Talking the Walk

Henry S. Gornbein takes law to the airwaves

Published in 2009 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2009

He may not have the following of Anderson Cooper or the notoriety of Bill O’Reilly, but family law attorney/television talk-show host Henry S. Gornbein does have a certain celebrity status in his hometown of Bloomfield Hills. For 12 years, Gornbein has aired a cable show called Practical Law.

Every week, Gornbein, founding and managing partner of Gornbein Smith Peskin-Shepherd, engages other lawyers, judges, prosecutors—and occasionally newspaper reporters and columnists—on timely topics ranging from family law to civil rights and criminal cases.

His guest list last season included Kym Worthy, prosecutor in the perjury and obstruction-of-justice case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a former aide. The scandal drew national attention. “Kym Worthy was fascinating,” Gornbein recalls. “[She] has a strong sense of justice and feels that perjury is a serious offense that should not be ignored.”

The 30-minute show on Bloomfield Community Television is meant not to titillate but educate. “Part of the reason for the show is to demystify law,” Gornbein says. He may not be a superstar, but he does admit to occasionally being recognized at grocery stores or movie theaters. His show is aired throughout Oakland County, thanks to sponsorship from the Oakland County Bar Association, and there are plans to go on the air in Macomb County.

Gornbein also once penned a legal-advice column for The Oakland Press. He is also co-founder and legal editor of divorceonline.com, a site that looks at divorce from legal, psychological and economic perspectives.

Gornbein, whose legal practice ranges from divorce to arbitration to pre- and post-nuptial agreements, believes in avoiding needless confrontation. “It’s always been my philosophy to take a holistic approach to divorce. Too many attorneys will exacerbate a situation to create high fees and create problems where there are none,” he says.

The 66-year-old struck out on his own in 1972, about the time Michigan became one of the first states with a no-fault divorce statute. “I started speaking on the topic and getting referrals. I found I had an affinity for it and it evolved to become the focus of my practice,” he says.

But first, Gornbein tried stints at a variety of types of law, including criminal defense.

“To be a good criminal lawyer, you’re looking for flaws in the system, even if someone is guilty,” he says. “It’s not something I wanted to do. The difference between a criminal defense attorney and a divorce attorney: We represent good people on their worst behavior and they represent bad people on their best behavior.”

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