Happy New Year AFCC-CA Members and Friends. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with happiness and time spent with loved ones. It is always around this time of year that we look back at all we have accomplished, the obstacles we had to overcome, and what caused us the most happiness, strife, fear and joy over the year. We make New Years’ resolutions and decide what our goals will be for the next year and how we intend to accomplish those goals. Most of these goals often involve going to the gym, losing weight, better collections, or business development. These are all laudable things to do and I encourage you to continue with your resolutions and your goals.
However, I also challenge you to take a deep look inside yourself and determine what qualities you admire most in yourself as a person, a professional and a member of this very inter-connected world; and how you feel inside when you are letting the best part of yourself shine? If you do that, I’ll bet it isn’t that you’re good at cross-examination, but it’s your generosity, kindness, compassion, mentorship, ability to listen, courage or civility. And after you have found those inner qualities, I want you to ascertain whether you are espousing those qualities in your everyday life. And if not, why not? And what can you do to incorporate the qualities of yourself you are most proud of into your everyday life?
For if each of us is able to incorporate one act of kindness, compassion or civility in our everyday lives, you will feel better about yourself, you will have made someone else have a brighter day or a brighter future and you may have been able to take the lack of civility in a heavily contested child custody battle or dissolution action and ratchet it down a notch.
For the lack of civility amongst professionals, opposing counsel, clients, neighbors, colleagues, politicians, families and friends is at an all-time high. There isn’t one day we can open our newspapers, read social media or watch the news on television without seeing a headline showing a complete lack of civility and aggression towards our fellow man.
Ordinary, rational people are becoming extremely polarized over politics, diversity, religion, how to parent children, road rage and even such things as what kind of music you listen to or TV shows you watch.
Cyber-bullying on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram is at an all-time high. Children are committing suicide because of cyber bullying. Parishioners are getting shot down in churches, synagogues and mosques.
And this is where you don’t have families going through one of the most difficult and traumatic events of their lives–the break-up of their family, domestic violence issues, the loss of their home, financial instability, and all too often, intense fighting over children.
At the forefront of this battle is the child who is already scared, sad and afraid because she doesn’t have her parents together anymore, but who doesn’t even have the ability to process that information because she has become the pawn between her parent’s all-out war over custody and a parenting plan.
Unhappy litigants are posting vitriolic reviews about mental health professionals, lawyers or judicial officers on the internet merely because they didn’t like a custody recommendation or ruling.
If we are unable to get people in the best of times to act civilly towards each other, how are we to get people who are at the worst point in their lives, fighting over their children, to act civil? What do you do when the opposing counsel has a complete lack of civility and appears to relish in the aggression that is tearing apart this family? How do as you a judicial officer temper down the hostility in the courtroom, not only between the parties, but between counsel?
What can we do to help lower the temperature of our clients, our opposing counsel, our judicial officers, our therapists, and ourselves? How do we lower the temperature in the whole family law system? How do we ensure when we’ve had a trying day of dealing with complete incivility that we go home to our loved ones with a smile on our face and check the stress of the hostile day at the door?
For starters, take my challenge. Look inside the best part of you and no matter how challenging the client, opposing counsel, or the person in front of you at Starbucks may seem, give them a smile, compliment them, mentor them. Put your best foot forward. Kindness and civility has to start somewhere for it to catch on and spread; and it may as well start with you, with us, with AFCC.
So go home tonight and think about your greatest quality and your greatest inspiration. For if you look inside yourself, there was someone who also inspired you, who instilled greatness, kindness, compassion and civility within you. Thank that person. Tell that person how much he or she has meant to you. And then take your best qualities and instill them amongst your clients, colleagues, community and the world. One day someone will thank you for your mentorship and kindness. One by one, we can create change, civility and kindness in this world. One by one we can make family law a better place.
As for me, thank you Mom. You have instilled within me faith, compassion and kindness and every day I try to be like you I am a better person. So fellow AFCC members, I too am taking this challenge: my challenge is to show compassion and kindness, even to the most uncivil. I hope you will take the challenge too.
Michele B. Brown, CFLS
Michele Brown is certified by the State Bar of California as a Certified Family Law Specialist. She is a Partner at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savtich, LLP in the Family Law Group and has been practicing family law for well over 20 years. In addition to being President of the CA Chapter of AFCC International, Ms. Brown is the Vice-President of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists (ACFLS); she is the Family Law Representative for the Board of Representatives for the California Lawyers Association; she is an Advisor for the Family Law Section of the California Lawyers Association; she is the Co-Chair for the Governmental Affairs Committee for the CA Lawyers Association and the Co-Chair of the Appointments Committee for the CA Lawyers Association. Ms. Brown holds the Martindale Hubbell’s highest AV ranking for legal ability and ethics and has consistently been named as a Super Lawyer. Ms. Brown received the Outstanding Service to Family Law Award from the Family Law Section of the CA Lawyers Association and was named a “Legend in Legislation” from Flexcom. Ms. Brown frequently testifies before the Senate and Assembly on bills involving family law and has assisted in drafting several family law bills.