For Laura A. Baluch, the death of her father eight years ago offered perspective for her family law practice at Rockford’s Barrick, Switzer, Long, Balsley & Van Evera. “That, for me, was this awakening moment,” she says. “We have one life, and that’s it. Why would you spend one minute not being happy? That’s one reason I feel like I’m helping people.” Baluch’s father, who died of a heart attack, was a central ﬁgure in her life and in her decision to become a lawyer. She admired his position as a police ofﬁcer. As a second grader, she remembers telling him that she wanted to grow up to be a police ofﬁcer, too. “He told me I should be a lawyer because I deal with the same things, but it’s safer,” she smiles.
A native of nearby Durand, Baluch knew law was in her future, and she nabbed any opportunity to get closer to it. She grew up going to Law Day programs and took an internship at the Winnebago County Clerk’s ofﬁce as an 18-year-old. “It gave me the chance to see the work of the courthouse and meet lawyers,” she says. “It solidiﬁed my career path.” That path took her to Northern Illinois University, where she studied communications before graduating magna cum laude from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Baluch became the ﬁrst woman to make partner at Barrick Switzer, paving the way for two more women to become partners so far. She was chosen as the ﬁrst woman to make partner because of her hardworking, aggressive, go-getter attitude, says partner Doug Henry. “She’s good at what she does,” he says. “She gets successful outcomes. And as fun-loving as she is, she is very competitive. She hates to lose, so she works really, really hard preparing.”
Baluch’s practice, focusing on divorce and custody cases, benefited from the fact that she grew up near Rockford and had many connections. But the way she has continued to pour herself into the community has only helped her reputation grow. “She’s out in the community and has been since she started,” Henry says. “Laura is possibly the most sociable person I’ve met in my life. And because she is so likeable, she has been able to market herself well that way.” Of course, it helps that she isn’t just talk — she gets solid results. “She’s been successful in getting clients because she’s been successful in court,” Henry says. “She’s been successful in court because she has put the work in.”
Providing More Than Legal Counsel
There’s a never-ending supply of tissues on Baluch’s ofﬁce desk and a stash of crayons under a bookcase. That’s because her work doesn’t begin and end with legal advice. She’s often a conﬁdant, an encourager, a support system. Her clients have her cellphone number — and she doesn’t mind one bit. “I have people who text me at 6 in the morning, and I have people who text me at 10 at night,” she says. “You can’t get away, but I love to do it. I love helping people. I care about helping them, and I do everything I can to help them.” That could be one reason why Baluch was named Best Family and Marital Attorney in the Rock River Valley two years in a row. She understands their emotional needs and does her best to meet them. “The world is falling when people ﬁrst come in here,” she says. “So we have to get them to the next phase, where they can move forward.” Over the years, Baluch has been named a top family law attorney by the National Academy of Family Law Lawyers and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. She has been published by Thomson Reuters in Strategies for Family Law in Illinois. She is trained as a guardian ad litem and child representative, and she works as a certiﬁed mediator in complex custody cases. At 39, Baluch says her success comes from her compassionate, competitive and aggressive nature. Whether it is divorce, custody or child support, she ﬁghts hard for a resolution but keeps her clients’ sensitive feelings in mind. Not only has she represented friends and family, but she has had clients go on to become her friends. She gives them all the advice and perspective that can be so hard to see in that moment: “You will come out of this,” she tells them. “You will come out happier than you can believe.”
The Challenge of Family Law
Much as she enjoys it, Baluch says handling divorce and custody cases can be emotionally draining. “We, as family attorneys, hold a client’s future in the palm of our hands when it comes to their ﬁnances and their children,” she says. “I stay awake many nights worrying about my clients and trying to ﬁgure out ways to make it better or easier for them, and trying to ﬁgure out strategies to help them win their cases. “It is also very difﬁcult to see the fear that a parent realizes once they know that the person they used to love is trying to take their children away from them in custody cases. Even in cases where it is very unlikely that the other party will prevail, there is still a constant fear that will take its toll on anyone.” The most rewarding cases involve child custody, when Baluch feels she is ﬁghting not just for a parent’s right, but for the best solution for a child. It feels great to have one come to an end. “They are so long and challenging for everyone involved,” she says. “So when you win a custody case, it’s very meaningful.” Bradley Tengler, also a family law attorney in Rockford, has come up against Baluch on cases several times in recent years. He appreciates her kind, friendly manner and also her ability to settle difﬁcult cases. “Laura is an exceptional negotiator and litigator,” he says. “She both knows how to settle cases and litigate aggressively when taking a case to trial.”
