In this exclusive Family Lawyer Magazine Podcast, former AAML presidents Marlene Eskind Moses and John Slowiaczek discuss the benefits of becoming an AAML Fellow – for themselves and their clients – as what may be stopping qualified family lawyers from applying to become members.
Press the green “Play” button, below, to listen to the podcast.
I’m Dan Couvrette, the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and Divorce Magazine. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with two of the country’s top family lawyers, Marlene Eskind Moses and John Slowiaczek. I specifically asked John and Marlene to be on this Family Lawyer Magazine podcast because they are both long-time Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (the AAML), and they are also past-presidents of the AAML, which makes them very well suited for today’s topic, which is “The Benefits of Becoming an AAML Fellow”.
Based on my 25 years of experience being the publisher of Divorce Magazine and Family Lawyer Magazine, I believe that AAML Fellows are at the top of the family lawyer pyramid in America. They have the experience, the credentials, the ongoing training, the trial skills, and the recognition of their peers to occupy the top position. In addition to being top family lawyers, AAML Fellows have been responsible for much of the current family law legislation that exists at a state and national level, and for much of the Continuing Legal Education that has been given to family lawyers across the country.
AAML Fellows have significantly influenced how family lawyers practice not only in court but also outside of the court system through alternative divorce processes such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law.
Before we dive in, let me say a few words about each of my guests. Recognized by her peers as an AV-rated lawyer and a Super Lawyer, Marlene Eskind Moses’ firm is based in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to being a past-president of the AAML, Marlene is the past-president of the US chapter of the International Academy of Family Lawyers (the IAFL), and she is the president-elect of the IAFL. She will become the president of the IAFL in June 2020.
John Slowiaczek is the current president of the American College of Family Trial Lawyers and a past-president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Like Marlene, John has a long long list of accolades, including being an AV-rated lawyer, a Super Lawyer, a Best Lawyer, and he has twice been honored as the “Lawyer of the Year” for Family Law in Omaha by Best Lawyers.
Dan: John, why did you choose to become an AAML Fellow – and what does it mean to you to be an AAML Fellow?
John Slowiaczek: I originally looked at the Academy because of the lack of continuing education that existed for family law Lawyers when I became interested in really improving or enhancing my career or my law firm. When I joined the Academy, continuing education was not mandatory in my state. I reached out to the Academy and took the tests and got in and was able to be in contact with other people who had the best legal experience in this country. I was able to participate in some continuing education that was otherwise not available anywhere in the community that I live in, or state and really in the whole geographical area. So it enabled me to really enhance my career from a professional standpoint.
The benefit of being in the Academy is that it has given me the opportunity to make some wonderful friends, some wonderful acquaintances, and both improve myself professionally, socially, and it has enhanced my practice a great deal. So I would say that the primary reason that got me involved was the CLEs, and it turned into the CLEs, and the camaraderie of all the members and people that I met across the country.
Marlene, is there anything you’d add to that?
Marlene Eskind Moses: Yes. When I was affiliating with various bar organizations, it became apparent to me that the AAML was far-and-away the most highly respected family law organization that existed in our country. And I realized that I wanted to be a part of the organization and a part of the Fellows with whom it comprised. And so I was aware of the journal that they had published and was aware of conventions that they had and opportunities to learn from them and then just be a part of the better good. The mission is to improve the practice of family law and to have the highest degree of patience, professionalism, and excellence. And I wanted to be a part of that. So I was thrilled when I was able to become a Fellow.
Marlene, what has impressed you the most about the AAML and its Fellows?
Marlene: The relationships with the best lawyers in the country. They make themselves available upon a phone call. What we do as Fellows is to call each other across the states and say, hey, I have this family law situation, and I need to know the law in your state or I want to refer the case to you. In some instances, they’re referring the cases to us. We can then take that information and make decisions about how to proceed, whether it should be one state or another. In particular, an example of that would be when I had a situation that the case could have been filed and Oklahoma or in Tennessee. And in Tennessee, there’s a minimum requirement for there to be 90 days before divorce is granted. In Oklahoma, it was 10 days. We were able to get the divorce then having filed in Oklahoma in 12 days. If I didn’t have that contact who I could have reached out to and immediately jumped on that I would not have known it. So a choice of law situation is critical.
