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How the Family Law Bar Gets Better

Every year at this time, the Georgia Family Law Bar comes together to study how to improve our practice. Usually, we cover substantive topics such as child custody and alimony and child support and Qualified Domestic Relations Orders and 401ks. This is good. This is necessary because it makes us all better lawyers at the substance of our practice.

But if I am right, as I often write, and family law is half substantive law and half diplomacy or politics with a small "p," then our substantive studies miss half of what we need to know and what we need to do to be masters of our practice and to do the best good on behalf of our clients.

Enter Ivory Brown.

Ivory was in charge of the program this year. In addition to covering some of the usual substantive topics such as the intersection of family law and immigration, bankruptcy, evidence, military law and child support deviations, Ivory took us in a whole, new direction. We assessed Cognitive Bias in our Courts and with our Clients, the Impact of Childhood Trauma, Addiction and Accountability, High Conflict Personalities in Family Law, Deciphering Learning Differences and Other Educational Considerations and Personality Disorders and the Family: Alleviating the Impact of Personality Disorders on Families and Early Intervention in the Personality Development of Children.

We were getting into some of the underlying issues that confront us, challenge us in family law, how family dynamics are they way they are. How high conflict divorces can impact children for the rest of their lives, how trauma more than molds us, how it builds the neural pathways that causes us to see what we see and how we interpret it. We were getting into a priori constructs that bind and constrain our very opportunities for judgment.

Yes, some in our collective group walked out on the "mumbo jumbo." I heard more than one nay-sayer contend there is no such thing as a cognitive bias. I felt bad for them and the blinders they have welded onto themselves and refuse to remove. But plenty of our practice remained and studied and considered and learned.

We studied same sex and LGBT Issues in Family Law, securing access for people with disabilities and the intersection between religion and family law. We also heard a presentation from our own David Purvis who taught the Family Law Bar about "The Changing Face of Family, ART, IVF and Surrogacy." We definitely moved in a 21st Century direction toward a more fair and egalitarian world. You could hear the old guard as they withered and moaned in the face of humanity's advancement.

Don't get me wrong. The Family Law Bar has not suddenly and permanently shifted direction. Like our country, like our species, there will always be crabs pulling us back into a boiling pot. There will always be powerful people maintaining their power by denying others their autonomy. But this Family Law Institute took a giant step toward broadening and deepening our practice to better serve the very real people we represent every day.

Thank you, Ivory Brown, for your tireless efforts in bringing off the 37th Annual Family Law Institute. It was much needed and very much appreciated.

Now to work!

-Michael Manely 

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