MODESTO — Growing up in an Assyrian household, Betty Julian learned the value of education. Her parents stressed the importance of pursuing a professional career in medicine, law or engineering, fields of study that are highly regarded in Assyrian culture.
When deciding her own direction, Julian followed a path that had been paved for her since childhood.
“I didn’t really choose,” said Julian, who is an equity partner with the law firm McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth in downtown Modesto.
“From a very young age, family, friends, acquaintances — everyone — would joke about how talkative I was, and argumentative, and that I’d be a great lawyer someday,” she said.
The fact that she fainted at the sight of blood ruled out a career in medicine, while her love of politics, an interest she shared with her father, nudged her further toward a future in law.
Julian didn’t have a specific field of law in mind, but she was first exposed to business litigation during a summer internship with the law firm Damrell, Nelson, Schrimp, Pallios, Pacher & Silva, also in Modesto. The firm hired her upon her graduation from University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in 2002 and she practiced there for seven years.
In 2009, McCormick Barstow recruited Julian to work with Ken Cochran, a family law specialist, and she inherited his practice when he retired.
“I never ever imagined that I would be doing family law,” Julian said. “I thought that I would one day do something in politics. But when you’re young and you don’t really have mentors that are in that field, you’re kind of just going for something,.”
Julian’s business litigation background did provide crossover experience beneficial in family law and was a key reason McCormick Barstow hired her.
Many of Cochran’s clients are established business people involved in family law cases where the valuation of a business and division of property come into play.
“There are more complex issues that (Cochran) thought lent themselves to a more experienced individual dealing with business litigation,” said Julian.
Still, Julian faced a two-year learning curve on the basics of the complex practice of family law.
“In custody you can’t just take shortcuts,” she said. “You’re dealing with people’s children and these children’s lives, their schedules, the time that they share with their parents, and which parent they live with. There’s a lot that goes into family law that people don’t necessarily expect.”
Julian also must be vigilant about keeping up with constantly changing family law legislation.
“As time goes on, public opinion changes as to what’s important for our families and the courts will adjust to that and as the courts adjust to it, the Legislature decides whether they agree or not, and so case law sometimes is ahead of statutes,” she said.
Practicing law as a woman has presented Julian with both challenges and opportunities. There were instances early in her career when she couldn’t be the contact person with clients on certain cases even though she had been the associate doing the legwork.
“As a female attorney you understand your job is to provide service to the client in whatever shape or form the client needs to hear it,” Julian said. “If I need to do all the work but the client needs to hear it from a male, I’m not going to stand in the way of the service to the client.”
The stereotypical perceptions of aggressive men being seen as strong while assertive women are looked upon as catty often still persist in a courtroom setting, according to Julian. But being a female attorney is also an asset in family law cases, especially if custody is involved.
“I don’t necessarily mean advantage in the courts. I mean advantage in that I think as a woman I can sympathize and relate to my female clients dealing with custody issues differently than my male counterparts,” she said.
Similar to those situations in which clients preferred hearing case details from male attorneys, female family law clients often prefer interacting with a female attorney.
“They are comforted by my sense of compassion and are more secure having me listen to their complaints,” she said. “So I think it cuts both way. I think I have retained clients and kept them because of the connection they feel.”
The most challenging aspect of Julian’s job is the negativity family law cases have from the onset. At first, Julian found the cases to be emotionally draining, but now she views the fact that she’s helping people as a gift she has to offer.
“I have found that I have been able to help so many (people) that feel like they’re living a nightmare. I bring some peace and ease to their lives and comfort by being able to step in and help them resolve their issues,” she said.