Her new show debuted on Bravo recently and NJ Divorce attorney Vikki Ziegler is busy as ever keeping up with her show, writing books about divorce and running a successful law practice – among other things. Divorce Saloon is pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with her. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
They call you “the diva” of Divorce Law. How did that get started?
I really don’t know how that got started. Maybe it’s because I don’t look like a typical lawyer? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that even though I have no idea what a lawyer looks like. But I certainly like to get things done. I am no nonsense. I mean business and so this moniker stuck maybe because of that.
How long have you been a divorce attorney and where are you admitted?
15 years. I am admitted in New Jersey, New York and Washington D.C.
Who were your mentors? Among your peers both locally and internationally, who do you admire?
You know, whether lawyer or not, I admire strong, passionate people. I admire Oprah, Mother Theresa. People like that. In my work, I have been fortunate to work with some lawyers who were really creative, class act lawyers, for example, Judge Diamond who I clerked for had a huge influence. Bobby Tenda who is likewise a retired judge today was a Partner in a law firm I worked for. These lawyers had a very congenial, mediation style that has shaped the way I approach my work as a lawyer.
If you had to mentor a young rookie divorce lawyer just starting out in his or her career today what is the first thing you would say to them?
Wow, that’s a good question. Well you know this is a tough profession and you definitely have to be tough. It is an acquired skill and you have to be prepared. Read a lot. Know more than the next person. Familiarize yourself with the case law. Get in early. Stay late. This is hard. You know, I was a shy kid in law school. I didn’t like that whole Socratic Method stuff but this has really made the difference in my career, just that I had that experience and training in law school. This is a tough job as I said. And you just have to get in there and DO IT.
Do you think the legal profession is tougher on women? That is, do female divorce lawyers have a tougher time? Are there any special challenges for women in the field vis a vis men?
Yes. Definitely tougher on women. It is getting better but when I first entered the profession 15 years ago, the idea of me as this female practitioner – people didn’t expect much. There were all these misconceptions I think. It forced me to be more prepared, more professional. And then there was this thing about “not looking like a lawyer.” So I had to fight. I think a lot of other women might have had a similar experience.
Your new show on Bravo, “Untying the Knot,” is getting rave reviews. Can you describe the process of creating what seems like overnight success? What has it been like getting from concept to where you are today?
Well of course this has not been overnight. It has been a long process which started about 8 years ago. I partnered with a production company to create this concept. I did not want not want to do a Debbie Downer type of deal. I wanted to help people and I saw it as being a 3-step process: First, figure out the assets then make recommendations and then follow up with the couple. These are real life couples and there is a whole lot of tough love. We are not pushing divorce with this show. But it is about trying to help people move on.
Compared to the obvious challenges of being a divorce lawyer, do you think being a woman facilitates your job as a talk show host? Is being female an advantage here?
Yes, I think so. I am obviously can relate to the women and I am sporty too so men like that side. I can be tough and men can identify with that.
What made you decide to go the talk show route?
I had exhausted the ability to help people one on one. I felt the need to speak to people in a larger medium. Divorce is such an under-discussed topic. Nobody is really helping. It’s my sense of altruism. I wanted to help people. I guess it has to do with my parents getting divorced when I was a little kid. But in this medium, what we’re doing with this show, there is no competition. It was a wide open field and I am trying to fill that void because people need the help.
But what about Huffpost Divorce and platforms like that? That is a pretty huge platform, isn’t it?
Huffpost is fantastic. But the thing is not everyone wants to sit there and read articles. They want to see it on screen. They want to really identify with someone else.
Do you think that divorce has become too trivial and even too “sexy” in our culture today? I mean even the divorce lawyers have to be sexy; Look at you, skinny as a whip, sexy as heck and you get your own show because you have sex appeal as well as legal skills. Has the whole industry become just too sexy?
I think if anything it is too easy. The focus needs to change. We need to focus on couples entering marriage being prepared for a healthy marriage and relationship. As for me, thanks for the compliment but I don’t focus on aesthetics. I mean, on TV you do have to think about your aesthetic appeal. But beauty and attractiveness are what’s on the inside. I don’t focus on that.
How do you choose your guests for the show? What’s your dream guest?
It is the network that chooses the guests and finds the guests, not me. But obviously guests have to be attractive for TV and there has to be a lot of assets in contention. There is going to be acrimony, obviously and a lot of emotion.
What types of guests don’t you want on the show?
Well, guests have to have a lot of assets as I said. I don’t want lewd people on the show and close-minded people who obviously have no desire to reach a settlement. I take a mediator approach and people have to genuinely want to settle their cases. This is the new trend in divorce and family law. 95% of people settle their cases. Mediation will continue to be a trend. Guests have to be open to these discussions and have to genuinely want to settle the case. And they have to have enough assets to make it interesting as I said, of course.
What do you say to critics who say that shows like yours exploit people’s emotions and pain for financial gain and entertainment?
Rubbish. Number one they need to watch the show before they begin to make that kind of statement. Number two we are trying to help. You can’t challenge that.
Do you think divorce lawyers get a bad rap in society?
Yes. Most of the Bar are amazing people and a few bad apples spoil it for everyone.
What is the biggest surprise you have experienced as a divorce lawyer and now talk show host?
Lawyers lying. This is reprehensible to me.
What do you want your legacy to be?
My good reputation and kindness. I believe if you work smart and love unconditionally you will have a great future.
Vikki Ziegler’s Biography
Vikki S. Ziegler, Esq. is a practicing attorney of matrimonial law in ny and nj and is the innovator of a unique and realistic approach to “divorce management.” Ziegler’s approach seeks to de-stigmatize divorce by allowing its empowering aspects to triumph with her team of experts. Her concrete pre-marital tips help couples avoid the pitfalls that can lead to divorce, and her step-by-step impact-management guide will prevent emotional and financial devastation for those facing the inevitable. Ziegler is a founder of her own law firm, Ziegler and Zemsky LLC., a motivational speaker and a trusted legal expert called upon by television, radio and print outlets for the last 8 years. Ziegler has penned a series of legal articles and her newest book, “The Pre-Marital Planner: A Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage” is on shelves now. She is also the Founder of www.divorcedating.com, a specialized website catering to divorcees looking for love and a commonality with people who have experienced divorce. She is an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School teaching a prenuptial agreement and same sex marriage class. Charitable causes always have been an important aspect of Ziegler’s life. In addition to volunteering with numerous organizations including Make a Wish, she lends her services to pro bono work with Partners for Women and Justice – an organization for indigent and battered individuals.
Interview by Lawyer X
Adapted and edited by Jeannie Goldstein