Not Forks and Knives

Amy Sara Cores knows when to hold ’em and fold ’em in family law cases, but international kidnapping cases weigh heavily

Published in 2015 New Jersey Super Lawyers — April 2015

Q: How did a classically trained cellist who rides a Harley end up a lawyer?

A: It’s a funny story. I didn’t want to go to college because I was going to be a rock star—I play guitar, I sing. That was the goal.

I moved to Florida [from L.A.] to live near my grandparents, with whom I was very close. At some point, I was like, “I guess I’ll get a degree.” I got into all these great music schools, but I really didn’t want to go too far from my grandparents, so I went to Florida State.

While there, I had surgery on my wrist and couldn’t complete the performance requirements. At about that same time, I heard Elie Wiesel speak and I was really inspired, so much so that I stayed on and worked on a graduate degree in history.

But I woke up one morning and I was like, I don’t want to live in the South. There were some overt racists. I’m Jewish, and people would make comments. So I said, “What can I do where I don’t have to get a real job, but at some point, I’ll be able to make a little bit of money or live in Europe?” So I went to law school. I didn’t have a strong desire to be an attorney. I still don’t know if I do.

 

Q: Then why do it?

A: The law is important, but it’s a means to an end. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy it. My kids are my existence; that’s my passion. Being a lawyer is not the same as that. I feel that the entirety of my success in the practice is not necessarily because I’m a great lawyer, but because I approach it from a completely different perspective. The clients love me because they come in and sometimes they see that I’m wearing my pajamas and I’m barefoot.

If we lose sight, especially in family practice, of what you’re there for, by getting distracted by money or credentials … real people are coming in. They’re going to talk to me about their kids, bad things that have happened in their marriage, losing their house potentially, having to divide up retirement accounts, having to divide up everything in their lives, even their kids. But they feel like they can relate to me because I’m a human being—that’s what we should be promoting. Anybody can see that I have the credentials, that I’ve written all these articles. But who cares, if I can’t get a kid home?

 

Q: Right—your international child abduction cases. How’d you build that niche?

A: I started doing it right away. I don’t know how much you know about the Hague Convention, but we have something called the Central Authority. They serve as the agency that accepts the requests from other countries to have their children returned. There’s a network of attorneys who volunteer to accept cases either pro bono, on a flat-fee basis or full fee. So I said, “Can I put my name on this list to accept these cases? I might have to take some pro bono cases, but can I do this?” The gentleman that employed me said, fine.

 

Q: What about the cases was appealing to you?

A: They’re challenging. Unlike a lot of family law cases where it’s forks, knives, spoons and times for telephone calls with children, these are cases where someone has taken a kid. You’re dealing with two different legal systems and international law and treaties and all of these very complex legal concepts. And it’s the ability to practice in federal court, which most family law attorneys don’t get to do.

My background is being a writer, from doing all the graduate work in history, and so my strongest skill set, in my opinion, is my writing. I think that other people think that my strongest skill set is being on my feet in the courtroom, but I prefer to sit at my computer and write a 50-page brief. They’re good, and I have a lot of success with them.

And I’m not afraid to deal with people in foreign languages. I think a lot of attorneys who either don’t speak a foreign language or don’t really have the same level of exposure to people from other countries that I do are reluctant.

So, locally, attorneys would get somebody in, and they would come in with a document in Russian. I would get a phone call: “Would you just take a look at this?” And I’m like, I don’t really read or speak it—I can a little bit—and they’re like, “Well, just take the case, because we don’t want to have to deal with it.” It takes a lot of extra effort to try and explain complex American legal concepts to [non-native speakers] in English. I have the patience to do that.

 

Q: Do the cases usually involve a child coming back to the U.S.?

A: No. Most of the kids are actually going back to foreign countries. I have had to travel for it—I had a Turkey case and the judge ordered me to escort the child back to Turkey because we didn’t have anybody else to take her. I paid to fly her back from my own pocket.

 

Q: As a parent yourself, are the kidnappings difficult to deal with?

A: Not really. It’s difficult because I always have somebody crying on the other end of the phone, but I’m very realistic with expectations for people. I’m very good at segregating this stuff out. I try and balance my practice with softball, petty, silly things.

I do a lot of international stuff, so I’ll get a lot of cases where maybe somebody wants to move to a foreign country or move to another state or there’s some greater degree of international travel so they need additional language for safeguarding things, or a parent lives in another country that’s not a Hague Convention country.

The Hague stuff in particular—I try not to do too much of it at once, simply because it has the ability to really weigh on me. If you don’t settle the case, they are absolutes. If you have one parent who’s here in the United States, you have another parent who’s in another country—whoever wins is not likely to ever let the child go back and forth. Re-establishing trust isn’t easy. If you don’t get the child returned, then your client in the other country is likely to not ever see that kid again.

 

Q: Outside of the kidnapping cases, what’s your practice like?

A: The same kind of stuff that every other family law practitioner does. I tend to get more high-conflict cases. I’m happy to do it because I’m fearless. Other people don’t want to stand up and shout and scream and have to go before judges all the time and make difficult arguments and send 50 letters back and forth, manage 50 emails from a single client in a day. I’m good at it.

 

Q: What’s your courtroom style?

A: I’m no Perry Mason. I wear two different-colored socks to court.

I used to be very conservative in the courtroom when I was a younger attorney. And then as I distinguished myself and felt like I didn’t need to pull my hair up tightly in a bun and wear a serious suit, I became more of who I am.

When I retire, I will be sitting on a street corner playing the guitar with the case open. That’s the person that’s in the courtroom.

 

Q: What’s the best lesson you ever learned?

A: “The Gambler.” You have to know when to fold them. You have to know when to sit down and shut up in all circumstances. Sometimes you have to get feedback from the judge, whether it’s verbal feedback or visual feedback, and know that you’re successful in your argument. It’s really important to remember that, especially in family law. Because we all have days where you argue one case and you’re taking one side, and then you literally move over two feet to the defendant’s counsel table, and you’re arguing the exact opposite in another motion. That’s just our lives.

I have to make sure that I don’t overstep, and that I’ve got my client doing what I know they need to do before the judge, in order to make sure that I can continue to appear before these judges and not look stupid. You don’t want to overplay your hand, because you can, that quickly, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

 

Q: Speaking of victory and defeat—who is the toughest opponent you’ve faced?

A: I don’t think any of them.

 

Q: Why?

A: I mean, all the attorneys who were in the academy with me, they’re all very fierce adversaries, but they’re all easy to deal with in cases because they’re brilliant. It’s the same thing with board-certified attorneys or people who limit their practice to family law, where you’re dealing with someone who’s in your equal peer group.

 

Q: When you make it as a rock star, what will your first album be called?

A: There’s not going to be one. This is why I had the baby. He’s going to be the rock star now, and then he will perform at the Grammys with Slash. That’s what they do now: partner all the young and up-and-coming people with the old people who look like they’re ready to drop dead. I’ll be the background singer or play rhythm guitar. And then that’s it. Then I’ll be happy, and then I can be done.

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