From the Chair

From the Chair | Moving Forward in a Time of Change

By Melissa J. Avery

On August 6, 2018, I watched in anticipation as the ABA House of Delegates unanimously voted in favor of a significant dues reduction for our members. This was coupled with an extensive redesign of member benefits that has been a year-and-a-half in the making. I had just been sworn in as chair of the Family Law Section two days before. I could not help but recognize what an exciting time it is to be part of the ABA.

This association will celebrate its 140th birthday in a few short months. There is no doubt that the practice of law, and those engaging in it, have changed in many ways over that time. Our association has not always been successful in adapting as quickly as it should. As the House proclaimed with its vote on August 6, it is now the time to boldly embrace change or most certainly be left behind.

The Family Law Section is committed to being a part of that change. We have already begun to align ourselves with the four core goals of the Association and to find our own niche in the move toward continued achievement of those goals.

1. To serve our members (by providing benefits, programs, and services which promote members’ professional growth and quality of life)

We will continue to produce our flagship publications, which contain practical, useful articles, checklists, and forms that can quickly elevate a new lawyer’s skillset to that of one with many years of experience. For example, even after two decades in practice, when dividing a client’s retirement account, I always reread Emily McBurney’s article from the Fall 2017 issue, “Avoiding Legal Malpractice: Retirement Benefits and Qualified Domestic Relations Orders,” to make sure that I am not committing any of the common mistakes outlined therein. When I recently mediated a complicated military pension case, I had Mark Sullivan’s Military Divorce Handbook at my side as an invaluable reference. His newest update to this book is set to be released in the fall of 2018. I have found the article by Sam Schoonmaker IV in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Family Law Quarterly, “Withstanding Disruptive Innovation: How Attorneys Will Adapt and Survive Impending Challenges from Automation and Nontraditional Legal Serve Providers,” to be a roadmap for planning the future of my law practice.

Our listservs, available to all members, provide not only instant feedback from national experts on legal issues but also practice management topics such as which apps work best to organize and present text messages in court and what practice management software fits best with the nuances of family law, as well as real-time responses from lawyers in other states when jurisdictional issues arise.

New this year is the Family Law Section’s Health and Wellness Committee. The Committee will plan programs and activities at our Fall and Spring Conference and will also develop on-demand programming and other free content that will help members better manage their work/life balance.

2. To advocate for the profession

The best way to advocate for the profession is to help lawyers be the best lawyers they can be. Recognizing that not all members can realistically attend in-person conferences, we have recently begun providing free webinars to all Section members. In December, we held a free webinar on premarital agreements. We are currently planning another for November that will focus on dealing with difficult clients. As the new membership model rolls out in the coming months, many more on-demand CLE programs will be available at no additional cost.

We continue to plan service projects for our members to engage in when visiting the cities where we hold our conferences. At the Fall Meeting in Tucson, for example, our members assembled emergency hygiene kits for women experiencing homelessness and the Section made a monetary donation to the Primavera Foundation, a local nonprofit working in this area.

3. To eliminate bias and enhance diversity

In 1948 the ABA passed a resolution stating that membership would not be dependent upon race, creed, or color. Our standards for diversity are much higher now. The ABA swore in its first woman African American president, Paulette Brown, in 2015. The Family Law Section recently selected five new fellows for our Diversity Fellowship program, now in its sixth year. Each fellow is provided with financial support, mentorship, and leadership opportunities at and in between our conferences over a two-year period. Most fellows have reaped enormous benefits from this program and continue their leadership and involvement in the Section well beyond the term of their fellowship.

Our Section’s Diversity Committee also works to provide programming on cultural awareness in our society and on how these issues impact the practice of family law.

4. To advance the rule of law

As the crisis at the border regarding the separation of migrant children from their families recently unfolded, the ABA sprang into action. Immediate Past ABA President Hillary Bass advocated for migrants’ rights during a visit to Texas in late May. ABA Family Law Section leadership met with the Commission on Immigration at the Annual Meeting to develop a collaboration to mobilize volunteers in specific locations of need and offer an educational webinar on remedies for separation. In addition, members of the Section were slated to travel to the border in Nogales, Arizona, to visit with the U.S. Border Patrol and the Mexican Consulate during the fall Tucson, Arizona, conference.

This response is just one example of the way that the Family Law Section, working in conjunction with the bigger ABA, has joined efforts to assure meaningful access to justice for all in response to current events in our world.

As I embark on my year as chair of the Section, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead. I am committed to providing value to our members by providing the tools to make us all better lawyers; by elevating our overall quality of life; by promoting access to these benefits to all members regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, or financial means; and by coordinating an effort to make a difference in our communities, our country, and our world.

I thank each of you who will work to help me with these tasks. I am excited for the future of the ABA and the Family Law Section, and I invite you to be a part of the excitement.

Melissa J. Avery is chair of the ABA Section of Family Law. She is of counsel to Broyles Kight & Ricafort, PC, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she focuses her practice on a wide range of family law matters. She is a fellow of the ABA and of the American and International Academy of Family Lawyers, an Indiana Family Law Board–certified family law specialist, and a registered domestic relations mediator.

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