Family Matters

Attorney Janet Gemmell found her litigation focus

GemmellwebWhen considering a potential career path, JANET GEMMELL, now a board-certified family law attorney, knew what she did and did not want to do.

“You don’t fall into law without knowing you want to help people,” she says. “But my entire family worked in medicine. My mom is a nurse. My dad worked in hospital food service. My aunt and uncles are nurses. There was no chance I was doing medicine!”

Gemmell graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1996 and attended law school at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. After graduating in 1999, she landed at the Law Offices of Timothy C. Morris. Next, she practiced large-scale tobacco litigation with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem. She then joined the prestigious Rosen Law Firm in 2001.

There Gemmell found her place in family law.

“In law school, you often hear, ‘Don’t do family law,’” she says with a laugh. “But I was so good at it, and I got so much out of it.”

She recalls the first time a client gave her a gift after a difficult custody case. “They brought me a gift, not because they had a great outcome in court, but because I was there with them during the entire process,” she says.

“That’s when I realized it’s not just about the work I’m doing. As an attorney, you cannot control the outcome of a family,” Gemmell says. “The attorney is a facilitator. I realized I can have a big impact on families.”

In 2007, Gemmell opened her own practice, Cape Fear Family Law. The firm now boasts nine other attorneys and more than twenty support staff along the North Carolina coast.

“I teach them that the most important part of being an attorney or being in the legal community is first and foremost to care,” Gemmel says. “Our mission is we take care. By that I mean, we take care – in this order: of ourselves, our families, friends, and colleagues, our clients, and then our community. And it really needs to be that way to be healthy, provide families with the support they need, and to get the work done. We are an emotional anchor for our clients.”

Gemmel indicates that the definition of families has changed since she began practicing law.

“Families aren’t just a mom, a dad, and two kids anymore,” she says. “It is an interesting point for the court to have some type of moral or value compass and make decisions about people that don’t have the same ones. We are a changing society, and as we change it’s easy to see the problems of inclusivity as well as moral compass. How do you balance those things? How does the court do it? It’s also important to be attorneys who go to court because we have to know what the judges are doing.”

Gemmel says she finds it empowering that she and her colleagues have an impact on families.

“That lasts well beyond our touch,” she says. “It’s not breaking a family up. It’s helping them redefine the future. And what’s more important than that?”

To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to

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