American Bar Association

Young lawyers rest assured, there is work for you.

Today a young lawyer met with me to ask for help starting her own law firm. While I still consider myself a “start-up” and love to learn about business, it reminded me of some things I think are true (and which I told her). Some of these thoughts include the fact that people need lawyers; they really need lawyers. While the public may not think highly of lawyers, opinions often change (for the better) when a lawyer is hired and the client sees a good lawyer at work. But most importantly, as I said to the young lawyer, is that it can be done. A law practice can be built and can flourish, with nothing more than hard work and a dedication to integrity. It may take time, but lawyers’ reputations are their most valuable commodity and reputations are not gained overnight.

And the most important thing that I think a young lawyer can do to help themselves? Ask questions. Ask those who have established a practice and most importantly, those you respect. Good lawyers want to help. Not only their clients, but the bar in general (since that will trickle down and hopefully help all clients). I hope I was able to help her, but I know she will be fine, if for no other reason than because she had, and has the initiative to ask the right questions and to succeed.


ABA FLS Brochure available now

The American Bar Association, Family Law Section’s Fall CLE Brochure is out and available on line (click here to view it). The seminar will be held in Law Vegas at the Encore (Wynn) Hotel October 26-29, 2011.

We have worked hard to develop an exciting and educational program. Topics include: “Saving a Stolen Childhood: How to Prevent and Resolve International Kidnapping Cases,” and “Diminishing Returns: Effects of Illness, Psychological Problems, and Addiction on Support Calculations”.

The speakers and program producers have worked very hard to organize and create this exciting program and we hope you will join us. Please pull up the brochure, sign up and join us. Again, click here for the brochure: BROCHURE.


ABA meeting informative and rewarding

The Annual American Bar Association meeting, held this year in Toronto, has been quite interesting.  I have gone to meetings for all sorts of committees (Commission on Youth at Risk, and many others) and seminars on all sorts of topics (including gay marriage and the future of marriage and family law).  At a committee breakfast, I learned of a social media initiative to educate parents on how their children may perceive their parents or other’s views on homosexuality.  They have created a video that may go viral (thekidsarelistening.org).

There are also programs on line to help lawyers learn how to represent children including how to interview children located on the website of the Litigation Section of the ABA. This was done by the Litigation Section’s Children’s Rights committee.

But most importantly, as always, is the camaraderie. Seeing local metropolitan Atlanta judges and lawyers as well as family law attorneys and judges from across the country is very enjoyable for me. We are all here to learn and help and the amount of energy that lawyers are putting into improving our society and our communities is evident.  Lawyers and others rising early and going to working meetings at 7:00 am on a Sunday to address the needs of foster children and child trafficking is really heartwarming.

I am glad to be an active lawyer and part of something bigger.  Even though the ABA may support various ideas that often generate much discussion and disagreement, it is a peaceful way to effectuate change, and a most valuable endeavor.


ABA Annual Meeting special one for me

The 2011 American Bar Association Annual meeting which begins this week in Toronto (click here for a link to the home page for the meeting), holds special meaning for me. On Friday August 5, 2011 I will be sworn in as Chair of the Family Law Section (FLS) of the ABA. I am so honored and excited. The FLS has 10,000 members who are all interested in the practice of family law, whether they are lawyers, judges or law students (over 9,000 are lawyers). Our goal, and mine, is to improve the practice of family law and to minimize the negative impact family law can have on families. My platform will be a continuation of our “Families Matter” project which has the reduction of such an impact on families as its goal.

Practicing family law has been gratifying, knowing that we can and have helped many families. It also can and has been frustrating. When bad results happen to good people, especially to children, it can be devastating. But our job is not to be devastated and depressed, but to persevere and find better solutions. Through the ABA we are working to improve the system and to hopefully help all families achieve better results that are better for the whole family. Of course this is a difficult task, but it is one that any civilized society must undertake. All family law professionals (lawyers, judges, psychologists, accountants and others) play a role. Is our system perfect? No way. In fact, our systems vary from state to state and from community to community. But we are evolving. Today, family law is not an area of the law that is looked down upon. To the contrary, it is an area of the law viewed by many as one of the most important areas of law that exist. What other area has the ability to affect families and futures as much as ours? And with that comes a significant burden, a burden to help families and a burden to improve society.

