My Work in Scotland

My Work in Scotland

Posted By Michael Manely, International Family Lawyer || 31-Jan-2016

I'm back after a very fulfilling and, I hope, successful week assisting at a custody trial in Scotland.

The trial was in Airdrie, a suburb of Glasgow.  I flew into and stayed in Edinburgh, where our local counsel's office is. We met the day I arrived. His name is Jamie Foulis, a young Solicitor from points north of Perth.  His father is a Sheriff up that way.  His mother is an attorney too, who almost exclusively handles Guardian work.  He was destined to be and is a natural family law attorney. His mannerisms and expressions strongly remind me of one of Scotland's most famous sons, Sean Connery. While not yet seasoned by decades of practice, his innate ability, his aptitude will carry him far. 

My job was to consult on the trial and provide expert testimony on America's approach to and practice of The Hague Convention and the intricacies of the Uniform Child Custody and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Our client was that most famous and steadfast of clients, Jeff Chafin. 

It was most excellent to see Jeff again. It seemed quite appropriate to convene on Scottish soil. It was wonderful to hear that he had unfettered access to Eris while in country. It was fantastic to realize that his ex, Lynn, was endorsing his exemplary parenting by sharing time in that way.

It was actually quite good to see Lynn again, too.  She is doing well, happy, engaging and quite pleasant. We got on well.

The Scottish people are themselves, personable, warm, hospitable.  I was immediately comfortable in their presence.  The court house and court room staff were no exception. Everyone went well beyond what might have been required to make me feel welcome and at home.

And while the opposing counsels, Lynn's Solicitor and her Advocate (Scottish for Barrister) were initially reserved, aloof and distant, they quickly became relaxed, conversant and engaging. I felt that if I had longer, we all might have gone out for a pint. The Judge was a very pleasant and personable jurist.  He asked several pointed questions that let me know he had an excellent grasp of the case and the issues that would be dispositive to the outcome. His conviviality was disarming. 

Here's what you really want to know.  Yes, the attorneys and judges do wear black robes and white wigs. Protocol required that I refer to our Judge, the Sheriff of Airdrie, as My Lord or Your Lordship. As I expressed, since he was unlikely to ever become my lord, I would be referring to him as "Your Lordship." He took that quite well. 

I now know why we call the place from which the witness testifies the witness stand, even though our witnesses sit while they testify.  In Scotland, witnesses stand. They stand the entire time that they testify. There is a benefit to this.  As I discovered first hand, testifying while standing allows you to keep on your toes, literally. I heartily recommend it.

The other side's expert had testified on a prior day.  His perception of the quality of our U.S. courts and the integrity of our U.S. laws was rather dim and dour.  I was proud to have the opportunity to provide the Scottish Court with the unvarnished truth, For emergency custody matters, our courts are prompt perceptive and passionate. Our laws are coherent and exact when resolving urgent custody matters to return children to their rightful places. In contrast to the opposition's expert, I explained that our judges are not without the means or accumen to call or otherwise communicate across the pond. We in America are not actually in the dark ages.  

It was quite the opportunity to be immersed in another country's legal culture. I feel like each time I do this I come away so much the richer, so much the deeper in my own practice, in my appreciation for our legal culture.  Of course, working within the legal system which spawned ours illuminated depths of our work that before I could only contemplate, not experience. 

In short, my experience in Scotland has deepened and strengthened my practice and hardened my resolve to pursue family law with both passion and compassion, to be mindful that both parties are real, living, breathing people worthy of my dignity and respect. Because whether it is in the land of the free or the land from whence our system came, every last one of us can and must do our part to make our legal process and even our world a little friendlier, a little more warm, a little less insane and a lot more comfortable. In everything we do, we have that power.

And I know this all the more because of  my wonderful time and work in Scotland.

Michael Manely

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