Diversity for Everyone

By Rob Wellon

It all began with the American Bar Association, as many useful programs do. ABA Family Law Section member Randy Kessler, soon to rise in the leadership to Section Chair, began seeing the need for more inclusion within the ABA, along with a more diverse membership of attorneys willing to serve.

Incorporating that idea while serving as State Bar Chair of the Family Law Section, Kessler decided to establish formal committees to allow more section members to become involved, something the section never had in the past. He formed six identified committees, one of which was titled the Diversity Committee. And take off it did. First meeting at the Family Law Institute each year, it then was expanded into regular meetings at the State Bar Headquarters. Its stated goal, as explained by Kessler, was to provide opportunities for lawyers to become more involved, and to create a more diverse membership within the Family Law Section. Marvin Solomiany was its first chair, followed by the naming of Ivory Brown, then Michelle Jordan and Brown served as co-chairs, and presently Brown is the chair again.

One of the first identified tasks was to seek a more diverse representation of presenters at the Section’s CLE’s including the extremely popular and well-respected annual Family Law Institute. When Ivory T. Brown, the current Section vice chair who will chair the program in 2019, was challenged with the task, the effort began with a widely diverse 2017 Nuts and Bolts CLE and will culminate in the inclusion of a TED Talks initiative, which would allow for those who had not been a speaker in the past to present on issues of their particular passion or interest in a specific area of law or practice. There will be auditions for these wanting to present, and a number of them will be included as presenters at the 2019 Family Law Institute.

Emphasis has been placed in other areas as well, always attempting to get lawyers involved. A Pop-Up Legal Clinic to serve the community was staged, partnering with Atlanta Legal Aid and AVLF on Mar. 17, 2018, to provide pro bono services at Thomasville Heights Elementary School to the neighboring community and to residents of a homeless shelter. A second Pop-Up Legal Clinic was held partnering with Atlanta Legal Aid and AVLF at the Cherokee Family Violence Center on July 28, 2018. Additionally, a mentorship program has been continued to allow younger or less experienced lawyers the ability to gain valuable input and knowledge from more senior members of the Bar, as well as provide opportunities to meet and associate with other lawyers who would be associating with that mentor.

One of the most constructive areas in which the Committee is involved is its educational focus. Brown has initiated a speaker’s series which is inculcated into the meetings, wherein learned members of the community are asked to present on a topic of significant interest on issues about which lawyers need to be informed and sensitive, and the speakers have proved up to the task.

The following are the programs she has championed with knowledgeable and experienced speakers who are truly making a difference:“Cognitive Bias: 5 Tactics to Improve Results and Increase Client Satisfaction,” by Elizabeth Berenguer, Associate Professor, Director of Upper Level Writing, Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Campbell University.

(1) Cognitive Bias in judicial decisionmaking

  • Anticipating and managing client cognitive bias
  • Drafting to persuasively utilize (neutralize cognitive bias)
  • Acknowledging and managing our own biases
  • Potential dangers of cognitive bias

(2) “Transgender Equality and the Law,” by Taylor Brown, the 2017-2019 Tyron Garner Memorial Fellow at the Southern Regional Office of Lambda Legal. Topics included a discussion of major issue areas:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Identity Documents
  • Employment Discrimination
  • K-12 Students
  • Healthcare

(3) “Disabilities and the Law—Equal Access and Accommodations,” by Synge Tyson and Vincent Martin. Synge, MA, OMS, CPACC, conducts training and workshops with a focus on disability etiquette, ADA and Rehabilitation Act compliance. Vincent, MS in Human Computer Interaction, is the first totally blind student in the history of Georgia He serves on the advisory board for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency which provides resources for Georgians with disabilities to reach employment goals and live independently. Topics included:

  • Inclusive Behavior
  • Disability Explained in 10 Minutes or Less Because We Do Not Have All Night
  • Access – IQ Test
  • Accommodation Is Not Inclusion
  • Moving from Motivated Reasoning to Forward Inclusive Thinking

During these excellent presentations, ivory arranged for some wonderful eats and a splash of inviting drinks, so the Diversity Committee meetings proved to be an exhilarating time for all. Each meeting justifiably qualified for CLE credit.

While the topic is focused on food, the Diversity Committee arranged its first luncheon at this year’s Family Law Institute, where tables showcased the many activities of this Committee. The luncheon also provided an opportunity for attendees to gather to discuss the multi- faceted programs offered to those attendees interested in the Committee’s affairs, or perhaps to enjoy a splendid meal, as only Brown and her sub-committee could put together—a buffet luncheon offering Gullah/Geechee fare in keeping with the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia and Northern Florida. Wow! Shrimp & Grits, Hoppin’ John, Fried Chicken, Collard Greens. Looking forward to another gourmet delight next year.

From the activities outlined above, it is easy to conclude that a committee of the State Bar Family Law Section has clearly fulfilled its twin goals of diversity and inclusion. Yet there are certainly more challenges ahead. Look for this committee to meet those challenges and continue its fine work. After all, diversity is for everyone.

Rob attended Emory College and Stetson Law School and began practicing family law with Jack Turner until he started his own practice, focusing on complex family law and contested custody matters. He was the founding member and first president of the Weltner Family Law Inn of Court, and the founder and first Director of the Litigation Section’s College of Trial Advocacy, and received the State Bar Justice Marshall Professionalism Award in 2012. He has been serving as an adjunct faculty member of Emory Law School since 1995, and in 2013 he created a trial advocacy course in family law. And most importantly he is the father of two and grandfather of seven, and is most pleasant to all.