I am glad to be in a position to help families. In my practice I often have that opportunity, and as Chair of the Family Law Section of the ABA, I have been given an even greater opportunity. I will try my best not to squander it and to do what I can to help families and professionals who are helping those families. If there is anything I can do, I hope you will call on me to serve you. It will be an honor to serve and I am sure, an experience I will never forget.


Celeb Divorce, now J-Lo and Marc Anthony

Our country seems fascinated with the family lives, especially divorces of celebrities. Perhaps that is because we see celebrities as role models or who we often aspire to be. Thus it is interesting to see how famous people act, or react in situations that many of us non-celebrities also face.

The Lopez/Anthony divorce just happens to be the most current celebritiy divorce. What is interesting to me is only that it is so interesting to everyone else. All major news organizations reported on it immediately, even though there was really nothing to report. Perhaps it is that we romanticize our celebrities. We want their marriages to work since they are who we aspire to be?

Celebrities have many issues the average person will never have to face (crazy visitation schedules, nanny issues and significant asset division and/or support payments). But ultimately, celebrities are like anyone else. They get their feelings hurt, they have pride and they sometimes feel a need to “win” almost as if that is an achievement. But most often, they ultimately realize that it is best to put the legal process behind them and to resolve matters. Using lawyers to do their communicating often has its limits and almost always, celebrities figure out what they want to do and then tell their lawyers to “make it so”. They are used to controlling their own destiny and often more confident than the average person in their own decisions. After all, their own decisions got them where they are.

There are also many celebrities who meet with us (divorce lawyers) and never file anything. When they finally do make the decision to seek a divorce, they usually know what they want and are ready to make a deal. It would not surprise me if Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony, like many other famous couples, had already investigated the process for a very long time and had a good idea of what the outcome should and would be long before one or both of them made the decision to end the marriage.

And the way they handled it is the way it should be done. A joint statement like they have done letting the world know they are mature enough to handle it privately for the sake of their children is wonderful.

When two wealthy people fight, judges often are more upset. Every day in Family Court, judges see regular people scraping to survive and raise their children every day. It seems Ms. Lopez and Mr. Anthony recognized this and it is admirable that they have resolved matters outside of court. That is how it should always be done, in my opinion and I hope others will follow their example, if they decide to divorce.


ABA Family Law Section CLE set for October in Vegas

While we all look forward to the Annual ABA meeting in Toronto next month, plans have been underway for a while for the Fall Family Law Seminar.

I hope everyone is as excited as I am about the Fall Program which is being held at the Encore (Wynne) Hotel in Las Vegas in October. We have a tremendous line up of topics, including: “Saving a Stolen Childhood: How to Prevent and Resolve International Kidnapping Cases”, “Diminishing Returns: Effects of Illness, Psychological Problems & Addiction on Support Calculations” and “Tax Issues Faced by Alternative Families… A Mystery of Clues!” as well as fun topics like “Mission Impossible — Obtaining Discovery from Casinos”.

The location is amazing; the nicest hotel in Vegas, at an incredibly low rate ($204.00/night). Come join us and bring your family too. It will be a great seminar and a great place to meet fellow family law attorneys. And if there is anything I can do for you, before, during or after the program, please let me know. I look forward to seeing you there.


Do children of divorce suffer poorer grades?

National TV Network news agencies are working on stories based on reports that children of divorce fare worse in school than others. USA Today just printed a story about poorer math scores for children of divorce (click here for the link).

As a divorce lawyer this concerns me greatly. My opinion, based purely on my experience and the experience of the other lawyers in our office and friends throughout the bar, is that it is not necessarily the divorce that can harm children, as much as the kind of divorce that occurs. Certainly a ‘good” divorce between two mature adults might be better for children than a really bad marriage with much tension (or even violence) in the household every minute of the day?

There is life after divorce and the way the process of divorce unfolds may well set the tone, not just for how the parties interact going forward, but how the children do in school and in life. Children that see two parents who treat each other with respect, even if they are divorced will likely do better than children who see their parents consistently embroiled in arguments and litigation. Those children must, at the least, be very distracted by their parents’ tension. Worse yet, many may feel that they (the children) have a duty to support each parent and to comfort them (or at least one). This must take time away from school work and social development.