It is also, of course, CLE, as John has mentioned. It’s the best family law education that there is in this country with trial practice, technology, arbitration, mediation, collaborative law, the best. Then, on a personal level, it’s enriching, it’s revitalizing. You have a tremendous support system. And these people who are your professional contacts then become your friends and we visit them across the country not only in our meetings as we travel, but on a personal level, and our children and our grandchildren and the connections are deep in generations. So all of that, including the relationship with the National Board of Trial Advocacy. And when you take the family law exam for the AAML, and if you become a Fellow, that exam then will count for the National Board of Trial Advocacy certification as well. So that’s another added benefit. So that’s what impressed me.
I’m not a family lawyer – I’m a publisher of a magazine. But I would assume that strategy for particularly your litigation cases, and maybe for all of your family law cases, would be important. Do you ever use other Fellows to help you clarify a strategy or consider your strategy and get their input on that? Is that ever something that you would do?
Marlene: I do it on a regular basis.
That’s going to be invaluable when you’re talking to other brilliant family lawyers…
John: Yeah, I agree with Marlene, it’s an incredible benefit. Because you’re talking with people who are outside of your community. And you can talk very candidly because you know that the conversation is not going to be something that will be, I don’t want to say used against you in a courtroom, but it’s something that people aren’t going to be picking up on in your thought processes. But the Academy in and of itself enables you to have conversations on a professional level with people who are very close friends and confidants that enable you to pick their brain, and everybody has been down the path slightly differently and they give us trial hints, hints on handling our clients, the example Marlene gave about filing in Tennessee vs. Oklahoma. That happens all the time. It gives us an opportunity to really strategize. People who aren’t members of the Academy have no concept of the opportunity that they are missing. It really is a phenomenal benefit for the intellectual knowledge that you pick up from the people. We’re dealing with people who’ve been practicing family law, some of them for 50, 60 years, and they have seen virtually everything and we can pick their brain and they help us.
John, how have your family law clients benefited from you being in AAML Fellow?
John: In part, the example that Marlene gave of Tennessee and Oklahoma. Instances of that nature. We have the ability to have to refer our clients or members of our clients’ families to lawyers around the country, for purposes of helping them. Some of our clients if they are traveling and they happen to get in an automobile accident or have a mishap in another state, we have an Academy member we can call and they will help them out of the jam that they may be in. If our clients have children that are away at college, we can call the family law lawyer in that community and the Academy member will take care of them. We have the ability to deal with the knowledge and expertise of the people around the country, and they give that to us and it trickles down to our clients.
And we really are better lawyers. We are better lawyers because we have access to more information, and we have access to more people who can help solve their problems because generally, the problems that our clients have are universally the same. And we can pick people’s brains to solve sometimes very complex issues.
I should also mention that there are Academy Fellows in each state that you can reach out to as well as Academy Fellows in all the states across the U.S. Being able to reach out to another Academy Fellow who may have a deeper understanding of a subject or may know a 3judge better than you do has to be tremendously valuable to your clients.
Marlene: Absolutely, and the fact that each state promulgates their own family law code, so that none of the states are alike. And so, we can talk about which jurisdiction we want to file in some instances, but then we can also have the benefit of the thinking of the various jurisdictions, which helps with ways to go about problem-solving. Even though the factual patterns may be very similar in each of the states, the resolutions are different based on the codes and the case law. So in conferring with other Fellows we see how their states treat a particular problem and can reference that in our particular jurisdiction. So it’s incredibly helpful.
Marlene, you’ve already touched on this a bit, but can you talk a little bit more about how you benefited personally from being an AAML Fellow.
