Family law attorneys play a fundamentally important role in helping families through the process of divorce and separation. Given their unique role in the family justice system, they are well positioned to identify and speak to the systemic obstacles they encounter in serving clients in a timely, efficient, and affordable manner, and facilitating a process that enables better outcomes for children; they witness firsthand how parents and children can be subjected to processes and procedures ill-suited to healthy post-divorce restructuring. These same attorneys are likewise well positioned to design and implement recommendations that address the problems, challenges, and obstacles in the current system.
In November 2015, IAALS held an invitation-only convening of thought leaders from a cross-section of the family law bar and who are representative of the practice and broader community.
Part of DIAALOGUES, a groundbreaking series of national conversations designed to bring together the best minds in the country to forge solutions to the most pressing issues facing the American legal system, the "Family Bar Summit: Shaping the System for the Families We Serve" is an effort to leverage the expertise of the family law bar to better serve clients, and engage practitioners as active participants in the larger movement to change the system for resolving family conflict.
An engaging and interactive format allowed Family Bar Summit attendees to consider diverse problems in the current system and think through suggestions and recommendations for improvement. Attendees included prominent thought leaders from diverse professional organizations: the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, the American Bar Association Section of Family Law, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and other national groups.
As stewards of the family justice system, family law attorneys have an important role to play in ensuring that the discussion on reshaping the system does not end here.
Sponsored by El Pomar Foundation, DIAALOGUES take place at Penrose House and the historic Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The IAALS Family Bar Summit was an honest dialogue about how the family justice system might be realigned to meet the needs of the families it serves. Interactive, engaging conversation highlighted a number of themes and recommendations for reshaping the divorce and separation process, some of which Summit attendees have undertaken personal responsibility for pursuing in their respective jurisdictions.
Among the most popular of ideas to emerge was the replication of the Summit in state jurisdictions around the country. In order to assist these and other family bar leaders in hosting similar dialogues nationwide, HFI compiled this toolkit, containing the following pieces:
Tool 1—An invitation letter to potential Summit attendees (PDF / Word)
Tool 2—An introductory letter to attendees, setting forth the nature, organization, and goals of the Summit (PDF / Word)
Tool 3—A template for the Summit agenda, based on the two-day IAALS program (PDF / Word)
Tool 4—Ground rules and operating assumptions, to facilitate an honest, open, and respectful dialogue among attendees (PDF / Word)
Tool 5—Working group discussion questions, to guide breakout group sessions (PDF / Word)
Tool 6—An attendee action item template, to collect attendee thoughts and individual plans for following up on Summit recommendations (PDF / Word)
Additionally, a number of IAALS publications can be presented alongside jurisdiction-specific materials that are circulated to Summit attendees in advance:
- A foundational HFI white paper, Courts and Communities: Helping Families in Transition Arising from Separation or Divorce describes legal and social trends for families, courts, and communities that call for a fundamental reconsideration of the support that communities provide for separating and divorcing families.
- Expert commentaries responding to the HFI White Paper discuss various subthemes in greater detail, including the voice of the child, the importance of maintaining the traditional judicial process, the needs of self-represented litigants, and the advantages and disadvantages of dispute resolution services that exist solely outside of the courts.
- The Modern Family Court Judge: Knowledge, Qualities & Skills for Success aims to reprioritize and revalue the role of the family court judge in the legal system. Additionally, this report enumerates 27 requisite skills, qualities, and attributes that family court judges need to be successful—a list with substantial applicability for family law practitioners.
- It Is Just Good Business: The Case for Supporting Reform in Divorce Court examines ways in which familial distress surrounding divorce and separation can affect individual employee productivity and negatively impact a business’ bottom line. This article is a useful tool in engaging businesses in supporting efforts to improve the process.
- An IAALS Rule One Initiative publication, Change the Culture, Change the System: Top 10 Culture Shifts Needed to Create the Courts of Tomorrow, tackles the important role of cultural shifts in bringing about meaningful systemic change with respect to civil justice reform. Many of the points and suggestions in this paper are relevant for family law practitioners and other family justice system stakeholders.
Finally, the HFI report that followed and synthesized the November 2015 Summit, The Family Law Bar: Stewards of the System, Leaders of Change, can serve as a foundational piece for beginning the dialogue in a jurisdiction or as a template for individual jurisdiction reports on local convening efforts.
It is our hope that these and similar dialogues will occur nationwide and harness the expertise of diverse, talented family law practitioners. Together, we can work toward meaningful change to ensure better outcomes for children, less-adversarial approaches for spouses/parents, and greater accessibility, efficiency, and fairness for everyone involved in the family court process.