Admired by peers and experienced in a broad range of cases, Helen Casale has emerged as one of Pennsylvania's leading young matrimonial lawyers. By all accounts the 45-year-old South Jersey native has the attributes of a top-tier divorce lawyer - she possesses that unique, contradictory blend of sensitivity and toughness. Her caseload, too, is broad and varied. Most notably, a good portion of Casale's family law practice is truly at the vanguard of American law and social change: She has handled scores of cases, both in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, relating to same-sex marriage and LGBT partnerships, an area in which state laws remain uneven, even nonexistent -- and where many lawyers dare not tread. Thus, peers say, she has a professional record and personal courage rare among lawyers, particularly a young lawyer still in her early 40s. Casale is known nationally for her public presentations on legal issues relating to LGBT partnerships; the Hangley firm, where she's been a partner the last five years, recognizes her growing stature. Casale grew up in nearby Haddonfield, N.J. - "a great place, a small, proudly middle-class town where everyone knows each other" - the third of four children from a family with proud union-labor roots; she was a standout on the basketball and softball teams at Haddonfield High School, graduating class 140. She developed into a focused, competitive leader-athlete as she entered high school, about the time her parents divorced. "I wouldn't say it was some transcendental event - we were all young - but it did give me perspective and made me grow up a little faster." She went off to Lynchburg College in Central Virginia, a small community "just far enough away from home so that I couldn't come running back." She excelled at intercollegiate sports as well; friends say she was a "super-supportive, positive and talented teammate." Her sophomore year, majoring in communications ("I was considering broadcast journalism"), her advisor encouraged her to shoot for law school. She returned first to Haddonfield, though, and spent a year applying to graduate and law schools, ultimately enrolling at Rutgers Law.
She considered labor law but "it was a regulatory jungle. The more I looked at it, the less interested I was in it." She clerked for a year with Judge Martin Herman of the New Jersey Superior Court, Family Law Section, assimilating into the South Jersey legal community, which she would ultimately practice for several years. Still, "divorce law really wasn't on my radar when I was in law school." (Another early mentor: labor lawyer Deborah Willig, managing partner of one of the region's largest labor practices.) On passing the bar, Casale joined the Woodbury, N.J., firm of Hoffman DiMuzio, a 20-lawyer team of criminal and civil trial litigators who gave her early courtroom experience, much of it involving divorce cases. "It was a huge rush to be able to have such a direct impact. I was really helping people. I knew not all lawyers felt that way." Three years later she joined Wolf Block in Philadelphia, in part because she'd lived in Center City, but also because she was drawn to the talent: She worked for well-known divorce lawyers Dan Clifford and Lynne Gold-Bikin, as well as Ten Leaders inductee Cheryl Young. (Another incentive: A Gloucester County judge told her, "Take better cases - you are worthy of them.") In about five years Casale was named a partner in its Norristown office. In 2008, a year before Wolf Block famously disbanded in a dispute among its senior partners, she and Young jumped to the 50-lawyer Hangley Aronchick firm. The new team gave Hangley instant credibility in family law; it's been adding lawyers to the department ever since. Today about a third of her cases originate in New Jersey; the Hangley firm has four offices, including Cherry Hill and Norristown, where Casale today is based. It's been more than a decade since The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on "second-parent adoption" allowing partners legal rights of children, and Casale is an authority in the field. Somehow, after hundreds of cases, she remains cheerful and energetic. "I'm a big runner, and that helps keep a good work pace," she says.
Clients will find her wise, yet youthful, unstuffy in speech and manner. Given her range of clients, Casale says, "case to case, the issues are not all that different - people, forced to endure the same experience, react in similar ways." She adds, "I feel as though what I'm doing is important, for every client I've ever had." She lives in suburban Philadelphia and she has nine-year-old twins.