10 Questions with Debra Bulluck

Debra Bulluck is an associate attorney with Moss & Barnett's family law group. She recently received the Alice O. Lynch Award from Violence-Free Minnesota. Here, Bulluck answers ten questions from Hennepin Lawyer about her journey to family law, the benefits she sees from having conversations about domestic violence and the law, and the self-care practices she uses to de-stress.

What is the easiest way to start a conversation with you? What’s something you love to talk about? 

I love to learn about other people’s "why" and what they are passionate about, so that is a great way to engage in conversation with me.  I love to talk about current events and elevating and celebrating the achievements of black women. 

You were honored with Violence-Free Minnesota’s Alice O. Lynch Award, in recognition for your efforts towards challenging oppressive systems and norms. How does your commitment to social justice manifest in your work, and what role do you believe family law plays in creating a more equitable society? 

My commitment to social justice manifests in my work through the types of cases I take on, how I analyze problems, examine potential solutions, and my overall collaboration with clients and other stakeholders in the process. Family law has a responsibility to navigate conflict involving two of the most precious motivations in an individual’s life, their children and their money.  There is not a one-size fits all approach to family structures engaged in family court, especially when current or former household members have experienced violence in the home. 

The application of family law wields a power to disrupt or to perpetuate the cycles of inequities that may exist in a family dynamic.  This may be due to court intervention, the parties’ ability to build creative solutions, or a household’s intersection with other legal processes simultaneously.  Family law can play a role in creating a more equitable society when it navigates an individual family’s conflict in a wholistic way, equips families with tools to reduce or diffuse conflict, and shift power imbalances to promote better outcomes.

Can you share a bit about your journey into the field of family law and the motivations that led you to pursue this practice area?  

Although I went into law school with an open mind regarding areas of practice, I knew I wanted to help children and families on some level.  Prior to law school, I worked at a nonprofit mainly focusing on youth development. It was there I saw the intersection and impact of various legal systems had on the children and families I worked with, such as immigration, child protection, child support, public benefits, and custody. During law school, I had the opportunity to work as the 2L paralegal of the family law clinic and eventually become the student director of the combined family and immigrant justice clinic where we partnered with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. It was in this role that I experienced first-hand training in complex family law issues. 

From there I was committed to pursuing a career that focused on solutions for transforming families.  Once I learned about the various specialty courts that other states offered, I pursued clerkship opportunities in Minnesota district courts. I was fortunate to clerk for the Honorable Mary Madden in the Fourth Judicial District in Hennepin County Family Court. Before entering private practice, I gained invaluable experiences at Standpoint (St. Paul), Minnesota’s statewide agency, who’s mission is to promote justice for domestic and sexual violence victims.  

What is one personal achievement or milestone in your career that you are particularly proud of? 

Thus far in my career, I am particularly proud that I have been able to use and nurture my legal skills in the public, nonprofit, private, and higher education sectors.  

As an adjunct professor at St. Thomas School of Law, you help law students understand how domestic violence intersects with the law. What benefits do you see from having conversations about domestic violence? 

Having conversations about domestic violence (“DV”) is beneficial as it fosters the idea that DV should no longer be taboo subject matter, and it can be a support mechanism for those engaged in the dialogue. Conversations about DV can be difficult, vulnerable, triggering, enlightening, and freeing as it creates an opportunity for folks to examine the types of relationships they may have witnessed or experienced themselves or perhaps challenge bias, assumptions, beliefs regarding character traits of abusers and who may have experienced abuse. 

What trends or changes to the area of family law do you foresee in the next few years? 

The use of technology as it supports co-parenting relationships is a trend I believe we will see more of moving forward.  I think we will see more understanding and acknowledgement of the role of coercive control in family structures and how that will impact parties’ ability to co-parent or navigate dissolution proceedings. 

In your opinion, what are some key initiatives or policy changes needed to further promote equity and justice within the family law system? 

There needs to be offerings of bilingual forms, financial support for families to pay for other system providers fees (e.g. hiring neutrals, experts, evaluators), and infrastructure to fund low-bono representation. There needs to be more culturally specific responses.  Finally, making it the norm to routinely use interdisciplinary methods to resolve cases (mental health, case workers, decision-maker/lead facilitator to coordinate the support services, or incorporation of transformative (restorative) justice practices). 

What do you do to prioritize self-care and well-being in a field that can be emotionally demanding and challenging? 

I prioritize incorporating intentional movement and/or meditation throughout most days of the week (e.g. walking to work; committing to a dance class after work; utilizing the wellness room in our building).  Regular massages are a must! 

What are some personal and professional goals you have for 2024? 

This year I hope to travel to at least one state that I have not been to yet.  A professional goal is to expand my practice to offer mediation.  

What's a skill or hobby you have that people might be surprised to learn about outside of your legal and volunteer work? 

I take adult ballet classes regularly.
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