When my term as Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association ended in August of 2012 in Chicago, I thought that my travelling days were headed for a significant reduction. And I enjoyed the travel and the ability to meet family law professionals worldwide. Fortunately or unfortunately, in my year as Immediate Past Chair, I have travelled just as much (although certainly when my year as Immediate Past Chair ends this August in San Francisco, it will slow down significantly).
As an example of how the travel has continued, in this short year so far, I have travelled to Miami, Austin, New Orleans (twice), Mexico, Las Vegas and have plans this month and next to head to Alaska, Louisville, Memphis, Las Vegas, New York and Destin, FL (all except two are for family law events). But this, I know, is the end of the hectic two year travel schedule. It is flattering to be asked to come speak to a group in another state. To be flown in as “the expert”. And I have been able to practice law around and during these trips (it’s amazing what can be done remotely now that our office has gone to the “cloud”). But I look forward to spending much more time in Atlanta, practicing much more law and being with my peers and colleagues at home. And of course, even though my family has travelled with me on the majority of my trips, staying home will ensure even more time with them. The nice thing is I hope to be able to continue to travel, to meet new and old friends and colleagues across the country, but to appreciate those trips even more, as they will be fewer and farther apart.
But most importantly, my service to the ABA and my being available to organizations accross and outside the country has only been possible because of our wonderful attorneys and staff. We work well as a team and support each other. Our clients know there is always at least one other attorney involved in any case in which I am involved, in case of an emergency. So while it has been a pleasure to serve the ABA and to serve other groups trying to educate themselves and their peers about family law issues, it has been and remains even more of a pleasure and honor to work with the people in our firm. Yes there are tough times, days and cases, but it is truly a blessing to enjoy coming to work each day, and I do.
I recently “passed the gavel” to the new Family Law Section Chair, Maryann Foley of Alaska. It was a heartwarming ceremony and many of the leaders in family law were there. But perhaps more important than that ceremony, was our final Council meeting the day before. While it was the last one I will preside over, it was a meaningful one. We surveyed the status of our section’s efforts, including our great publications, CLE programs and other endeavors, but what was also nice, was that we reviewed and revised our Family Law Section’s Mission Statement. While the changes were not extreme, they did force us to again review our Mission Statement and to think about what we do and what we want to do and be, as a section. So with that, I say farewell as Chair, and leave you with this, the newly revised Mission Statement of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association:
Mission/Goals of American Bar Association’s Family Law Section.
The mission statement of the Family Law Section follows:
The mission of the American Bar Association Family Law Section is to serve as the national leader in the field of Family Law. To accomplish its mission, the Council has adopted the following seven goals for the Section:
I. To improve the family law system.
II. To be the pre-eminent voice on family issues.
III. To serve our members.
IV. To improve public and professional understanding of family law issues.
V. To increase the diversity and participation of our membership.
VI. To educate the public about family law and the professionals involved in family law.
VII To improve professionalism of all participants in the administration of family law.
I have been so fortunate to have been able to serve as Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association for the 2011-2012 term. I cannot believe the year is drawing to a close. To have been allowed to lead this section, has truly been an honor and the highlight of my legal career and bar service. About 15 years ago I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. I have served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse for the American Bar Association and as Chair of the Family Courts Committee of the Family Law Section of the ABA, as well as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association. This year has really been a culmination for me and I really know for sure now, that being a lawyer, and serving the bar and the community in ways beyond representing clients, is what makes ours a profession worth pursuing. I have been fortunate enough to meet lawyers and judges from across the world. And while there are many different personalities in our profession, like any other, there are so, so many people trying so hard to do good and to make the world a better place.
I recently attended an event for Congressman John Lewis. He explained how he has been getting in “good trouble” his whole life. What an inspiration he was and is. We should all get in “good trouble” and help make positive change in our world. For me, it is in my limited capacity as a family law attorney, but for all of us there is a way. My year has had it’s challenges just like any other year, but it has been quite an interesting one for Family Law. DOMA seems about ready to fall. Grandparent’s rights are evolving. International custody issues have been given more attention. We should all be helping ensure that these issues get the attention they deserve. Family Law attorneys can and should continue to help legislatures and courts understand the law and the ramifications of poorly drafted statutes or poorly interpreted laws. We should also help the public understand them. Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgeable as we can about the laws which shape our country.
Again, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and hope I can continue to contribute. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be so involved have a duty to continue to help and to ensure that ours truly remains a “profession” and not just a job. Let’s keep trying to make this world a better place.
“SoBe”…South Beach in the Spring, what could be better? Please consider joining us April 18-21, 2012. After a very successful CLE program in Vegas this past October, we are on a “CLE roll”. The programs scheduled for Miami include:“How to Impress Judges: Analytical Steps to a Well Organized, Concise, and Engaging Trial”, “Social Networking for the Family Lawyer..” and “If you love me, put it in writing.” The full tentative schedule can be accessed by clicking here.
And one more time, the location…the Eden Roc Hotel in South Beach, in the heart of Miami Beach, is old style Miami art deco, but fully renovated and hip. It’s a great place to learn and to mingle with family law attorneys from across the country. There will be family law discussed not only indoors, but pool side and at the beach. Isn’t that better than your conference room? I hope you will consider joining us for this fun filled educational meeting. See you in the sun!. – Randall M. Kessler
I am now a few months into my year as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. Wow, it goes fast. There seem to be fires to put out every week (or every day), but we have great staff at the ABA that really make things easier. There are budget concerns, planning of Continuing Legal Education Events, policy issues and the like. But most of all, there is a sense of responsibility that our group, our Family Law Section has a responsibility; a responsibilty to help. There are issues with military family law matters that we are addressing as well international custody issues (which will be discussed heavily at our Annual Fall Meeting in Las Vegas in two weeks; to see a link to the brochure, click here).
I said in my first Chair’s Column in the Family Advocate and in my speech as I became Chair, that I want to help everyone: lawyers, clients and others, understand the family law process better (chairs column1). Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgable as we can about the laws that so vitally affect families, especially children. I look forward to the seminar in two weeks and to making this and future years great and helpful to all lawyers and people, and especially to those dedicated to the field of family law and to helping those with family law problems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.