A Day in the Life of Anne Cochran Freeman and Monica Mazzei

Monica Mazzei and Anne-Cochran Freeman
Monica Mazzei and Anne-Cochran Freeman

Photo Credit: Sean Pedruco

When San Francisco’s most powerful couples have to make important decisions regarding their personal lives—whether it be a prenup to the wedding of the decade or a discrete divorce after a dysfunctional breakup—they turn to Anne Cochran Freeman and Monica Mazzei. The family law ladies practice at Sideman and Bancroft and some consider them to be the Bay Area’s answer to celebrity divorce lawyer, Laura Wasser. The dynamic duo consider themselves marriage experts who consider their elite client’s happiness of utmost importance. They’ve seen it all, from expensive fights over a four-post bed (which they found out was later burned by the angry ex-husband!) to secret lives found after scrubbing household electronics to custody battles over Siamese cats. Since we’re fascinated by the unique view that this pair into a distinctive often-not-talked-about world, we asked them to share what a day in their life is like. Below they share the juicy details in their own words.

Anne Cochran Freeman

5:00 a.m. My alarm goes off and I wake up. I turn off my sleep app (Sleep Cycle) and check the graph of my sleep the night before. I started using it about a year ago in an effort to sleep more and to be more conscious of the quality of my sleep. I get up, put on my work out clothes, feed our black lab, Molly, and I sit down to meditate for 10-20 minutes. Many of my clients are in crisis, whether actual or perceived. If they’re not in crisis, per se, even the most calculating, laser-focused venture capitalists become very emotional during a divorce, especially when a conflict arises around their children. It’s important that I keep myself grounded, maintaining equanimity, to minimize my reactivity throughout the day.

5:30 a.m. I get myself a cup of coffee. I go outside and sit down in my yard. I’m from the East Coast, and I love a brisk chill outside, where I can see just a bit of the steam coming up off my coffee. I sit down with my phone, look over my calendar for the day, check my emails and texts to see if anything came in overnight that needs to be dealt with immediately. Some of my clients are in different time zones, in Asia or Europe, traveling for work, or traveling with their children for spring break. I also get emails and texts from clients in the middle of the night.

6:00 a.m. Yoga class. I try to work out three to four days per week – yoga, barre classes, weights/TRX training, and when all else fails, I have an elliptical machine in my garage. My family loves skiing, so November through – well, April this year! – we ski, ski, ski. I used to be a runner, but had to stop about 5 years ago. Miss it dearly.

7:10 a.m. I get home, and my kids are at the table having breakfast. We live in Orinda. My husband and I have been married for 15 years; he is an attorney, too. Our son is 10, and our daughter is 6. Our kids’ school is about one mile from our house. Our son rides his bike to and from school every day unless it’s pouring rain; my husband and I trade off taking our daughter to school in the morning. I hop in the shower and get ready for work. My husband leaves at 7:30 for Court. I go over my son’s math with him to get ready for his quiz. Get the kids ready for school, they make their bed, we talk about their activities for the afternoon, so they know where they need to be when. We have a nanny that starts work each day at 1pm who takes them to their activities, but the kids like to know what’s going on for the day.

8:00 a.m. Our son leaves and bikes to school. A few minutes later I take our daughter to school, and then I drive to my office in San Francisco. Sometimes I drive, sometimes I take the train. It depends on where else I may need to go that day, and how late into the evening that I will be at the office or in the city. I use the drive to take conference calls or to listen to podcasts. My favorite podcasts are the Axe Files and 10% Happier.

9:00 a.m. I arrive at my office in downtown San Francisco. I stop at Peets at Two Embarcadero for a small almond milk latte with three shots of espresso. I touch base with my assistant about my meetings and calls for the day, pleadings/filings that week. We talk about the newest intakes (potential clients) who have called wanting to meet with me. We review each one, decide which ones to schedule, which we need more information about, and which do not seem to be a good fit. For this last category, we provide referrals to other attorneys. I check in with our family law associate to review the cases she is working on with me, deliverables, upcoming court dates, filing deadlines, pending discovery, draft financial disclosures, settlement offers.

10:00 a.m. I meet with a new premarital agreement client. She is from a very wealthy family, with wealth and business endeavors of her own. She and her fiancé have been together for nine years, and are getting married in August. She was sent to meet with me by her family office, and it was clear at the beginning of the meeting that she was only meeting with me to tell her family wealth advisor that she did. By the end of our hour-and-a-half meeting, she was relaxed and calm. One thing I like to discuss with potential premarital agreement clients, especially if they don’t know if they want one, is that if they don’t draft their own premarital agreement, California will provide one for them, and are they sure that’s what they want? The younger generations, those in their 30’s and especially 20’s, are comparatively more ready, willing, and able than those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, to discuss their finances, plans, intents, and goals with one another, to have full transparency, and to have difficult conversations in the name of being practical. They don’t see this as being unromantic, or unsupportive of marriage. This turned out to be a lovely consultation for a premarital agreement and by the end of our meeting, she saw the wisdom of going through the premarital agreement process, and that doing so is an act supportive of partnership. The premarital agreement process is akin to advanced marriage planning and counseling.

