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Reality? Check.

Alisse C. Camazine tells clients the truth—over and over again

Published in 2022 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine

Photo by: Whitney Curtis

Alisse C. Camazine has had a front-row seat to family law for four decades. And amidst all the evolving laws and changing parts of the practice area through the years, the St. Louis attorney says there remains one prevailing disruption: lawyers who refuse to be “agents of reality.”

The line that eats at her the most? “Well, you know our job is to do what our client wants to do.”

“No,” Camazine says. “Our job is to do what clients want, but we can only do what clients want after we’ve been agents of reality. Your job is to talk with your client about all the pros and cons of what they want, be reasonable and, above all else, realistic. It’s not, ‘You want 50-50 custody and equal division of property? We’re getting you both.’ It’s, ‘Let’s have a conversation about what I think is realistic.’ I don’t find that enough lawyers actually do that.”

As a new lawyer in the ’80s, Camazine got her first lesson on the importance of being realistic while working a custody case on behalf of a client whose ex-wife was the daughter of a local big shot.

“My client’s ex-spouse thought that, given her hot-shit father, she could manipulate the system and get whatever she wanted,” Camazine says. “Which was just about everything.”

The lawyer on the other side didn’t do anything to temper her client’s attitude, and afterward, the judge called Camazine. “He said, ‘When do you want her out of the house?’” Camazine says. “I said, ‘What?’ I was stunned because I was sure I’d lost. He said, ‘If I give this woman custody, those children will never see their father again,’ and awarded custody to my client. I wanted to say to the other side, ‘If you had only been reasonable and realistic, I would have lost.’”

That said, Camazine knows how hard it is to face harsh truths. In 1995, at age 41, recently married and raising three children under 10, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I realized after the doctor said, ‘You have cancer’ that I didn’t hear 95 percent of what came next,” Camazine, now in remission, says. “At one point the doctor said something and I said, ‘Why wouldn’t you tell me that?’ And he said, ‘Alisse, we’ve talked about this numerous times.’ It’s the same with my clients. When I deliver the truth—‘Your husband is getting the kids; no, you will not have them on Christmas’—people shut down. They are heartbroken. But as lawyers, we have to keep telling our clients the truth over and over again.”


From the offices of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal—the firm she co-founded in 1994—Camazine laughs at the irony of where she wound up. “I thought I’d be a social worker, but I decided I didn’t want to sit with people all day and listen to their problems,” she says. “So here I am in family law.”

She stumbled into it at Love, Lacks & Paule, a previous incarnation of her current firm, where she worked under the tutelage of mentor Chester Love for the first 14 years of her career. “Chester let me try everything: corporate law, civil litigation, criminal work. And I didn’t love any of those things,” Camazine says. But family law brought with it something new—the necessity to be fluent across different areas of the law, a challenge that appealed to her.

“I believe people think family law lawyers are second-class citizens,” she says. “Yet, unlike any other area of the law, we have to know tax law, estate planning, corporate law, and immigration law. And not just know those things, but be able to call upon them. What other field of law is there where there is so much complicated overlap?”

Under Love, she also found the throughline that guides her career: ethics and integrity.

“I think when you first get started, many think you have to be difficult and aggressive, and that that’s how you build a reputation,” she says. “But how you build a reputation is by being honest, ethical and reasonable. It’s the most important thing we explain to every new lawyer who comes through these doors.”

Lisa G. Moore was one of those lawyers, joining the firm as a law clerk in 1995. “I’ve worked with Alisse substantively on cases and, administratively, running the firm,” says Moore, now president of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal. “Alisse is a friend and mentor, and one of those people in your life that you look at and think, ‘This is a person I want to emulate.’ For her, doing the right thing and being a good person is always first.”

While Moore says Camazine “never litigates just to litigate,” when she does get in the courtroom, she puts on a clinic. “She is a phenomenal trial attorney,” Moore says. “Her instincts, her unreal preparation, her respect, and her on-the-spot—but also deep—thinking is remarkable.”

She remembers one trial where a significant amount of stocks and finances, as well as ownership in a large business, were on the table. After a cross-examination of their client’s combative ex-husband, Camazine turned her back to return to the table.

“The guy mouthed ‘bitch,’ and we saw it and told Alisse,” Moore says. “Without breaking stride, she turned around and said, very coolly and calmly, ‘And that’s exactly what you call your wife, isn’t it?’ The judge’s face was just like … ‘Wow.’ She was able to crack this guy’s demeanor to such a level that he just couldn’t help himself.”

Joyce Capshaw of St. Louis’ Carmody MacDonald adds this to Camazine’s trial technique: “She’s very loud,” she says, laughing. “I’m loud, too. We often debate over who is louder.”

The two have worked on opposing sides for years, and one of the first things Capshaw asks new clients is, “‘Who is representing your spouse?’ … At times, I would say 20 to 25 percent of my cases have Alisse on the other side. And my clients look at me strangely when I say, ‘Good. I love Alisse,’” she says. “Most clients anticipate that a divorce case is going to be adversarial, but it’s always in the best interest of the client—emotionally and financially—to settle. Alisse comes to the table in an effort to settle. I know the best interest of my client will be met when Alisse is involved, too.’”

