Leigh Baseheart Kahn is emerging as one of New York City's most capable and respected young divorce lawyers, a key partner now at Mayerson Abramowitz Kahn, itself one of the top boutique matrimonial firms in Manhattan. Kahn - well trained and with an academic background that could have sent her anywhere she wanted in the law - was elevated to a name partner in 2011 and today is regarded as one of the firm's go-to lawyers for complex cases. Her success stems in part from small-town upstate roots, which have helped keep her grounded and even-tempered. They are qualities that have made her a very effective advocate for clients, peers say.
She grew up two hours up the NYS Thruway in Kinderhook in Columbia County, NY, ("Think apple orchards and a lack of high-rises") the younger daughter of a librarian and a school principal. Reading and education were thus natural parts of her youth. Although she describes herself as a "pretty typical kid" who played volleyball and basketball, she also was a high achiever tracked into Advanced Placement courses through her years at Ichabod Crane High School. At Harvard - she's said to be the first graduate from her school district to even apply - she confesses she experienced a kind of culture shock, both from the student body and the renowned campus itself: "A good number of the first-year students seemed to know each other, from various private schools I hadn't yet heard of. And I remember the first day, walking out of my Harvard Yard dorm and running into a Japanese tour group. I thought, "Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore.'"
Kahn seems nearly nonplussed by the fact that she graduated with high honors: "It's true it's hard to fail out of Harvard, but you have to put in a decent amount of effort to do well. I worked hard to get there so I promised myself I'd keep working hard. So I did." She went straight on to Georgetown Law School, in part because "I liked the idea of being in Washington" and a global law school would present new opportunities. She interned with a boutique DC firm specializing in telecom law, but ended up returning to New York and finding employment in her first area of interest, family law. "The fact is national law schools don't prepare their students for state-based specialties like matrimonial law."
When she took her first job, with divorce litigator Peter Bronstein in Manhattan, "I was struck by how wide-ranging and complex the issues of every case tended to be. It was much more interesting and rewarding than many lawyers believe." She spent 11 years at the Bronstein firm, developing her skills as a lawyer and as an advocate for clients. She began, she says, as "a baby lawyer" and evolved into the sophisticated client strategist she is today. "The fact is law school doesn't prepare most lawyers for direct client contact. I think for everyone in our specialty there's a steep learning curve. I know there was for me."
Kahn, clients and peers say, brings maturity and excellent judgment to her cases, usually the firm's most complex and "all-consuming." Her academic background clearly separates her from most of her divorce-lawyer peers, who are known for scrappiness and resourcefulness but not a lot of scholarly gravitas. She joined the well-known firm led by Hal Mayerson and Alton Abramowitz in 2007 - "I know it sounds like advertising but it's a great firm. We've settled in with a good group, and we mesh well together." Today their firm - primarily matrimonial litigation, with emphasis on complex custody and asset-division cases as well as prenuptial and other family agreements and family court cases - has six partners.
Along with her husband and two young children, Kahn lives in northern Westchester, just across the Hudson from West Point, NY.