr. Forester attended McGeorge as a Kennedy Scholar, a designation bestowed upon him based on his academic achievements as an undergraduate. In his first year of law school, he and the other Kennedy Scholars in his class traveled to Washington, D.C., where they sat in on oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court. Needless to say, this experience set the tone for what was expected of Mr. Forester in law school and beyond. "It was an awe-inspiring experience," he remembers. Still, beyond knowing that he wanted to be a good attorney, Mr. Forester didn't have any preconceived notions of what he would do after he completed law school.
In time, Mr. Forester came to have a clearer idea of how he hoped to use his law degree. "I figured out that what I was attracted to was solving real life problems for real life people, not the abstract or the transactional. Family law was the only area I saw in law school that really matched that description." When Mr. Forester noticed that Sacramento's largest law firm, Downey Brand, was looking for an associate for its family law division, he applied for the job. Even though the firm was looking to hire someone with at least two years of family law experience and Mr. Forester was still in his third year at McGeorge, the hiring partners saw that he was a good fit for Downey Brand, and he received the job. "I've never looked back," he says. "I see nothing but family law in my future."
In the years after joining Downey Brand, Mr. Forester represented clients in a variety of family law matters, including cases involving domestic violence, complex business valuation, child custody mediation, child and spousal support, and international child abduction, among other issues. The three international child abduction cases that Mr. Forester has handled—one involving Turkey, one involving Peru, and one involving Zimbabwe—were governed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which dictates what country has jurisdiction over an international child custody case. Often, the hardest part of these cases, Mr. Forester notes, is finding the children, since the abducting parent usually tries to hide them from the other parent. Outside of work, Mr. Forester has authored several articles on family law topics. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), where he also serves as Board Secretary, and coached a local high school debate team for several years.
Although the billable hour requirements imposed by a large firm are more demanding than they might be in a smaller firm or solo practice, Mr. Forester loved that he had so many resources at his disposal at Downey Brand. Since family law cases often require expertise in real property law, corporate governance, tax law, estates, and trusts, it was helpful to work with attorneys who were well-versed in each of these areas. "We can't know everything in family law about every field," he explains, "but we certainly can call down the hall and get instant help for a client." Recently, Mr. Forester began a new position with Goyette & Associates, Inc. in Gold River, California, where he is the head of the firm's Family Law Division, and is confident that the relationships he built with Downey Brand attorneys during his tenure there will continue to serve him in good stead.
Mr. Forester has a passion for his practice that is undiminished by the challenges of working with clients at a very stressful time in their lives. "It's a difficult practice from both a business and a personal perspective. The wisdom in family law cases in that our clients are the most wonderful people at the worst possible time…. You cannot overlook the stress that working with people's daily conflicts kind of bites into your life, but at the same time, you're helping these people get through the hardest time of their lives. Talking to clients two years later who have excellent lives, their kids are thriving—they remember you and say thanks."
Mr. Forester points out that family law attorneys are true counselors, providing both psychological and legal support to their clients. "Many other attorneys want absolutely nothing to do with the issues we deal with, but there is a need for this work," he says. "The kind of people who tend to gravitate to this area are people who have a lot of empathy, down to earth sort of people who are more interested in resolving conflicts than pushing paper." For Mr. Forester, "The reputation belies the practice. There is a lot to be said for an excellent family law attorney. The best attorneys I've met are family law attorneys who could do any kind of practice, but they've chosen family law because of the opportunity to do good. For people who really want to help shape the experiences of their fellow man and have a positive impact on their community, there is a wealth of opportunity in family law, and it's something that people considering a career in law cannot overlook."