The Forever Family Firm
Adoptee Lisa Williams-McCallum knows family comes first
Published in 2020 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 16, 2020
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Midwest this spring, Lisa Williams-McCallum was nervous. In the throes of an unprecedented health crisis, the Kansas adoption attorney worried whether hiring a lawyer to help with the adoption process would still be at the top of anyone’s mind.
And then her firm, The Adoption Services Law Group, got busier than it had been in the past two years.
“I think it’s because we have really had to refocus about what kinds of things are important. And family is important,” she says. “Even though the world is so uncertain right now, and everything seems so topsy-turvy on so many fronts, people still want that family connection.”
Williams-McCallum’s firm is one of the few in the region that focuses solely on adoption and child welfare litigation. It is a relatively small niche, she says, in which business relies heavily on referrals. And it can come with plenty of difficult situations: contested adoptions, painful evidentiary hearings, and cases involving bad family situations, including abusive relationships.
But the rewarding nature of the work far outweighs the challenges. And it’s an arena Williams-McCallum instantly connected with at Washburn University.
“Being an adoptee, it made sense,” she says. “I took an adoption law class, and five minutes in, I knew: This is it. This is what I wanted to do. I absolutely loved my professor, and we’re actually officemates now.”
When Williams-McCallum was born, Missouri adoption records were still closed. But in 2019, about a year after the state began making birth certificates in her year available to adoptees, she was able to track down her birth mother. They have the same light brown eyes, and the same laugh, proven at a birthday party last year, when they celebrated both their birthdays.
“Several people … were surprised at how similar we laughed—and some of our expressions and gestures and those kinds of things, how similar they were,” says Williams-McCallum. Though she had noticed the similarity herself, she adds, “I thought, ‘Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part, trying to make a connection.’ But if other people recognized it, it must be.”
She always knew she was adopted. And she remembers the day her parents adopted her brother, Rodney, three years later, and the trip around town to introduce him to her aunt and grandmother. “For me, since it was a positive experience, I went into my career wanting to help other children find that family that’s going to think they are the greatest thing ever,” Williams-McCallum says.
Because she started law school at 45, she already had a good idea of what she wanted her career to look like. Working for somebody else for 90 hours a week, for example, was not in the cards. So, when Williams-McCallum opened her firm in October 2019, she focused on adoption from the start. And her professor from the adoption law class and his wife—Allan and Peggy Hazlett—were graciously willing to share an office space.
“A lot of times, you have couples who have had fertility issues or have had miscarriages, or failed adoptions after fertility issues, and being able to finalize those adoptions is so wonderful,” Williams-McCallum says. “To see how happy the parents are, and know that this baby is going to go to a super set of folks and will have lots of advantages that it maybe might otherwise not have had, that is particularly rewarding.”
And the rewards often continue years after an adoption is finalized, as past clients send holiday cards and school pictures. Her favorite part, however, is more immediate.
“It’s kind of corny, but I really do like that finalization hearing and seeing the judge’s face,” she says. “They have a very small part in the grand scheme of getting through the adoption plan and process; they’re just there at the very end. But you can really tell that one of the happier things the court gets to do is to sign that decree of adoption. That officially makes that child a member of that family forever.”