11:30 a.m. I get out of my meeting to find several emails and text messages in a high net worth, high conflict child custody matter – both from my client and opposing counsel. It’s spring break time which is difficult, because unlike Thanksgiving for instance, not all schools have the same spring break. My client has booked a vacation with one of the children, while the other child is still in school, to go to Europe. As this is a matter that needs constant monitoring, opposing counsel and I advised our clients to appoint a private judge to keep the matter from escalating. I write to the private judge, requesting a telephone conference with counsel to attempt to diffuse the situation and find a reasonable solution.

12:00 p.m. I have lunch with a wealth advisor for high net worth clients at Kokkari. I typically have a couple wealth advisors reach out to me each month for lunch, the goal being to forge a symbiotic relationship where we each refer business to the other. I always bring up discussing premarital agreements with their clients. I take the opportunity to educate on basic community property law, I have learned over the years that investment advisors are often misinformed, or simply do not know, California community property law. Finally, I take the opportunity to invite the advisor to refer a client to me even if he/she is just having marital issues – not for divorce planning, necessarily, but to understand financial rights during marriage, community property rights, what divorce may mean in terms of custody of the children, etc.

1:30 p.m. I join my associate for a telephone conference with a client that she has been working with. There is an upcoming hearing on child custody. This is a difficult case where we represent a father who has been given full custody of the children because of the mother’s mental issues. He is a partner at his firm, works hard, earns several million a year, and is now 100% responsible for the children. It’s sad in some ways: the mother needs help and treatment and won’t get it; she had to move out. But now, under dad’s exclusive care, the children are now thriving. I see up close how maddening it is to live under these conditions. It’s always challenging, no matter how intelligent, wealthy, or capable people are, to accept that we can’t change other people. We can give them resources, consequences, but ultimately it’s up to them. We can only act in accordance with other’s decisions. I take the “counselor” part of my job very seriously.

2:30 p.m. I meet with a new client, a woman who clearly loves her husband, but is getting to the point that she simply can’t live with his controlling, manipulative ways. They met in graduate school over 20 years prior. She is the primary caretaker for their three children and works very part-time. He works and is the primary breadwinner. She is crippled by the thought of sharing equal child custody with him, and is considering making an offer whereby she takes much less than she may be entitled to financially, in order to maintain her primary caretaker status. We discuss community property law, the disparity in their respective earning capacities, the best interest standard regarding the children. I start to work with her to unpack her fears and anxieties, and play out a number of what-if scenarios, seeking to help her detach herself from fixed results. We discuss negotiation tactics, and the need to arm herself with information, information best gained now, while she still has access. She leaves not yet certain that she will file for divorce, but feeling less scared, empowered with knowledge of her rights, what the court would consider in a contested child custody action.

4:30 p.m. I have a telephone conference with a child custody/co-parenting counselor and an opposing counsel. Co-parenting counseling is about to begin in a high conflict matter – my client wants a divorce, but the other party does not. Not wanting the divorce, the other party is punishing my client by not allowing him to see his children. California is a no-fault state; it is not required that both parties consent to a divorce. Likewise it’s not necessary to allege let alone prove any fault. If one person wants a divorce, he/she will be able to divorce. And a party can’t be punished for wanting a divorce, by having his/her children withheld. Each counsel provides their client’s side of the story to give the co-parenting counselor background before meeting with both parties.

5:00 – 7:00 p.m. In any given week, I attend at least approximately two board or special committee meetings, both professional and community-based. Tonight I attend a Board meeting for San Francisco Classical Voice (SFCV). I was extremely fortunate to receive an education rich in the arts. My father played Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, and Vivaldi in the car when he drove us to school. I way in every play I could be in from age five through junior high. Then I fell in love with language and writing as an art form, both in English and French. Before going to law school, I considered getting a PhD in English Literature become an academic. I became involved with SFCV to support music and the arts in the Bay Area, to promote its continuing importance in our culture, and to each of us individually.

7:00 p.m. I return to my office and spend an hour reviewing my emails from the day. I receive over 100 emails per day – that doesn’t count my personal email, which I keep separate.

8:00 p.m. I drive home. During my drive I catch up with a girlfriend from high school. We went to a boarding school in New England. We are part of a group of about 20 women who meet monthly during the school year (September through May), originally under the auspice of being a book club. Now we call ourselves a “life club.” We are hosting this month’s gathering together. We will be serving plant-based cuisine from Seed + Salt, founded by a friend of mine, and discussing “clean” eating for mind and body health. This is a group of powerful, fascinating women – a professor at Stanford Business School, a former Managing Director at Goldman now in the fight of her life against cancer, a landscape architect, one of San Francisco’s top real estate brokers, a life coach, a founder of an successful start-up, and more.

