Thirty years ago I became a certified family law specialist—a designation that was then less than a decade old. That same year, part of the soundtrack of my life was a song by the band Timbuk 3 titled “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” Though its lyrics were ironic in tone, the upbeat tune became—for my peers—an anthem of undented optimism. I felt that emotion back then, as I started on my path as a specialist, and I also feel that way now, as I begin my term as president of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists.
Back when I became a specialist, ACFLS was only six years old. That era, the 1980s, was a time of great change and growth in family law. The CFLS designation was part of a movement in the 1980s to increase specialization in the practice of law in response to the growing complexity of modern society. Back then, interlocutory judgments were the norm—a holdover from the fault era. These days, family law is much more nuanced and intricate, involving many skills from many diverse disciplines. Gone are the days when an attorney could dabble in family law and offer even close to the same level of competence that a specialist can provide.
At present, ACFLS has close to 700 members, all of whom are certified family law specialists. Our mission at ACFLS is very clear, and it can be summed up with the four key components of our mission statement.
First, the goal of the organization is to “advance the knowledge and rapport of family law specialists.” Among the ways we do that are by hosting active chapter meetings in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Orange County. These chapter meetings not only encourage collegiality, they also provide sharing of knowledge through continuing legal education programs, some of which are videotaped and used by our outreach committee to foster and provide family law education in many underserved counties.
Another goal of ACFLS is to “monitor legislation and proposals affecting the field of family law.” Our legislation committee was instrumental in anti-Boblitt and anti-Davis legislation, both of which have a significant impact in the practice of family law. In addition, ACFLS also has a vibrant amicus committee, which reviews California Supreme Court and appellate rulings to identify decisions which should be published (or depublished) because they are significant in the field of family law. For example, ACFLS was instrumental in getting the opinion of In re Marriage of Brandes, 192 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1 (2015) published.
A third key goal of ACFLS is to “encourage ethics for all members.” One of the ways in which this is done is through our very active list serve, where substantive ethical questions are among the many issues raised by members throughout the state.
The final goal is “to promote the importance of the family law specialty to the public and the State Bar.” Perhaps our highest-profile event is our Spring Seminar— the “filet of family law CLEs.” In 2017, this signature event will be celebrating its 25th year. The program is scheduled for March 24-26. I cannot stress strongly enough how valuable this program is for any practitioner interested in family law—not just those who are members of ACFLS or certified family law specialists.
On top of these organizational priorities, I also have some personal goals. One of these is to increase the footprint of ACFLS in Los Angeles County, in part by offering continuing legal education programs similar to the one we cosponsored with Levitt & Quinn on ESI discovery at Pepperdine University. There should be a clear path to entry for involvement in ACFLS for Los Angeles-based attorneys.
I’m also interested in hearing from other active members about what ACFLS should look to accomplish in the coming year. Together, let’s make that future bright. I’m getting out my shades now.