Kids in Court

During my days of practicing law, I
proudly introduced myself to other lawyers as an adoption attorney. Inevitably,
the response was “Lucky you! You practice ‘Happy Law!’”

It was happy law, except for the  times it wasn’t. I had my share of failed
adoptions. An adoption fall-through breaks everyone’s heart, including the
attorneys who represent the parents and the prospective adoptive parents.  

Thankfully, the great majority of
adoption plans succeed. I always looked forward to the final adoption hearing. By
then, all the paperwork was finished, the T’s crossed, and the I’s dotted. Each county in Maryland handles its adoptions a bit differently,
but there is one commonality: the absolute joy that comes from the legal recognition
of a new family. Tears of happiness flow. Family and friends gather, clap, and
cheer. It’s happy law at its finest.

The children were the best part of
the hearings—you just never knew what they were going to do. For me, the sheer
unpredictability of children’s behavior was what made adoption hearings fun. There
was the fussy two-month old whose discontent mystified his prospective adoptive
parents. The answer came shortly after the case was called. As I introduced the
family to the judge, the baby threw up on counsel’s chair. Baby felt much
better! I give much credit to the judge. He still wanted to hold the baby for

There was the brave couple whose
birth child was a toddler, and they were in court to adopt twin toddlers.  During the hearing, the trio of rambunctious toddlers
kept themselves busy by spinning the jury chairs. I’ve never seen such laid
back parents.

A teething child gnawed on the
edges of the paper cups stacked by the water pitcher on counsel’s table. After
the hearing, the parents re-stacked the slobbered-up cups and returned them to
their place by the pitcher. From then on, I always brought bottled water into a

I wasn’t a part of this adoption, but
heard the story from a favorite judge. The judge was in the middle of the hearing
when the young child ran from the courtroom, turned off the lights on the way out the door, and left stunned adults sitting in the dark.  

Picture-taking usually follows the
hearing. Many judges invite the child to sit in the judge’s chair and bang the
gavel. Children love it. Finally, they have permission to bang a piece of
furniture with something like a hammer. And bang away, they did. So much

Sometimes a child showed remarkable
poise. A ten-year old girl invited her entire fifth grade class to her adoption
hearing, plus her extended family. The judge surprised her by asking her to
introduce everyone. Without missing a beat, she introduced every single
celebrant to the judge. I expect she will one day be a network news anchor, a celebrity spokesperson, or the
President of the United States. 

My favorite was the red-haired, four-year-old
firecracker who bolted from his parents, ripped the paper out of the reporter’s
stenotype machine, and ran, holding the end of the paper over his head. Who
knew there were so many fun contraptions in a courtroom?

Do I miss practicing adoption law? Parts of it,
for sure. I miss my noble and courageous clients, my colleagues, the judges,
and the other adoption professionals with whom I worked toward forming families.

But most of all, I miss the