In barely a decade Ingrid Carbone has established herself as one of Marin County's leading and best-known young divorce lawyers. Remote observers may be tempted to conclude that Carbone, now in her early 40s, was destined for her work, the beneficiary of a life neatly laid out. But that would be way off the mark, and would miss a far more interesting and relevant narrative about her: For starters, Carbone - the daughter of Bill Johnson, the respected Sausalito divorce attorney, and of Nancy Fleming, Miss America 1961 and a longtime San Francisco television personality - early on charted her own course. As a 9-year-old she hopped Muni buses on her own to lessons across town at The San Francisco Ballet; she visited her father every other weekend in Marin County, and through her youth sorted out the early split of her high-achieving parents. As a child, she says, she fantasized about either entering the competitive entertainment world of her mother or helping others through divorce - as a therapist. Only in her 30s - and after her own divorce -- did she pursue the law; since then she's built a family law practice with her father, who himself continues a thriving practice. "People ask me, 'Oh, it must have been easy deciding to become a divorce lawyer," she says today. "And that's the furthest thing from the truth. Growing up, this was never on my radar." As it happens, she brings a life experience that's only enhanced her effectiveness: For starters, she honed an urban independence, growing up in an old Victorian in Haight Ashbury, a former commune and fixer-upper with stars painted on the ceiling of the formal living room. "For me it was all a great adventure." She recalls too a personal freedom unheard of today for a child, as she and friends cavorted on the famously unsupervised streets of the Haight. When her mother, well known as the longtime host of ABC's "A.M. San Francisco," re-married (her husband, now of 33 years, is Jim Lange, host of The Dating Game) they moved to Marin. "At first I was bored out of my mind" but, attending The Branson School, she ultimately made lifelong friends there.
Carbone started at UCLA, but she took a nearly three year hiatus to travel and work as a commercial and fashion model in LA, Tokyo, Munich and Paris. When the excitement of the lifestyle wore off, Carbone returned to Berkeley to complete her undergraduate degree in psychology at Cal. "It felt very strange to return to UCLA and the college life that I had led before taking a break. Berkeley has an older, more serious student body, that seemed more similar to the person I had become." She continued to support herself during her remaining undergraduate years by working as a model, but her studies took priority. After graduation, Carbone dabbled in fashion merchandising back in Los Angeles before she re-entered school to obtain her masters in psychology with a focus on family therapy. This work felt like "home" to Carbone who wanted to work with families and children since her childhood. However, she struggled with how she could best serve her clients - many of whom did not have the physical or emotional resources to help themselves in the therapy process. At the same time, she was going through her own marital separation. "I had decided that I needed further education to really help my clients, so I was set to get my PhD, when my father called me out of the blue and said, "Don't get your doctorate, go to law school, and come work with me. I use psychology everyday in my practice." It took all of 24 hours before she was buying LSAT study books and applying to law school." She enrolled at Hastings Law School in downtown San Francisco. "I am so lucky that my father steered me in the right direction. My training as a therapist helps me see the bigger picture of the family needs and empathize with my client's needs within that system, and I feel like I can use that understanding as I steer them through this taxing process. However, one of the greatest gifts my father has given me in this work is very personal - our relationship. I feel like I have gotten to know my father better than anyone. I get to see him in action, and he's really amazing at what he does." Bill Johnson has long been everything a good divorce lawyer should be: Competent, confident yet even-tempered, and very adept at managing people and their conflicts. As such "he's been the perfect mentor," she says. Johnson initially handed her less complex cases, at a lower hourly rate. But as the years passed Carbone built her own practice, both diverse and original - and a reflection of her own life experience. "I feel fortunate: I know I bring something unique to every case." Since 2005 Carbone has sat on the board of the Family & Children's Law Center (faclc.org), in San Rafael. Her family too has come full circle: her father and step-father are longtime friends as are her mother and step-mother, and she and her brother Steig Johnson, a PhD professor of anthropology at the Univ. of Alberta, are close after "plenty of rivalry" growing up. "I think I've lived the full spectrum of the blended family issues, and, with time and hard work, it really can be pretty sweet." Today she and her husband, Rob Carbone, co-founder of Capo Cycling Wear (capocycling.com), have two young children. They live in Larkspur.