So what’s the solution? A “good” divorce (if a divorce is going to happen). The parents must recognize that their tension always trickles down and is felt by, and affects their children. There is an old Jewish saying that the best thing a father can do for a child is to love their mother. Well if he can’t love her, he should at least treat her with respect and pleasantness, and it should go both ways. Not for the parents’ sake, but to allow their children to continue to grow socially and educationally and to not be distracted and held back by their perceived need to be a “cructh” or support system for their parents. Such a feeling of having to help a parent through a divorce can certainly not help a child spend the needed time to excel in school and socially.

I know that I am not a psychologist and that these words and thoughts are just those of a lawyer who has practiced family law for almost a quarter of a century, but I believe them to be true and hope lawyers and litigants consider these issues as they proceed through their family law cases each day.


ABA Family Law Section meeting starts in Amelia Island

It is always exciting to get together with fellow practitioners and judges from across the country to learn the latest trends, practices and innovative ideas of our profession. This year, our Spring seminar will focus on “Families Matter”. The seminar is from April 6, 2011 to April 9, 2011 and will devote much time to helping alleviate much of the pain, cost and discomfort of family law matters (click here for the full brochure). The agenda is great (click here to link to the home page for the program).

There are many cutting edge topics, such as “Oh, the Tangled Web We Weave: irs rules and regulations Effect on payments and Expenses in Third party reproduction” and “The alphabet soup of Military pay and Family support”. If you are a family law practitioner, I strongly urge you to consider joining us. And if you can’t make this one, join us in late October in Las Vegas at the Wynne-Encore and then next April at the Eden Roc in South Beach (Miami Beach), Florida. I look forward to learning and blogging what I learn.


“Civil Gideon”

The ABA has long pursued the concept of “Civil Gideon” which, loosely defined, means the right to a lawyer in civil cases (Gideon v. Wainwright was, of course, the case that guaranteed the right to counsel for criminal defendants). At the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco in August, 2010, the resolution passed. The resolution can be accessed by clicking this sentence.

This week the Fulton County Daily Report published an article about a lawsuit in Georgia which attempts to guarantee the right to counsel for certain civil defendants, particularly those at risk of incarceration for failue to pay child support (click to read article).

What a dilemma? While states such as Georgia are struggling to find funding to provide lawyers for defendants in criminal cases, there are now lawsuits being filed, such as the one referenced above, to require funding for lawyers for defendants in civil cases. The goal is noble and well intentioned, but the potential pitfalls are numerous. For instance, why should only the defendant receive such assistance? Perhaps the plaintiff who may be filing to receive support is even more worthy of the public’s assistance?

The beauty of America is that we can have this debate. While aspirational goals are great, when there is only so much funding available, sometimes aspirations must yield to practicality. It will be interesting to see where this case goes.


Technology and Family Law

Today I served as Co-Chair for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Georgia Technology Seminar (click here for a link to the program agenda). Steve Best, the Co-Chair really did all the work. He put the program together and invited the speakers, etc. So what did I do? I learned. I spoke a little on how technology is useful in a family law practice, but mainly, I learned. Chairing, speaking at or even simply attending continuing legal education seminars always offers a chance to learn and improve.

I learned that I should blog more often. I learned that we are really just in the beginning stages of understanding how much technology can improve our law practices, and more importantly, our lives.

It was also a time to reflect. I have chaired this program for about ten years. When I was first involved, many attendees did not have email and most did not have a website. How far we have come!

It seems much of the focus of the program was on remote computing, in addition to good law office management. Remote computing! What a concept. Computing as a concept is not new. But working on your primary computer, from any location? That is amazing, and common today. Today lawyers can really focus on what they do best, advise. They need not wait for a letter to come in the mail, or even by facsimile. They know what their clients want, not just because of cell phones, email and texting, but also because voice mail allows a client to let the lawyer hear the tone of their voice (and how desparate they may be).

The tips included how to talk into your cell phone and then receive an MSWord version of the document you dictated to your phone five minutes ago. Or how to translate, by simply speaking to your phone, and having it repeat it back, in another language! The materials for the program are probably still available, but if you missed it, come next year. And in April the big version is in Chicago, the ABA Techshow (click here for a link to the website for the ABA TEchshow). That is one really worth attending.

I can’t wait to see what next year’s program brings. As my grandfather used to say “I was born too early”.