Attorney Spotlight: New York

Stacy D. Phillips ●

This edition highlights a very special Matrimonial & Family Law colleague in our New York Office: Sheila G. Riesel.

I have known Sheila for many, many years as she was a partner at my grandfather’s and my father’s law firm in New York, Phillips Nizer. She followed my career as I graduated from Columbia Law School, worked as a summer intern in the U.S. District Court in New York, moved to Southern California, and eventually launched my own family law firm. Sheila landed at Blank Rome following a merger in 2000. She called me in 2009 when she learned the firm was opening a Los Angeles office. Because of my respect for her, I seriously considered the prospect of joining Blank Rome, but the timing was not yet right. However, Sheila planted a seed with me that lay dormant for a few years but eventually sprouted when I joined Blank Rome in 2016. For that, and for her abundant calmness, wisdom, and caring, I will always be grateful to her!

Sheila practices in all areas of matrimonial law including pre-and-post nuptial agreements; separation agreements; actions for divorce, custody, and equitable distribution; and complex valuation and custody disputes. “The essence of what I do is to help my clients through one of the hardest experiences of their lives,” says Sheila. “For me, helping people is the most gratifying part of my job.”

She has represented clients in the entertainment industry, including Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Howard Stern, Geraldo Rivera, and Alec Baldwin, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and hedge fund and financial institution c-suite executives.

Sheila is a proponent of an early consultation and being informed, which she believes will alleviate fear. “Information is power.” Significant decisions in a marriage with problems, like changing jobs or purchasing or renovating a home, can have a major impact if the couple then divorces. New York is an equitable distribution jurisdiction, which means that, without a pre-nuptial agreement, any asset acquired during a marriage is subject to “equitable division” upon divorce. In New York, “equitable distribution” is determined by more than a dozen criteria, including length of the marriage, children, and who enhanced assets during the marriage. The only asset typically not divided relatively evenly is business interests, which normally benefit the person holding the business interest more than their spouse.

One way to protect an asset when a marriage is on the rocks, says Sheila, is to “have a frank discussion with your spouse about the asset and consider a post-nuptial agreement.”

Significantly, prior to practicing matrimonial and family law, Sheila was a criminal defense lawyer who argued three times before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Outside of work, Sheila enjoys spending time with her husband and two grown daughters (one a New York prosecutor and the other a cranial-facial pediatric surgeon) and has raised three American Brittany Spaniels. She enjoys hiking, travel, and reading non-fiction, having recently read The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson, about the first woman Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Jennifer Doudna.