At the end of each day, Baluch can go home knowing that she did her best to make a difference for families. And being able to accomplish that while doing something she loves? Incredible. “I always enjoy it,” she says. “I like the contact you have with your clients. You become so close to them and help them with their children. You feel like you’re doing something important.” Baluch ﬁrst met Rockford lawyer Laura Hunt about seven years ago as they worked opposing sides of a case. She was impressed with Baluch’s intelligence and preparedness, and now goes to her for advice. “Laura’s work ethic is admirable because she literally outworks everyone else,” Hunt says. “She has an in-depth knowledge on case law and, as a result, I ﬁnd myself going to her for advice on some of my tough cases. “The most recent advice she gave me involved a case regarding child support enforcement QDROs. She gave me case law and secondary sources which were directly on point. I know that if I ever need anything I can go to her and she will be there for me.”
In the Community
With a practice such as family law, it’s no surprise that Baluch becomes quite popular at parties and gatherings. Everyone, it seems, has a question. “I try to answer their question as much as I can, then I will give them my card,” she says. And she can empathize even more with parents’ questions now that she, too, is a mother. She has a son whose arrival eight years ago drove home the importance of her work. “It changed things quite dramatically,” she says. “After I became a parent, I understood why people are so passionate.” She also can use her own experiences to help people see situations more rationally during a divorce. For instance, a mother might get upset that a father is not attending parent-teacher conferences. Baluch can point out that she and her husband often take turns going to school events, as they balance their household in a healthy and normal way. So the fact that the father wasn’t at parent-teacher conferences might not be a problem in the big picture. “Things that weren’t an issue prior to divorce can become a big deal because you’re going through a divorce,” she says. “I can use my own experience in trying to resolve a matter.” In that sense, being a divorce lawyer can actually be an asset to her own marriage. “It makes us stronger,” she says. “A lot of what I do is counseling people, and I think that helps.” Professionally, Baluch has been involved in the Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Trial Lawyers of America and the American Bar Association. She is former secretary for the Winnebago County Bar Association and Winnebago County Women’s Bar Association, former president of Winnebago County Young Lawyers, and former chairperson of the Winnebago County Bar Association Family Law Section.
When Baluch isn’t at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, acting as scorekeeper or general cheerleader for her third-grade son’s sports. He is active with football, baseball, wrestling and golf. Baluch, too, enjoys golf as well as family dinners with her relatives in nearby Durand. Her family also likes to travel, with recent trips to the Bahamas, Jamaica and Disney World. Baluch feels strongly about participating in community organizations and has been involved with Rockford Women’s Cosmopolitan Club, Ignite, NEXT Rockford, Junior League of Rockford, Club Blue and the American Heart Association. “Our community is very important to me,” she says. “I think that Rockford is an amazing place, with amazing people and wonderful resources. I want the Rockford area to be known for its Midwestern values and as a great place to work and live. I want my son to want to raise his family here when he grows up. I want this area to be the place where my husband and I grow old and retire. There is no other place in the world I would rather live.
“For me, community involvement means helping to make this a better and safe place for me, my family, my friends and my clients.” The bulk of her volunteer time comes as president of the Stateline Chamber of Commerce as it merges two neighboring chambers. There, she works alongside Ryan Rydell, a local business owner who also serves on the chamber board. “She has the kind of passion and skill that only comes from a results-driven work ethic. I know that whenever I have Laura working on a project, it will be done and done right. “Laura was simply amazing in her work with me on merging the Roscoe and Rockton Chambers. At the time, Laura was the vice president of the Roscoe Chamber, and I was the president of the Rockton Chamber. For over 15 years, these organizations were talking about merging, but neither leadership group could make it happen. “It wasn’t until Laura and I came together that we were able to ﬁnd the path of success and lead the way. Without Laura’s help, the Stateline Chamber of Commerce doesn’t exist,” Rydell adds. “Everything that Laura dedicates herself to is better because of it,” he says.
This article by Elizabeth Davies was originally appeared in Emerging Lawyers Magazine for 2016 and has been reprinted with permission. © 2016 Law Bulletin Publishing Co.