Tara Gardner-Williams has spent her entire 11-year law career practicing family law; she’s a natural at it. Growing up, Tara thought about becoming a therapist or a social worker but as her education progressed, she ended up in law school. Her parents had always known she would become an attorney. “When I was six or seven, my parents would tell me that I would be a lawyer when I grew up,” Tara remembers. “I was argumentative. I was always explaining why I was right.” After growing up in Columbus, NE, Tara attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees.
The Uniqueness of Family Law
Attorneys who specialize in family law understand that this area of practice is very different from other areas of practice. Family law is always personal. Clients are often in the middle of challenging and painful circumstances, and their needs fall outside of the scope of what the legal system actually addresses. As a family law practitioner, Tara understands the importance of building genuine, trustworthy relationships with each of her clients. They must work together very closely, as the clients will need guidance in making informed decisions about the major changes they are about to face.
“I like that I actually build friendships with my clients. This allows them to feel comfortable in approaching me with sensitive issues and I understand their needs better,” Tara said. “It’s about helping people get through one of the very roughest times in their lives and they know that I’m there for them when everything seems to be crashing around them.”
Family Law isn’t Always Settled in a Courtroom
The most unique facet of family law is that the clients’ needs aren’t readily addressed in a courtroom. Tara sees it as her job to educate her clients about what they should expect from their experience with the court system, and what issues need to be handled on the side. “In those situations, my job is to empower clients so that they can handle their challenges in life. It’s more about explaining to the client how to handle their situation and giving them options.”
In her 11 years of experience, Tara’s learned an important lesson. “There’s no winning or losing in this area of the law. What is important is that I fight for my clients’ needs and that my clients understand what is happening in the case. They should understand at the outset that there is never a perfect solution when they go through these very troubling experiences.” In her eyes, it’s all about ending in a best-case scenario. At the end of the day, Tara wants her clients to walk away from the experience ready to move forward with the next stage of their lives.
Client-Attorney relationships in Family Law
The circumstances that lead someone to an attorney who specializes in family law are overwhelming. When Tara’s clients reach out to her, they’re often distressed and upset about a number of personal issues. Tara is able to draw from her professional and personal experience to walk people through their situation and get them to a better place. “I make them comfortable. I help them realize that the world isn’t crashing down around them, even though it feels like it in that moment. Life changes so quickly, and they are going to be okay.”
Attorneys who practice family law understand that their cases often require both a lawyer and a life coach. For Tara, that comes naturally. Her ability to build trust and rapport with her clients is what makes her an exceptional family law practitioner. Tara focuses on the client’s needs. “That’s probably the first skill I use when I come in contact with a client who is upset. I calm them down and get them back to rational thought, away from the place where they can only see anger and hurt, and get them back on track.”
In family law, people want to work with someone who cares about their circumstances. “My clients know that I care about their situation and that I always do my best for them. That helps people know that they’re well represented.” People notice a difference when working with Tara on a family law case. With cards and tears of appreciation, Tara knows her work is meaningful in a career where it’s easy to feel beaten down. For Tara, “It’s the most rewarding part of my job.”
Recruited by Lincoln’s best law firm
When she graduated from the UNL College of Law in 2007, Tara entered the private practice. Her success earned her a shining reputation with judges, fellow attorneys, and the legal community. In 2014, Keating O’Gara was looking for a new family law attorney and Tara’s name kept coming up as a recommendation. Likewise, before coming to work at Keating O’Gara, Tara had heard of the firm’s excellent reputation as the best law office in Lincoln. For years, she had heard about Keating O’Gara’s successful practice. Now, Tara’s proud to build on that sterling reputation with her own work. “Anytime that I’m able to say that I work at Keating O’Gara, I’m very proud.”
After working as Keating O’Gara’s family law specialist for over three years, Tara appreciates the supportive dynamic in the office. She’s able to bounce ideas off of her colleagues and she enjoys the tremendous cooperation from support staff. Tara especially acknowledges the hard work from her assistant Megan.
Working in family law takes a lot of energy, emotionally and physically. For Tara, it’s more than an 8:00 to 5:00 job. “I don’t ever stop thinking about my clients. What’s happening to them can be so severe and they can be in so much pain that I lose sleep at night thinking of what I can do to help. I am terrible at sticking to my own boundaries of limiting work to work hours. I could be at dinner and have an idea for a case and write myself a note. It never turns off.”
Self-care and life outside of the office
For self-care, Tara clears her head by working out every day. Yoga, kickboxing, and running are her favorite ways to escape the stress of the day. Tara enjoys participating in fun runs, like the Warrior Dash and the Leprechaun Chase. She also loves spending time with her daughter, Savannah. Together, they bond over art. Tara is a talented painter, so she teaches Savannah about drawing and painting. A healthy lifestyle is really important to Tara and Savannah. “We don’t eat sugar and we’re those nutty people who drink vinegar.”
Work-life balance at Keating O’Gara
At age seven, Savannah is almost the office mascot at Keating O’Gara. “What I love most about Keating O’Gara is that they’re incredibly supportive of the fact that I’m a single parent.” Whether she needs to work from home on a snow day or bring Savannah into the office, the men and women at Keating O’Gara are always supportive. Her Keating O’Gara coworkers go above and beyond, bringing Savannah hot cocoa, markers, or keeping an eye on Savannah in Tara’s office during court hearings.
When it comes to balance with her career, her daughter, and her lifestyle, Tara’s still working on it. “I don’t know that I’ll ever find ‘the balance’ that everybody wants to have. I try and try. I suppose whatever balance I do have is accomplished by cherishing time with my daughter. I never miss out on her.” By keeping her priorities straight and relying on an amazing support system of friends, colleagues, and family, Tara manages to keep her clients’ lives on track, as well as her own.