General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

From the Editor / jennifer j. rose
© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

Child’s Play

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of The Complete Lawyer , is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michaocan, Mexico. She can be reached at

Only chocolate, puppies, and the American flag evoke emotions more intense than the concept of children. Politicians seldom lose votes touting concern for children. Every folk singer of the ’60s knew that the mention of children guaranteed record sales.

"War is not healthy for children and other living things" emblazoned across T-shirts was the litotes and leitmotiv of a generation past. Many of us reveled as Flower Children in an attempt to prolong the freedom and naivete of Leave it to Beaver lives. Sally Struthers’ pleas for donations would fall upon deaf ears were she soliciting for any cause other than children. Ally McBeal daydreams of dancing babies.

No other group in our society tugs at the heart like children. Admitting a predilection for killing bunnies engenders more social acceptance than confessing a lack of fondness for children. Historically, the status of a child has ranged from economic asset to a must-have fashion accessory, from Oliver Twist to a young innocent who must be protected from all evil, real and perceived. The truth lies somewhere in between. Even though Americans have flirted with voluntary childlessness, at no time have children ever gone completely out of style, the concept enduring far longer than Tamagochi, the Shaker Community, and Heaven’s Gate.

Characterized as social workers, do-gooders, or worse, lawyers who practice children’s law seldom get the respect or remuneration that their antitrust practicing brethren reap. Despite the laudatory efforts of blue-ribbon commissions and task forces to enhance the lot of children and those who represent them, many of us are perpetually at a loss when it comes to the nitty-gritty of representing children.

The planning and organization of this issue is the work of Robert Caston, Vice President and General Counsel of ZEXEL USA Corp-oration, who swore that his sole qualifications consisted of having children of his own and putting in the requisite years as a child himself. His fine work as issue editor proves that he may have been just a tad self-effacing.

Children Are the Issue

Children and what’s right for them is an issue on which everyone is expert. A lawyer may never have been a plaintiff or a defendant or even a witness, but statistics demonstrate a 98 percent probability that the average lawyer was once a child. More than a goodly number of lawyers have procreated, and a significant number of lawyers even spend substantial portions of their nonworking hours in the presence of children. Those factors alone should be sufficient qualification to practice children’s law, right?

Children’s issues crop up in all areas of practice, from real estate to personal injury. What is the nature of the attorney-client relationship when it comes to a child? Are there limits to the attorney-client privilege? Katherine Hunt Federle explains it all in "The Child as a Client."

Few witnesses can turn the smoothest trial lawyer to jelly like a child can. Some lawyers have that avuncular, friendly touch that draws the truth from a child’s lips; others stutter and fumble and just don’t have what it takes. I’ve been there and so have you, expecting the child witness to parrot exactly the version of the gospel she promised the day before in the inner sanctum of the office. Forensic psychologist and trial consultant Dr. J. Thomas Dalby demystifies the process in "Child Witnesses."

Leveling the Playing Field

Brand spanking new children have special appeal, connoting freshness, renewal, hope, beginning, and a future of untapped, limitless potential. Those children born with birth defects or limiting conditions can transform the most ambitious parent’s dreams of "My son the doctor" to "Who will care for my child when I’m dead and gone?" Larry Ramirez writes about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s efforts to integrate these children into the mainstream, and John Thomasset writes about estate planning concerns for parents with special needs children. Children are unquestionably expensive habits, whether they’ve developed appetites for Mom’s cooking or Nikes, but collecting child support from federal employees and military personnel often makes squeezing blood from a turnip seem like child’s play. Joan Burda explains how to extract those funds.

Just as surely as children are unlikely to ever become extinct, taxes have always been a fact of life. And the January/February 1999 issue of The Complete Lawyer will deliver you a dose of tax law designed to keep more money in your pockets than ever before. (All right, maybe we’re stretching the truth just a little.) CL


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