In the practice of law, it is certainly rewarding to have success in your area of practice. However, five years ago I decided to take an area of my life that is extremely rewarding, and also make it part of my practice – adoption.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, my amazing wife and I legally became the adoptive parents of our third son and first daughter under the laws of our nation. Both of them were from Ethiopia. Technically, we had been their parents under Ethiopian law since July 2012, but it was a very special day that changed the course of our lives and my work. As a litigator and trial dog by nature and training, a courtroom had always been the scene of a calculated battle that had been meticulously planned. That day, my oldest two boys bounced around and smiled with us. We took pictures with the judge. For the first time in my life, I walked out of a legal proceeding in which everyone was delighted to have participated. Simply put, I had to get in on the action.
I started researching and educating myself on the process beyond what I knew from going through it personally. Before long, a private adoption opportunity walked into my office and my minor practice area was born. Through speaking engagements and relationships, the practice began to grow. Eventually, I represented the adoption agency that assisted us with our first adoption and others were coming with a plethora of regulatory questions. Stepparent adoptions, international finalizations, foster adoptions, and many of all the “unusual” adoption cases began to find me. What a joy it has been to be an instrument of creating new families and hope. My lovely wife and I even took the leap of starting our own little nonprofit (www.sciontree.org) to help educate and fund other people’s adoptions.
Two years ago, we felt called to bring home a little girl from India. Our 4-year-old daughter was growing bored with how easily she could terrorize her older brothers. So, we thought a sister appropriate. Genuinely, we learned of the unthinkable atrocities that occur to the staggering number of orphaned girls in India and knew our hearts longed to call at least one to be ours. The paper trail and checks started flowing. If you or anyone you know has gone through adoption, the level of personal inquiry far surpasses the character and fitness exam for the bar!
As the daunting delays passed, we received the photo of a beautiful little girl early last year. Love at first sight, and the worry period began. Any number of hiccups, problems or prejudices could have derailed the process of this darling becoming ours, but all continued smoothly. We prepared our children for this adventure of a lifetime – traveling to the other side of the planet to bring home their sister. I prepared my firm for an extended absence – no simple task in a small practice. The day came.
Four planes, 26 hours of air time, two days, and 10 hours of lost time later, we landed in Madurai, India. Submersed into a world not our own, we pulled into a well-kept orphanage and wrapped our arms and hearts around our Chelam (“sweetheart” in Tamil). Yes, the Taj Mahal and many other amazing sites were wonderful to experience, but nothing compared to the miracles that walked with me to visit them all.
Several days aft er returning home, I led an adoption final hearing in a small county for a couple that had fostered a boy for the last 14 years and made the commitment to call him their own. My blessings are more than I deserve. While adoption law may never be my primary area of practice, I confess it is my most cherished. Stephen Bittinger