Up Close: Brooke Deratany Goldfarb

Though she did graduate from Harvard Law, her approach to its practice brings to mind Fred (Mr.) Rogers, or perhaps the guru of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, more than the likes of Johnnie Cochran or F. Lee Bailey. Inherent in her methodology is a desire for all parties to find safe harbors of resolution when confronting some of the most emotionally fracturing experiences imnaginable, and to treat people – all people – with a sense of value and worth. It is a philosophical approach Brooke Deratany Goldfarb utilizes at Peaceful Beach Mediation & Collaboration, versus a focus on winning, or worse, defeating or extracting vengeance on the opposing client.

EW: Part of who you are had to be informed by the role your family has played in this community; how did that shape you?

BG: Where we grow up, what our family and community are like shape all of us, whether we realize it or not. Growing up on the river, safely ensconced in this beachside community, was ideal: sunrises over the ocean, sunsets over the river and always being comfortable in the water, that was the way of life [for us]. Both my parents were very involved in Indialantic, my dad was on the [town] council and then mayor before serving as a state representative and senator. My mother was an environmental advocate, before there was such a term, and also served on the town council, then as the first female mayor and later as a county commissioner. Later, my brother was on the town council and served as mayor. Then, when my husband Loren and I moved back to the area, he served on the council and as deputy-mayor. Involvement and being a part of the community are part of my essence. What Indialantic is like socially, culturally and environmentally are all important to me. There was a time when I wanted to go explore the world and never come back, but when we were in D.C. with two children, we decided to return to the area in 2004.

EW: What were the key things you learned from your Dad and Mom respectively?

Photography by Jason Hook Photography

BG: My dad taught me that the world is a wonderful place and if you work hard your life will be wonderful. He was very optimistic. My mother was from a strong line of women. She emphasized that I, too, was strong, brave and could do difficult things. That it was important to speak up and express your ideas, even when those ideas were not popular. Like her, she was an environmentalist before it was vogue. I suppose I was drawn to the law because of a sense of justice and fairness that they nurtured. I’m sure it would be easier just to sit on the couch and watch TV than to work to try and change the world, even in some small way, but a life of purpose isn’t always so easy. Anyone can have a life of purpose; you just have to decide what it is you care passionately about.At 10 years old, I decided to be a lawyer because I saw it as a means of empowerment, a recourse for those treated wrongly or unfairly. I remember when I was in school, I started a petition. Some student’s vandalism caused the administration to pass rules that you could only use the restroom at designated times. Even in the fourth grade, I felt that going to the bathroom when you needed to go was a fundamental human right.

EW: You went to Harvard Law School; what were your plans?

BG: Initially, I had hoped to be in some type of diplomatic service, to be a part of the peace process. Originally, lawyers were peacemakers. I see myself as an advocate or a peacemaker, rather than a warrior. Where I was the most comfortable was in collaboration and in the resolution of disputes. It was not about [one side] winning or losing, but everyone winning. Otherwise, you get in this never-ending cycle of getting even, which isn’t sustainable. I was interested in the law as a way to make the world more peaceful.

EW: Is the adversarial nature of our legal tradition counter-productive?
BG: It doesn’t have to be. It is okay to have competition and to present opposing ideas. We need that. But it should always be civil. Through the synergy of ideas, we have improvement. However, though I believe that most want to do the right thing (and, maybe that seems naïve), there are always bad actors who do the wrong thing and we have to have a means of dealing with that and holding people and organizations accountable.Sometimes, however, that adversarial approach isn’t necessary and can be very traumatic and counterproductive.

Photography by Jason Hook Photography

EW: Was that the impetus for creating your practice and your rather unique approach to people’s legal conflicts?

BG: I wanted to create a space where there was enough trust to listen to our higher self and feel safe doing so in resolving conflicts. Most of what I am involved with are divorces or, as I say, ‘transitioning people out of marriage.’ They come to me because they don’t want to destroy each other and they want to honor the relationship they had, so they can move forward and be happy. I want to help people exercise their self-determination in as positive way as possible, to own the solution and have a positive a relationship with each other after the dispute is resolved. So, they can continue to have their mother and father or grandmother and grandfather roles, even though they are no longer husband and wife. Of course, this doesn’t work in situations [such as with cases of] domestic violence or mental illness, where people are not able to express themselves and be grounded in what is best for all concerned. People, at least most people, want to see themselves as good people who are trying to do the right thing, but at the same time they want to make sure their needs are met and they aren’t being taken advantage of. It is a more holistic approach, and it requires a lot of sensitivity and patience.

EW: I would think your practice relies on a lot of referrals and you have to be selective about who you take on?

BG: Yes, to both questions. Often, they are self-selective. You don’t come to a place called Peaceful Beach Mediation & Collaboration if you are out for blood. You come because you care about your children and to some degree each other and you don’t want to give power to other people to make decisions for your life. I’m not practicing law in the traditional way, because I’m trying to keep people out of court. To me, the courts are like hospitals. We need hospitals, but if you can avoid going there, it is to your advantage. If you can solve your own problems without the court system, all of society benefits. Happy parents make for happier children. Essentially in my practice, both parties represent themselves or “pro se”. I tell clients that they have the right to their own attorney. Also, I encourage them to take whatever agreements I draft to their own attorney for review and make sure they sign a document to that effect. I technically don’t represent either party. I represent a happy solution. This is how, in my small way, I can help to save the world. •

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