Claiborne & Surmay, P.C. took leading roles in the 22nd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) and the 2nd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys (AAARTA). The meetings were held May 4-7, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency, Savannah, following a full year of planning by conference co-chairs Ruth Claiborne, a principal in Claiborne & Surmay, P.C. (Atlanta & Savannah) and Jim Thompson of the Thompson Law Firm,LLC in South Carolina. Claiborne & Surmay senior paralegal Toni Treadway co-chaired the paralegal portion of the conference, with attorney Shannon Matteson serving as liaison and advisor to the paralegals. This was Toni’s second time as a paralegal leader together with Wendy Gebhauer of Wisconsin, and once again she did a fantastic job. Our Savannah office, located on Bay Street just 2 blocks east of the Hyatt, provided valuable logistical support and paralegal Kim Griffin also set up several tours for participants and guests.
By all accounts this was one of the Academy’s most successful annual conferences ever, drawing approximately 250 attorneys, 32 paralegals, 15 sponsor/vendors, and numerous seminar speakers, spouses, and guests. Despite beautiful weather and the attractions of historic Savannah just steps from the hotel, 15 hours of cutting edge continuing legal education seminars were very well attended, held in a room with a long glass wall overlooking the river! Topics included Surrogacy Contract Drafting, ARTs Dilemmas; Health Insurance for Gestational Carriers; Ethics; Legislative Advocacy; Joint Adoption, ARTS & Immigration; Jurisdiction and Multistate Adoptions; Contested Adoptions; Impact of Maternal High Risk Behaviors on Child Development; Social Media; Telecommuting and Multijurisdictional Practice; and more. Paralegals were involved in a number of the CLE Sessions but also had their own breakout sessions focusing on ethics, technology and practical paralegal pointers.
The AAAA and AAARTA conference was an invaluable opportunity for all who attended to share ideas, to network with the best attorneys in our field from all over the US and Canada; to learn from each other and form lasting professional alliances. Often adoption and ARTs cross state lines with parties residing in different states, so it is crucial to have trusted colleagues throughout the country. The conference provided a balance of education, business meetings, and social activities.
On the recreational and social fronts, we built events around Savannah’s history and charm: a waterfront headquarters hotel, the opening reception at The Olde Pink House with delicious food in a converted historic home, and our main evening dinner and entertainment event on beautiful Johnson Square, complete with Savannah musicians followed by AAAA’s Rogue Band (famous in Academy circles!), delicious food, and the beauty of the historic square with its live oaks and monuments surrounded by landmark buildings. Attendees in their free time enjoyed walking tours, a riverboat cruise, an array of great restaurants, kayaking, golf, and even “The Book” Club at Clary’s café.
The conference ended on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mother’s Day weekend was the time at least two adoption triads met for the first time, following successful searches and reunions. A daughter from Oregon found her birth mother who lived in Savannah, met for the first time, and contacted Savannah media about the joys of reuniting. Attorney Ruth Claiborne was interviewed by the local Fox news channel about adoption reunions, the role of state-sponsored reunion registries, the new phenomenon of social media, and the Academy’s support of open adoption. Meanwhile, paralegal Toni Treadway and her husband went out to dinner and had a very personal encounter with an adoption reunion between a birth mom, biological father, and adult adoptee, happening at a nearby table in the restaurant. Toni was able to connect with them in a special way and to give meaningful and lasting gifts of understanding and a necklace with special symbolic meaning. For more on Toni’s story, click here.
AAAA voted in 2009 to form AAARTA as an affiliated academy, in recognition of the growing role of assisted reproductive technologies in family formation. Both Academies have rigorous selection processes for fellows, high ethical standards, and focus on the best interests of children as well as the adults who want to be parents. Both Academies seek out the best in our niche practices of adoption and assisted reproduction. We are grateful for having been given leadership roles and energized by having experienced the latest/greatest continuing education while having fun and enhancing professional relationships.