Our Lawyer Spotlight series highlights Illinois lawyers who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.
Diane M. Goffinet is the Managing Attorney for the Southern Regional Office of Land of Lincoln Legal Aid (LOLLA), which provides free legal aid to families and individuals in central and southern Illinois.
At LOLLA, she has focused on public benefits (SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, SSI/SSDI) and family law, mainly domestic violence work including Orders of Protections and family and divorce cases.
How has your practice evolved during the last few years?
Since my office covers the bottom 23 counties of the state, as Managing Attorney, I have been trying for years to move the use of Zoom court hearings forward. With COVID, this has happened and it has revolutionized our practice.
Not having to drive 2.5 hours round trip for a 10-minute status hearing has given us extra hours in the day, as well as reduced the amount of money legal aid spends on travel reimbursement.
I hope to see support for the continuation of Zoom hearings to allow us to get pro bono attorneys to accept cases away from their normal counties. We also do a lot more phone appointments with clients, which helps them because they don’t have to travel to Mount Vernon or Carbondale.
What’s one piece of technology you couldn’t function without?
This is easy for me: my dictation unit. Even during the pandemic, I could work from home and, using my office VPN, upload dictations so support staff could work from either their home or the office.
Managing two offices, [a dictation unit] allows staff in Mount Vernon to have access to support staff when their secretary is out because the secretaries in Carbondale can help with their work.
Everyone can talk faster than they type, so dictation allows my attorneys to work at the top of their game, rather than typing out pleadings and such themselves.
How do you manage your well-being?
I’ve always been good about “turning it off” at the end of the day. When I go home, I try to leave my job at the office. Since becoming [Managing Attorney], however, it has become more difficult because things are always weighing on my mind.
However, I work out regularly, pamper myself by getting my hair and nails done as an escape, and spend time with good friends laughing and enjoying life. I have a supportive husband who understands what it’s like to be an attorney, which helps as well.
At the office, I try very hard to delegate responsibility to others when possible, not only to take the burden off of me but to develop leadership in them so they can step up and do even more with their careers. This is true for both attorneys and support staff alike.
How do you remain civil in tense situations?
This is a gift that has come with age. When I was in my mid-20s and started practicing, the tension in the room controlled my mood. As I grew as an attorney, I realized that this wasn’t good for myself or my clients.
I now work hard to not allow others’ anger or frustration to get to me. It wasn’t an easy change, but once I realized that the person who is displaying anger is most likely doing so because they feel like they are on the losing end, I can level out my emotions and process them first before reacting.
I take great pride in my reputation in the legal community and I won’t let one case lose me the respect that I have worked so hard to earn.
I remain calm, work hard to keep my clients calm, and work toward meaningful resolutions, letting the other side know that if that’s not possible, I will try the case so we can get a resolution.
How can attorneys advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession?
By treating everyone they encounter with respect. White, Black, Brown, LGBTQ—none of these labels should separate us from each other. We are all humans sharing a very small planet, and people come to see attorneys at usually one of the darkest times in their life.
We need to focus on that, not the package that it’s wrapped in. Help the person, be respectful to your colleagues, mentor young attorneys, teach your children about DEI issues, and always keep learning and working on yourself.
How can attorneys further public confidence in the rule of law?
The only reason that judges and the courts have the authority to act is because we, as a society, believe that they have the power to make decisions that must be followed.
As attorneys, we need to maintain a high degree of professionalism to keep the court system held in high esteem by those that access it. We need to have a strong work ethic for our clients, dress like professionals, treat everyone we encounter with respect and work to ensure that the idea of “justice for all” isn’t just words but reality.
People with low incomes should have the same access to our [justice] system as those with higher incomes or the system fails. We need to work so that segments of our society don’t fear being pulled over by the police in a routine traffic stop. We are the gatekeepers of justice and need to act accordingly in that role.
What’s one piece of advice for young lawyers?
Be earnest and work hard but have a work-life balance to avoid burnout. [In addition,] find a mentor who you respect and who will take the time to teach you how to be a great attorney.
Law school teaches us how to think like an attorney but not much about the actual day-in and day-out of practicing law.
A great mentor who is well respected in the practice and will take the time to teach you is invaluable and you will reap benefits for your entire career. [Need a mentor? Check out the Commission’s Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program.]
What’s the biggest challenge impacting lawyers today?
Competition in an ever-changing market. With the advent of Zoom (which I fully support most of the time), attorneys in rural southern Illinois are losing business to mega-firms in Chicago and elsewhere because the attorneys don’t need to appear in court in person.
That is difficult and not good for rural areas because we need to have high-quality attorneys available for the people in our area so people can see their attorneys face-to-face if they so choose.
For legal aid, the competition to hire is tougher than ever. When I was hired 28 years ago there were 30 applicants for my position; now we’re lucky to have three to four attorneys apply.
What do you do for fun?
TRAVEL! My husband and I love to travel. We enjoy cruising, traveling with friends, and making new friends when we travel and then going on trips to visit them.
This year alone we have been to NYC and soon to Dallas to visit friends we made while traveling.
At home, we love to go see live music—from major concerts to local musicians at a winery close to our home.
And, of course, one of my favorite things to do is to spend time with our adult sons. It’s wonderful to see what great people they’ve turned out to be.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys here.