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.
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.
As the Chair Elect of the ABA’s Family Law Section, I have made it clear that one of my priorities will be to focus on international custody issues. Given the many widely reported cases of international kidnapping and custody battles, such as the Goldman case, it seems we must focus more on these situations to protect all children.
But now there are much more complex issues relating to children across the globe which go beyond mere custody battles. Issues such as surrogacy and adoption. What if one country’s laws do not allow for a certain type of adoption or a certain type of articifial insemination? There are now ways to work around laws in one country by using another country as a vehicle for certain procedures. And this can be dangerous.
A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Assembling the Global Baby” discussed these issues in fine detail (click here for a link to the story). There are American companies orchestrating surrogacy and reproductive technology across the globe. While the term “orchestrating” may sound negative, that was not my intent. My intent was to demonstrate the internationalization of child related issues. What body or organization will set the rules? Is this something for the United Nations to look at? Conferences like The Hague will certainly look at these issues, but then a country’s willingness to sign a treaty is purely voluntary.
This internationalization of child birth, adoption and reproduction may be a very good thing. It seems very well intended. The problem is with the unintended consequences. When things go wrong, who is accountable? Which country’s laws apply? Is it more important where the birth occurs, where the semen was taken, where the parties live or which country the egg came from? These are fascinating issues that we must consider before they overwhelm us. I have no idea where we go from here, but I am sure that we need to start asking the right questions which will hopefully lead us to the right answers, or at least to the right forums and formats for seeking comprehensive answers to these emerging issues.
This Wednesday through Saturday, the ABA Family Law Section hosts it’s annual Fall seminar (next October we are meeting in Las Vegas). True to form, the programming is excellent, filled with excellent speakers on excellent topics of interest to family law practitioners. New and interesting topics include “Using Stock Options and other Executive Compensation to fund Alimony” and “Parenting Plans for Children Under 3”. There will also be debates/discussions about many far reaching issues, including the need for a uniform act on child support guidelines and the Model Act of the Representation of Children.
Of course, the informal education that comes from the interaction of lawyers from across the country between sessions cannot be overestimated. I look forward to seeing many old friends and to meeting new ones this week in Fort Worth.
The brochure for the program can be found at: http://www.abanet.org/family/events/fall10brochure.pdf
If I can answer questions, before during or after the program, please let me know.
Each Fall, the American Bar Association holds it’s annual Section Officers Committee meeting in Chicago. This year it begins this week. Each section, division, forum, etc. of the ABA has officers who are new each year. Those officers all come to Chicago to learn how to best perform their roles as Secretary, Vice Chair, Chair-Elect, etc. of their particular group (for me it will be as Chair-Elect of the Family Law Section). It is great to be around so many lawyers who are committed to improving the practice of law. Each lawyer sacrifices two to three days of work to be at the meeting, yet it never feels like a sacrifice. There are “big picture” discussions about the general practice of law, things we can do to help our communities, things we can do to help educate the public about new laws and how we can improve the overall workings of the entire ABA. There are also “small picture” discussion groups focused on how we can each help our particular group (family law, business law, criminal law, etc.). Click here to see the SOC page on the ABA website describing SOC.
While some may say it is inconvenient, especially since each of the officers attending also typically attend four or five other ABA programs each year, including a Spring and Fall program for their area of law as well as the ABA annual and mid-year meetings, it is valuable. It is a chance to step aside from the basic programming and educational aspects of the ABA and to focus on how we can each use our strengths to better our individual areas of practice as well as the ABA as a whole. I am looking forward to it and to actively participating. It feels good.
In just over a week, the American Bar Association holds it’s annual meeting. This year it will be held in San Francisco. It is a time for leaders in all legal areas to come together, share ideas and learn from each other.
At the meeting, I will have the good fortune of being sworn in as the Chair Elect of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association. It will truly be a privilege to serve. I have been fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors during my career, and each, without fail, have encouraged bar participation. In 1997 I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association and I also will soon serve as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association.
While some may think this takes away from my practice of law, the opposite is true. My practice, including every member of our firm benefits from the leadership roles and active participation in which I, my partners and our associates engage.
Attending scores of legal education seminars each year and maintaining relationships with the finest lawyers and judges in the country keeps us all on the cutting edge. If there is a new idea, trend or significant case, we are giving ourselves every opportunity to learn about it first.
While in San Francisco, I fully intend to take advantage of everything the ABA has to offer. From Hot Tips in Family Law, to programs on presentation techniques for the courtroom, I plan to soak in as much as I can. The nice thing is, most of the other lawyers there too are similarly motivated and that is exciting. I look forward to learning from my peers and returning to Atlanta with at least a few pearls of wisdom, learned, borrowed or stolen from some of the best legal minds our country has to offer.