The Human Drama of Life
Patricia Barbarito specializes in spooling unraveled lives
Published in 2008 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine
By Karen Jones on March 17, 2008
Twenty-eight years ago, Patricia Barbarito, then an eager law student from Seton Hall, had an interview scheduled for a part-time law clerk position at a law firm headed by Peter Harris and Theodore Einhorn, located in Denville. A raging blizzard engulfed the region, but she was not to be deterred.
She recalls, “It was such a horrific snowstorm! I got there three hours late, sobbing, because I thought I missed the interview.” She almost did; Einhorn and Harris were leaving when she pulled up. “I begged them to interview me,” she says. They did and she landed the job. She has been with the firm, now called Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost, ever since.
As a first-generation American child of Italian background and modest means, Barbarito, 51, was raised to never waste time. “My mother was not formally educated but is very bright and understood the value of education and hard work,” she says.
Instilled with this attitude, she worked her way through high school, Seton Hall University (graduating magna cum laude) and Seton University School of Law, punching clocks as a diner hostess, camp counselor, department store employee, office clerk and law clerk.
In 1981, she joined Einhorn Harris. She rapidly absorbed all aspects of litigation, making partner in 1985. She became proficient in family law and pursued new business relentlessly, networking and giving lectures at women’s groups. Clients followed and the firm grew; today there are 26 lawyers. Along the way she developed a reputation for hard work.
“Her roots are grounded in reality and she has climbed the ladder from her own efforts,” says Mark Wechsler, a partner at the firm. “She is equally comfortable in a pair of sweats talking to a blue-collar worker as at the governor’s mansion talking with the highest level of politician.”
Barbarito has a commanding presence but is personable and modest about her accomplishments, which are many. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a former chair of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association and the recipient of the 2004 Saul A. Tischler Award from the New Jersey State Bar Association, which recognizes lawyers who excel in the development of family law in the state. Receiving the Tischler award was a thrill, she says, although the running joke at the awards dinner was that “half the room was my family.”
She has seen many changes during her years in family law, including the evolution of the two-professional family. “Many of the laws, and lawyers, that have been around for a long time presume a standard of living and social existence that doesn’t exist anymore. Donna Reed is not home making dinner and cleaning the house, and getting alimony because she did those jobs.”
She spends a lot of time pursuing an honest appraisal of assets. In one case she represented the wife of a wealthy Wall Street titan. After intuiting his “pomposity and arrogance,” she sensed a narcissist who, if led correctly during cross-examination, could not help but boast of his extraordinary business savvy and expensive lifestyle. By the end of the trial, “he was eager to share all his successes,” which, of course, ultimately worked in her client’s favor.
She has been active in organizations that assist female victims of domestic violence. “Now that society is accepting [more discussion of] this issue, it has allowed women to seek help and allowed judges to see this as a real concern,” she says.
The issue is a thorny one. “The domestic violence law in New Jersey, and many states, is one avenue to remove someone from the home pending a divorce,” she explains. “The other side is the person who screams domestic violence just to get someone out of the house. Are you just complaining? It is a very subjective, fact-sensitive issue.”
Barbarito knows that clients usually contact lawyers when they are in a crisis. “People who are going through a divorce are needy and not themselves. They will drain you, not because they are bad people but they are negotiating new territory and that can be terrifying.” She maintains her focus and equilibrium through Pilates, yoga and recordings of Oprah.
She lives three miles from the Denville office with husband Dr. Randy Marton, an infectious-diseases specialist, and children Jacqueline, 15, and Victoria, 8. When she can, she retreats to a country home in Pennsylvania.
She turns wistful when asked to reflect on her career. “There is no such thing as having it all. You can have your all. … Life is full of choices. I am happy in the place I am now. Like everyone else, I wish I had the wisdom then that I have now, but you do what you have to do. Live and learn and let that become a part of you.” When asked what is the most important advice she gives her children, other then getting a good education and giving back to the community, she responds, “To be happy and able to support yourself in the manner that you want to live.”
After all this time in family law, Barbarito affectionately refers to matrimonial lawyers as “an odd group.” She explains that it is quite normal to try cases with people she “adores,” but as adversaries in the courtroom, they will “fight like crazy,” then make up when it’s over.
“I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in the practice,” she says. “I have made some very good and loyal friends and I think matrimonial lawyers have a unique capacity to do that because we deal with the human drama of life.”
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