9:00 p.m. At home, our nanny gives me a run down of the afternoon and evening before she leaves. I check on my children who are both asleep, and change into pajamas myself. I check that homework is done, and confirm activities and a play date for the next day. I check my emails again, and review my schedule for the next day. I make a list of to-dos for the next day. I send emails to my assistant, and to my associate, each delegating a list of tasks to tackle the next day in service to our clients. I will be leaving the office by 5 the next day, to be home by 6 so it’s important to prioritize and be effective. Especially as inevitably, there will be fire drills (unforeseen client crises) that will require my attention.

10:30 p.m. I wind down by scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. It’s part guilty pleasure, part creative outlet, part socializing. I’ve been on Facebook for a long, long time. My younger brother got me started over 10 years ago. Mark Zuckerberg went to our high school, albeit after either one of us went there. “The Facebook” at our school was a picture book/directory that was published each year around parents’ weekend in October. Our father was a U.S. diplomat. My brother and I grew up in Japan mostly, until we went to boarding school. Through Facebook, I am in touch with three-quarters of my 5th grade class from Tokyo. They live all over the world. I love checking in and seeing what people are up to, thinking about, reading. It keeps things in perspective for me, especially with the emotional intensity and conflict of my day-to-day work.

11:00 p.m. Lights out. Sleep Cycle on.

Mazzeri and Freeman
Mazzeri and Freeman

Photo Credit: Sean Pedruco

Monica Mazzei

5:00-6:00 a.m. I wake up and check/respond to emails. I have clients in multiple time zones, including Asia and the Middle East, so I receive emails at all hours of the night. Many of my younger clients would rather text instead of email so I usually have several texts to respond to as well. I shower and get ready for the day before my daughter wakes up. Every morning I say aloud at least two things I am grateful for – it starts my day off on a positive note.

7:00 a.m. I am a single mom to my six-year-old daughter who lives with me 50% of the time. I wake her up for school, make her breakfast and prepare her lunch for the day.

8:00 a.m. Drop my daughter off at school. I often take conference calls in the car since this is a good opportunity to multi task.

9:00 a.m. I arrive at my office in downtown San Francisco. I usually don’t have time to eat breakfast at home so I typically have a hard boiled egg and a coffee when I get to the office. My assistant checks in with me about the schedule for the day (meetings, conference calls, court appearances etc.)

10:00 a.m. I met with my client who has a very successful start up in Silicon Valley. We discussed the terms for his pre-marital agreement. He and his fiancée are very philanthropic so we are building a provision into the pre-marital agreement to establish a private foundation for charitable giving.

11:00 a.m. My next meeting is with a divorce client. She was married for over 20 years and we are discussing what type of financial settlement will best address her needs going forward. This has been a very emotional process for her but she is now at a stage where she is looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life. With every case, I ride the emotional rollercoaster of divorce with the client. It’s always a good place to be when the client has processed the fact the divorce is happening and can have a positive outlook on the future and moving forward.

12:00 p.m. I typically grab a sandwich or salad and eat lunch ay my desk unless I have a lunch meeting. Today I eat a salad at my desk and have a conference call with a restaurant in Napa to finalize the menu for a private dinner we are hosting for other top family law attorneys in the Bay Area. There is a small group of family law attorneys in and around San Francisco who handle high net worth cases and we are a very collegial group.

1:00 p.m. I met with an associate lawyer in our family law group to discuss a case she is working on for me. One of the things I love about what I do is mentoring young lawyers. It is rewarding to watch a young attorney come into her own and gain confidence and poise.

2:00 p.m. I met with a new premarital client who is marrying in July. We discuss what pre-marital agreements can and cannot do. It’s always interesting to hear the misperceptions in the public about pre-marital agreements. This client asked whether the agreement can include a clause that provides the other person does not receive any spousal support if they are unfaithful. Since California is a “no fault” state, infidelity is not relevant so a provision like that would not be enforceable.

3:00 p.m. I try to work out 3-4 days per week but my schedule doesn’t always allow me to. When I can squeeze a work out in I like Bar Method, Pilates and yoga.

4:00 p.m. My clients are very busy and I often meet them at their homes and offices. Today, I meet one of my clients at his office in Silicon Valley. It’s always interesting to visit a tech office-they are so different than a law office. This tech office has its own rock climbing wall. If I hadn’t been wearing a dress I would have tried it out.

6:00 p.m. I arrive back at the office and respond to emails. I estimate that I receive at least 100 emails per day. I am constantly checking and responding to emails on my phone throughout the day but I need to spend at least one hour a day devoted just to responding to emails

7:00 p.m. On the nights I do not have my daughter, I am usually attending a charity or law related event. Tonight I am attending the dinner Gala for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners with other attorneys from my firm. The stories about the organization’s work are so inspiring.

10:00 p.m. I arrive home and check and respond to emails. I do not have a 9am to 5pm job-my client’s have needs and often urgent issues which need to be addressed immediately. Every night before bed I review my schedule for the following day.

11:30 p.m. I usually watch one reality show (my guilty pleasure) before I go to bed.