Back in 2001, Collaborative Attorney and Mediator (and Evanston resident) Brigitte Bell was looking to rent a conference room in Evanston for her mediation clients who didn’t want to trek to her downtown office. When she walked into the 500 Davis Building, she looked out the window and knew she had found a peaceful place for her clients to gather.
“I have so much light and lake and sky in here,” explains Bell, one of the founders and first co-presidents of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois (CLII),
“I truly believe that a beautiful view can help us all maintain perspective. I once went to a seminar for mediators about how to find ways to maintain inner balance when their clients are particularly challenging or upset. One of the suggestions was to think of a particularly peaceful and beautiful place to go to in your head to find some calm. Well, for me, that space is my main conference room, and I just love that.”
It’s this care and concern for the wellbeing of her clients that has long set Bell apart within what is becoming an ever more competitive profession. This characteristic is also one that was taught to her as a child and that she has always practiced ever since in both her professional work and her private life.
“I was always a rule follower and a good student; one of those people who always wanted to do things right and make things right,” recalls Bell, one of four siblings who all became the first in their family to go to college. “So ever since I was young, I have tried to focus on bringing the right tools to the problem first to understand it and then to solve it to the extent it was possible. Before I got trained as a mediator, however, I was more inclined to believe I had the ‘right’ solution. But now I have learned that the real strength is in helping empower clients to find their own solutions and make their own choices. That means helping them to understand how the emotional and financial constraints of divorce and the conflict it creates impact their choices and their decisions. The better I can help them understand these, the better their ultimate choices become. It’s never easy, but it’s always challenging.”
Indeed, mediation can be a messy business. Yet, Bell has long been proactive to think of ways to combat this—especially when she worked to help start the Collaborative Practice in the State of Illinois.
“I like the challenge of trying to see each person I deal with, both clients and colleagues, as an individual,” says Bell, who loves to work on puzzles and brain games to reduce stress outside of the office. “Each person’s case is unique, and figuring out how to help the clients define and find their best solutions is an ongoing challenge—especially when society and friends so often have ‘advice’ about what they ‘should get’ or ‘should do’ that may actually not be a good fit for them.”
Of course, in her field, it would be easy to understand if Bell became somewhat down on the idea of happy endings. But personally, she has made it happen.
“My husband and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this year, and we are very excited and relieved—as are out three wonderful children—to have made it here,” she concludes. “All the work I do with my clients has helped me be able to step back from some of the problems at home and put them in better perspective.”
Brigitte Schmidt Bell’s Evanston office is located at 500 Davis Street, Suite 1006, 847-733-0933, brigittebell.com.