Marlene: From the continuing legal education to the updated technology, to the increased learning opportunities and analysis of various family law situations, to hear from professionals in other fields that the American Academy brings in for the continuing legal education or as part of our structure in terms of resources that we share and have because oftentimes, we need experts in valuation issues. We need experts in mental health. We need real estate appraisers. We need appraisers with wine, with guns, with jewelry, with various kinds of assets. And so we need accountants for tax purposes. Because in family law, you’re not just dealing with one area of the law, but you’re dealing with multiple areas. You have businesses, you have real estate, you have children, you have dollars, you have investments, you have retirement, you have life insurance, you have stocks and bonds and various other kinds of investments. The list is endless. And oftentimes you need people in those particular fields, and the Academy provides contacts and resources and the ability to get what you need to facilitate the working and the conclusion of the matter at hand. So it’s tremendously beneficial in addition to the other reasons that I said and then again, really, I want to emphasize the personal level too, because family law can burn out lawyers quickly. It is intense, it is demanding, it doesn’t stop. The clients are oftentimes in very challenging and upsetting, frustrating, difficult situations. And to be able to have people in the trenches with you that are doing the same thing and that understand it, it is kind of our own language and we know what we speak and we know what we live, and we can do it together and we can support each other. So it’s a tremendous personal resource as well.
John, how has your business benefited as a result of being a Fellow of the Academy?
John: I would really focus on what Marlene was ending with and that is the personal opportunities that we have with other Fellows… it gives us the benefit of calling Fellows around the country and just talking to them – and dealing with some very complex issues and oftentimes very personal issues. I would say that the Academy has really kept me grounded. It has given me a sense of perspective on the law of other states and how the law of other states affects their case law. And how lawyers who don’t have access to other states don’t appreciate how they take case law and try to apply it to laws in other states. Oftentimes, the case law is very driven by the statutes and when we find lawyers who start citing cases from other jurisdictions, and they don’t look at the underlying statutes that give rise to the case law, they can be diametrically opposed to how cases would turn out in the State of Nebraska so that professionally, we have access to that kind of information where we can call the lawyers and talk to them and find out what’s really happening on certain cases.
But maybe more importantly, professionally, is the friendships that are so professionally based, but have such a personal context associated with them. And the ability to deal with really smart, talented men and women who are in the trenches in having the same burdens that we have. As Marlene said, there’s an incredibly high burnout rate with regard to family law because of all the stress associated with it. And professionally, we oftentimes need to unload with people who are not in our community and just let them know the problems we may be confronting or dealing with and they will periodically walk us off the ledge, so to speak, and give us a sense of balance. I think that’s very important in this area because anybody who has done it for a period of time realizes the stress that exists for everyone.
You don’t have to convince me: I’ve been in the back of the room at CLE events and working with family lawyers for the past 25 years. All family lawyers have my respect because I don’t know how you do the job that you do. What I’m hearing from both of you is that as an Academy Fellow, you get unconditional support – some Fellows more than others, I’m sure – and you’re getting stellar advice. You are building deep friendships that you can count on for a variety of things. And I don’t think that any other organization could provide that depth in any one of those three things.
Marlene: That’s very true. And another area to add to that is referrals. When there’s a matter in Nashville, Tennessee, very likely they’re going to be calling me about that. And in Omaha, Nebraska, they’re going to be calling John, and we are very selective in the lawyers that we accept into the Academy. So there’s a vetting period. It’s not like an organization where you can fill in your form and pay your money and you’re a member. So there are stringent criteria. But if you’re serious about the profession, and if you’ve worked hard in the profession and have worked hard in your community, as a leader, and as a continuing legal education provider, and if you have demonstrated expertise amongst your Fellow lawyers and judges, then you can qualify to get into the organization. That’s important to know. And then you do have the benefit of the referral network. That’s huge.
I can’t think of any reason why a qualified family lawyer wouldn’t want to become an Academy Fellow. So I’m going to put the question to you: is there anything you think that stops potential candidates from either wanting to join the Academy or initiating the process to become an Academy Fellow?