There is one thing about her that stings Capshaw a bit, though. “She knows the law, she is highly respected by the bench and bar, and she’s compassionate. But the one time we squared off in trial, in a relocation case, she won. And she likes to remind me of that.”

“When you are a lawyer who is well prepared, then if someone says we’re going to trial, fine, let’s go,” adds Camazine. “I’m not worried about trying a case with a single lawyer in this town. But I didn’t get where I am charging exorbitant fees when the case could have settled. We’re going to get from point A to point C, and there’s usually a cheaper way of doing it than going to trial.”


No level of preparation readied Camazine to hear the words: “You have cancer.”

When Camazine got sick, she had a 3-, 6- and 8-year-old at home, and her husband was a general counsel for a bank. After the diagnosis, she says “everything fell apart.” She struggled through a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and a massive heart attack from a blood clot likely brought on by her chemo.

“My kids, who were so impacted watching me go through my illness, begged my husband to never go back to work after I returned to the firm,” she says. “I think they wanted that safety and permanence of someone being there. So my husband gave up his law practice in 1996 and became a stay-at-home father.”

Her experience as a cancer survivor has informed the way she approaches her clients.

“When I was sick and afraid, looking for answers and wanting to talk to the doctors, it was impossible to reach them,” she says. “Now I don’t go to sleep without checking my emails, to ensure I don’t have a client emergency. I don’t have the boundaries other lawyers have, the boundaries I tell my own people to create.”

Her husband’s decision to stay at home has also shifted the way Camazine views family law, particularly lately, she notes, as she’s observed legislation that risks discretion being taken away from the courts.

“I’ve noticed legislation over the years that has tried to limit the amount of maintenance that is paid to women who didn’t work,” she says. “If your family made the unique decision that your wife is going to stay home, then 25 years later you get a divorce, she shouldn’t be penalized because of the decision you made together. The courts have the right to look at each case via the individual lens that it deserves, to ask, ‘What is right for this family?’ God forbid my husband and I divorced, but if we did, I wouldn’t begrudge him getting half of our assets and anything else. He did what our family needed.”

While the bulk of her work involves complex divorce and custody, Camazine has made an impact over the years in family law cases complicated by addiction issues. She was one of the earlier lawyers added to crisis hotlines in the state.

“A high percentage of my cases involve addiction,” she says. “It’s very, very difficult. If you have a client who is in recovery, the recovery is hard. Dealing with a loss of marriage and possibly children on top of recovery is hard. And then, maybe the hardest: getting the ex-spouse to believe that my client really can recover. These cases are highly emotional.”

She takes a comprehensive approach to these clients: driving them to meetings, acting as an unofficial sponsor, and joining families in their homes for interventions aimed at getting a loved one into treatment.

“My husband would say I’m very bad at leaving work at work,” Camazine says.
Moore chalks it up to compassion. “She lives her life in such a way that makes it clear that, for her, the right thing to do, always, is to care about people,” she says.

Camazine walks the walk when it comes to community service, too, says Capshaw: “I’m not kidding you when I say the woman hounds you, but in the best way. She beats the streets to raise money.”
In 2004, Camazine and her brother, Brian, a general surgeon, founded Earthwide Surgical Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing surgical care and resources to rural villagers in needful areas of the world.

“He spends nine months of the year with the incredible people of Nigeria, and I have gone several times,” says Camazine, who has brought her husband and three sons along. “I wanted my children to understand how it felt to be the only white person around, so they would be empathetic to people of color in predominantly white spaces—as well as understand their level of privilege. The medical issues you see down there, the poverty, it will make your head spin.”

Camazine is also chair of the board at Gateway to Hope, which helps support low-income women after a breast-cancer diagnosis. “I’ve always reminded my kids that other children lost their parents because they didn’t have what we had, which enabled us to get through my treatment,” she says. “This agency provides emotional, educational and financial support to give women equitable access to health care.”

In both Camazine’s legal and charity work, what impresses Moore is that, after 40 years, Camazine has stayed hungry. “She’s the first to research something, the first to ask a question,” Moore says. “She never assumes. She’s always learning.”

And always teaching.

“What I’m really excited about here right now is putting into place a much stronger mentorship and education program with new lawyers we’re onboarding,” says Camazine. “I want to make sure that the things that are important to me—good work, integrity, ethics—continue to be important. My name is on the door, and these are my priorities. Judges have told me they tell other judges, ‘When Alisse opens up her mouth, you can believe what she says.’ That matters.”


A Brush with Paint

In recent years, Camazine has taken up landscape painting as a hobby. Her favorite completed work is of two red chairs in front of the Tetons.

“I was looking toward what I was going to do down the road and, I don’t know, one day I got a wild hair. Something came up about a painting class and I said, ‘Oh, I’ll try it.’ And I love it,” she says. “When you paint, you just have to focus—you can’t be thinking about a million other things.”

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