Professor does double duty as a divorce mediator and law teacher

By on April 13, 2005

Who ever said that kids were easier to handle than adults?

Not associate adjunct legal studies professor Christine Burt, that’s for sure. As a divorce mediator, she acts as the middlewoman for squabbling couples all the time.

Burt, a tall, thin, well-dressed and articulate attorney, became a divorce mediator, also called a “neutral facilitator,” with three years of experience in family law. Divorce mediation is not technically considered practicing law since she works equally with both parties. Her job consists mainly of giving couples information and helping them come to their own decisions about the matter, a task that she insists, is not as bad as it may seem.

“You give them information, but you don’t advise them,” Burt said. “You want both to do the right thing, and sometimes they do it without even knowing it.”

Since Burt is still an attorney, she admits that it is difficult not to take sides and give one of the parties advice.

“It’s very different than practicing law,” Burt said. “You really have to remove yourself and let them yell and scream and fight it out.”

Sometimes, working around the quirks of the law proves to be the most difficult task of all.

“During one case, a woman’s husband was determined to have been beating her,” Burt said. “The woman had obtained a restraining order and so we were forced to terminate all litigation because the two couldn’t be in the same room together.”

Some cases do have a happy ending. According to Burt, mediation is a less expensive means of counseling, which often allows couples to preserve their relationship.

“In one case I had, after the litigation was over, the couple got back together,” Burt said.

After graduating from law school at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., she began working for the judicial branch of Connecticut, both as a clerk of the court, where she handled the administrative duties of the clerk’s office, and as a trial court administrator, where she supervised clerks and oversaw all the functions of the district.

Although she was rapidly rising up the ranks, Burt decided to set her priorities straight.

“I left for personal reasons, I wanted to spend more time with my family,” Burt said, “but also I wanted to try something different.”

Burt is married to attorney and self-starter, Edward Burt, who also teaches Legal Studies at Quinnipiac University. They have three children. He owns his own practice in Hamden. The Law Office of Edward Burt, where his wife works as a divorce mediator, an arrangement that seems to be working just fine for the couple.

“It’s good,” Burt said. “It has its moments, but we’ve been working together for a long time. I wouldn’t recommend it to all families, but if it works, go for it.”

She feels that the most important thing a good lawyer must do is: prepare, prepare, prepare.

“Preparation is key,” Burt said. “You don’t have to be a genius to be a lawyer. You do need to use common sense and do your homework; a lot of it is like running a business.”

She also says that lawyers must be fair and honest to their clients while also being realistic.

“You have an obligation to your clients to do the best you can, but you also have to be realistic about the situation,” Burt said. “Some lawyers will promise you the moon, but when it comes down to it you have to say what I always say to my clients: ‘I am giving you the information, but you are the one who has to make the decision and do what you want with it.'”

Currently, Burt teaches one section of LE101: [Introduction to the American Legal System] on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10-10:50 a.m.

Burt knows that not everyone is cut out to be a lawyer, but hopes to teach students to appreciate the system that, she says, affects everyone’s lives.

“I would like to instill the beginnings of an interest in those aspects of our lives,” Burt said. “I especially like to talk about current events since many of the cases in the book can be very dry.”

Despite its weaknesses, Burt feels that the judicial system is something that everyone can appreciate.

“Law can be fascinating, tedious and slow, but there are things about it that everyone has to appreciate,” Burt said. “I want students to take a little bit more out of the things they hear. After all, we are all citizens and the law affects all of our lives in some way. Despite its flaws, it is the greatest system in the world.”


About Dana Owen