The Chair’s Corner
Do You Remember Your Childhood?

By Keith B. McLennan

In this issue we explore the law of child welfare and juvenile justice. As you will see from the contents, this is perhaps the area where we lawyers can be most effective. Many of us can recall our childhood, but we may not immediately recognize the legal issues that applied from infancy to the terrible twos to grammar school and beyond. In adolescence, of course, legal issues were everywhere. Whether it was the friend who rode his trail bike on the street and was chased by the police or the family (maybe your own) whose parents went through a divorce or who had to rely on the safety net to survive, the law was ever present. Little did we realize those events would shape our conscience and play a large role in our becoming lawyers.

Those of us who experienced the legal system firsthand in childhood found that it had a greater impact in shaping our understanding. Not to brag, but I had my fair share of experiences with the law that did influence my decision to become a lawyer. The first was when my brother-in-law was killed in a motor vehicle accident when I was only 17 years old. He left my sister and nephews behind without any will or other provision for them. Fortunately, my sister had a fairly good case and ultimately settled it to provide a small amount of money for my nephews. However, she had to struggle raising them on her own. As someone who had no lawyers in the family, I watched the process unfold and marveled at the process. A seed was planted.

I experienced the criminal side of the law when a friend of mine was arrested at what appeared to be an innocuous college party. I had been there earlier but had left before the police arrived to break it up. Unfortunately, my mild-mannered friend decided to engage the police in a conversation, and I gather that it degenerated from there. I didn’t learn about it until I received the call from him from the local jail asking me to bail him out. I replied, “With what?” It then dawned on me—another friend of ours actually had a part-time job as a bouncer at one of the local watering holes and always had cash somewhere in his dorm room. I contacted Chris, interrupting his evening with his girlfriend, and asked him to crack open a few of his engineering books to see if he had $500 stashed away. Sure enough, he did, and we went down to the station house to spring our friend. As that process unfolded, with Craig having to obtain a lawyer and all of us getting interviewed as fact witnesses, the seriousness of the law quickly became apparent.

While in high school, I became involved in a local dispute on behalf of my aunt. She had fallen victim to a local TV repair company that would inflate the problems associated with repair jobs, essentially charging for work that was unnecessary. My suspicion that this was going on led to a local investigation by the district attorney’s office in which the company’s tactics were revealed. Ultimately, the shop was closed down and restitution obtained for its many victims.

In every instance, the legal system worked, and the result was a positive one. That influenced me greatly in my quest to become a lawyer.

I am sure all of you have had similar experiences that shaped your career path. Now think how contact with the legal system during the impressionable years of childhood can affect children today—not just in their career choices, but their very quality of life. If you have not handled an  adoption for a needy client, served as a child advocate, or undertaken other pro bono work on behalf of children in need, I encourage you to give it a try. With articles on topics ranging from juveniles in the criminal justice system to the rights of minors to matters of divorce, custody, adoption, and foster care, this issue of GPSolo magazine will not only provide you the tools that will help you and thus “Simplify” your practice but will open your eyes to an area of practice that is most rewarding. Please share your childhood experiences with the law “anonymously, if necessary,” by e-mailing me at kmclennan@millerturetsky.com. Your comments could lead to others being energized so that they, too, can experience the overwhelming feeling you get when helping a child in need. 

Copyright 2008

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