Family Law attorney Margaret Anderson is widely known and respected as one of Northern California's leading pioneers of Collaborative Practice, the fast-growing alternative process to traditional courtroom litigation in divorce. It's been a remarkable journey for the 64-year-old Anderson, who earned a reputation early on as a tough advocate ("A real barracuda," in the words of some peers), and who, after a series of midlife epiphanies, changed her professional focus to Collaborative Practice. Today she is one of the most experienced lawyers in the nation to turn away so fully from litigation and embrace the Collaborative process; thus, she clearly is one of its strongest and most credible advocates, both on the regional and national levels. Focused and deliberate, Anderson may remind some clients of their sternest grade-school teacher - yet of course who is recalled with the greatest appreciation.
A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, Anderson's early life was "idyllic - all 26 first cousins ate home-made ice cream at July Fourth barbecues at our grandparents' farm." When the company her father worked for was sold, her family moved to Mesa, Arizona, where 10-year-old Margaret ("It's always been Peg to my family") endured harsh early treatment as an outcast to a dominant religious community there. ("One of those experiences that stays with you.") She married in 1968 and lived with her husband in San Diego until they moved to Sebastopol in 1971. In the mid ‘70s Anderson worked as a paralegal with a downtown San Francisco firm, where "I refused to babysit and pick up the laundry of a senior partner, so I think they regarded me as a troublemaker." That resolve and independence "came to me naturally - I got it from my father"; she inherited his drive as well, she says: "Like him I was always reaching for the next rung of the ladder." After doing well on the LSAT she went to USF law school at night, divorced and continued to push herself. She worked for a Petaluma firm where the divorce cases that came through the door "rolled down to me." She says "they were always the most difficult and needy clients. But I learned I could make a difference by returning their phone calls and educating them about the divorce process." She launched her own practice in the early 80s; she practiced initially with Irv Piotrkowski in Petaluma, and then moved to Santa Rosa, where many of her cases originated.
For more than two decades she has practiced on her own. For years, Margaret focused on traditional divorce litigation, but she became increasingly frustrated by the insufficiency of court resources to tailor solutions to families' needs, and she began looking into out-of-court conflict resolution. One big influence: Mill Valley attorney Gary Friedman, an early mediator and trainer in both mediation, and later, Collaborative Practice. By the late 90s, Anderson had attended many of the national programs on Collaborative Law, which was just getting traction. Litigation meanwhile "was increasingly unsatisfying - no one could anticipate an outcome in court. I felt clients were being misled." She made the decision to stop taking litigation cases. Shortly thereafter, Anderson survived a harrowing health scare: a sudden aneurism nearly killed her. Peers say the experience and months of recovery were "the Fault Line of Peg's life." With a fresh and more spiritual outlook, Anderson, fully recovered, devoted all of her professional energy to her mediation and Collaborate Law practice. She has not looked back.
Today, ten years later, Anderson's independent office is at Santa Rosa's Collaborative Practice Center, a thriving center for alternative dispute resolution. Anderson is one of more than 500 Collaborative Lawyers in Northern California, and she is a well-known practitioner, certainly in Sonoma County. A key associate: Angus the yellow Lab warmly greets clients and colleagues to Anderson's expansive office. Away from her office, Anderson enjoys travel, entertaining and "digging in the dirt" at her home. "I think we all look for peace in our lives; some of us are fortunate enough to find it."