John: I think a lot of people get into their practice and they feel as though they know it all or they are comfortable with their skill set, and they don’t feel the need to move on or learn anymore because they’re either making enough money, handling a number of clients, working hard enough, and they kind of like the sense of comfort that they have available to them. So they don’t want to look beyond that. If people really just step back and take a breath and look at what the Academy has to offer, I can’t understand why anybody who is qualified, who practices family law, would not want to take advantage of it, because the opportunities so far outweigh any negatives that anybody could think of.
I think that sometimes people think that we’re an old boys network, or sometimes people think that we are going to blackball them. Sometimes people believe that there are people in their community, they won’t get them in, and they’re going to say bad things about them. None of those things exist. The Academy is incredibly open to talented qualified professionals, and they embrace new members. When a new member comes in, it is a family organization almost immediately. Everybody will seek them out and make sure that they’re involved in committees if that’s something they want to do, and get involved in the organization itself. So I would say that anybody who has an interest in improving their brain, improving their practice, improving their professional life and in many respects their social life, the Academy is a place to go.
Marlene: In terms of deterrents, I think the examination is a deterrent to some extent because people are afraid to take it, they’re afraid they may not pay us, and then they’re afraid of the stigma if they don’t pay us, and we as Fellows are aware of that. And so we have a study group, where the potential new Fellows can go and actually study for the exam. They’re told the areas that the exam will test and they can prepare for it. So we’re very mindful about the examination, and we tell people that if you are serious about taking this exam and passing it, that you do need to study, but that it’s not an onerous examination that cannot be passed, and with serious focus on it, it is not an obstacle to becoming a Fellow and getting that part of the requirement completed. So, I would say that that may be something that people are afraid to do but should not be.
What I get from both of you is that AAML is looking for family lawyers who are committed to upping the quality of their practice, and who are up for a bit of a challenge. As you say, becoming an AAML Fellow isn’t a walk in the park, but if you’re up for a challenge and you have the skills and knowledge, there’s nothing to stop you from becoming one.
I want to end, Marlene, by asking you a question about the AAML Foundation, which has made a tremendous contribution to many communities across the country. Can you share a little bit of information about it?
Marlene: I’d be happy to. The AAML Foundation was created in 1990. It’s a 501(c)(3) organization. It is organized in order to protect children and families. So we recognize that family law situations can have difficult effects, sometimes even damaging effects on children and families, and so we want to help counteract those. So there has been 10,027 donations to date. We have distributed $1,300,000, and we have 444 lifetime donors who have become AAML Foundation Fellows – which is quite significant because we have approximately 1,650 members of the AAML.
What the organizations do is help in supporting children coping with stresses of divorce, teaching mothers and fathers and caregivers how to co-parent effectively. The organizations that we fund provide counseling to children and families experiencing domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental illness, and it promotes enrichment programs to help prevent the breakup of a family. It has been a tremendous benefit across the country because the grants are given across the country, all 50 states. And it’s taken very seriously by the AAML. And we’re proud of our foundation.
You should be proud, Marlene! In my role as a publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine, I’m often at the back of the room at AAML conferences, and I’ve often heard the recipients of your generous donations speak at those events. I have been brought to tears a number of times for the work that those people are doing and for the difference it has made in the lives of the people they’re helping. So I know that the Foundation is making a huge difference for people who need help.
I want to thank my guests Marlene Eskind Moses and John Slowiaczek for taking the time out of their busy schedules to be on this Family Lawyer Magazine podcast with me. You can learn more about Marlene at www.MTRFamilyLaw.com and more about John at www.SAAlawyers.com.
If you’re a family lawyer, please visit FamilyLawyerMagazine.com for more podcasts, articles, and family law case reviews that will help both you and your family law practice to thrive. Again, I want to thank both of you for joining me. It was a sincere pleasure!
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