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Edith Osman:

Leading the Way

South Florida Legal Guide - 2010 Edition

Not long ago, Edith G. Osman was representing a father involved in a bitter custody dispute. His ex-wife was seeking an injunction to prevent him from traveling with their child and a court order stripping their child of foreign citizenship to make it more difficult to leave the country. After hearing the arguments, the judge told the mother's attorney, “Go outside and talk to Edith.” Within an hour, she had resolved the matter favorably for her client, and the child.

“I really don't believe you should be trying family law cases,” says Osman, a Carlton Fields shareholder who leads the firm's family law practice in Miami. A Supreme Court certified civil and family law mediator, Osman says, “You need to try to work things out in order to do what's best for the children.”

With her high-energy personality, empathy for others, ability to frame difficult issues and decisiveness inside and outside the courtroom, Osman is recognized throughout the state for her professional leadership. In her roles as president of The Florida Bar and of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) a decade earlier, Osman opened the door for a new generation of women attorneys.

As Jesse H. Diner, a partner at Atkinson, Diner, Stone, Mankuta & Ploucha, P.A., and 2009 president of The Florida Bar, says, She was an outstanding president.  She toiled long and hard on the issues of the day and time and
again displayed the fortitude to make the difficult decisions a Bar president often must make.

ABSORBING MANY CULTURES

A child of Holocaust survivors who emigrated from Latvia to New York at the start of World War II, Osman was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx, where she spoke almost as much Russian as English. Her parents, Arthur and Judith Udem, both had college degrees and emphasized the importance of education to her and her brother Stephen. Heeding that advice, Osman graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, with a major in Spanish after spending her junior year abroad in Madrid.

A year after graduation, she married Mitchel Osman and moved to Europe when her husband enrolled in a Belgian medical school. They spent three years in Belgium, and started a family with daughter Jacqueline. “I enjoyed Europe because I loved learning about different cultures and languages,” says Osman, who still speaks some French and Dutch along with Spanish and Russian.

The Osmans returned to the States in the mid 1970s so Mitchel could complete his medical studies at the University of Miami, his original home town. Meanwhile, Osman obtained a temporary teaching certificate, had a second child, Daniel, and pondered her own future. “I was debating whether or not to get a master's degree in business, because I knew I wanted another degree and a substantial professional career,” she recalls.

At the time, the family lived in a condo, where Osman served on the board alongside several local attorneys. “I told myself, if they can do it, I can do it,” she says. “That's become my theme in life.”

While raising a 6- and a 2-year-old, Osman enrolled at the University of Miami law school, and immediately found her professional calling, what she calls her “love affair with the law.” She earned her law degree in 1983, and went to work for Miami firms Podhurst Orseck, Kimbrell & Hamann, and Dunn & Lodish. Meanwhile, she and her husband divorced. “In those early years I did a lot of commercial litigation for big-firm clients,” she says. “I have always been a hard worker, and always put in very long hours.”

MOVING INTO FAMILY LAW

In 1993, Osman opened her own boutique firm and began getting a steady flow of referrals for family law cases. By the time she joined Carlton Fields in 1998, she had built a substantial practice in matrimonial law: divorces, custody matters, pre-nuptials and paternity cases. Today, her practice extends beyond South Florida to Orlando, Sarasota, Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Naples. “Edith is an intelligent, organized and ethical person,” said Susan Pilossoph, a former client. “She is very effective in the courtroom, and I felt confident with her advice.”

In recent years, Osman has represented professional basketball and baseball players – and their spouses – in divorce, paternity and child support matters. She proved that one client, a famous rock star, was not the father in a paternity case, and prepared a pre-nuptial agreement for a famous rap singer, who tied the knot before signing the document.

Osman says one of the reasons for her success is the ability to take control of a highly charged emotional situation. “In family law, you have to rein everyone in and focus on the real issues,” she says. “That means stepping back and looking at what's a reasonable demand, and what is not.”

Over the past two decades, Osman has seen a dramatic growth in court-ordered mediation in family cases. “Most lawyers welcome mediation now,” she says, “because the courts are overwhelmed with cases. And a client doesn't want to have to pay the cost of a two-week trial if the matter can be settled through mediation.”

A LEADER IN LEGAL COMMUNITY

Since joining FAWL in law school, Osman has been a leader in Florida's legal profession, working her way through innumerable Bar positions before ultimately attaining The Florida Bar presidency. Throughout this time, she served as a friend, coach and mentor to hundreds of other female attorneys. “I hope the day will come when gender is no longer an issue,” she says. “But studies show that there are still gender disparities in our field.”

As president of The Florida Bar, Osman created a historical joint project between the Bar and FAWL that resulted in the publication of a book about Florida's first 150 women lawyers. “We wanted to recognize the women who were truly the pioneers,” she says. Recently, Osman was elected president of the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society, where one of her goals is a project to memorialize the African-American experience on the Court.

Many organizations throughout Florida have recognized Osman for her efforts on behalf of minorities as well as her work to break the “glass ceiling” on women's careers. “To me, you lead by example,” says Osman, who became the first woman elected to the executive committee of The Florida Bar, and the Bar's second female president. “My philosophy has always been that women should be treated equally and they should perform equally with men.”

In November, Osman received the Jurisprudence Award from the Florida Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League. This prestigious award was presented to Osman in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to the legal profession and the community at large” as well as her “dynamic leadership, social responsibility and passion for excellence.”

Asked why an attorney should be active in the Bar, Osman says, “It provides many rewards. Friendships and relationships with outstanding attorneys are at the top of the list. These attorneys serve as examples of practicing law at the highest level of professionalism. Bar service makes you realize how exceptional our profession is and provides a platform to make a difference in our profession and our community.”

When Osman isn't practicing law, she divides her time between enjoying her family and exploring interesting new places as a sophisticated world traveler. Her journeys have included cruising the rivers of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea as well as trekking through more exotic countries as Vietnam and Thailand. In 2004, she took her entire family on a trip to Riga, Latvia with a Latvian Holocaust Survivors group to allow her parents an opportunity to visit their homeland and to allow her family to see their roots through her parents' eyes. “My goals in life are simple: to be happy, enjoy my family and work, and continue giving back to the community,” she says.

© Scherley Busch / THE FLORIDA BAR JOURNAL

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