A Happy Goal
Allison McNair built an adoption and surrogacy firm, then adopted a child herself
Published in 2021 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine on April 30, 2021
Early last year, Allison McNair began a journey she’d been dreaming about since she was a girl. It’s what led her to form her own practice in 2014, Building Families LLC, where she and her husband Cole help others achieve the same dream. She began the process to adopt a child.
“I’d always been interested in adoption and knew I would adopt, so in law school I pursued it heavily,” she says. “I met someone else who does it, they became my mentor and helped me learn the trade. Then assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy just fell into place as a natural extension.”
At first, she didn’t know if it could be a full-time career, so she launched Building Families part-time while handling divorce and custody cases at another firm. Four years later, she made the leap to full-time.
“There are very few people in the state who do just this. But I’ve found the more narrow your particular focus, the more you’re known for it and the more that work comes to you,” says McNair, who handles roughly 50 adoptions and 40 surrogacies per year.
A difficult reality of the job is the emotional toil of disrupted adoptions, when the birth parent(s) change their mind and decide to keep the child—which happens roughly 20% of the time.
“When I started, that’s why I knew I wasn’t cut out for divorces and custody. We have contested cases and rarely there may be a heartbreaking situation when an adopted family has to hand a baby back who has been in their care, but those are the exception to the rule,” she says. “While adoption is emotionally complex, at least the hope is, in each situation, you are working towards the desired outcome for all parties involved.”
When it works out, it’s a memorable day in court. “There are lots of tears, lots of pictures; it’s a wonderful experience to be a part of,” McNair says. “The ones that stick with me most are the firsts—like the first time when a biological mother reached out to us and we connected her with a family that was waiting—or unique situations like the same-sex couple who we did an action for so they could both be named legal parents on the birth certificate, even though same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in South Carolina.”
Shortly after the McNairs married, Cole joined Building Families. “We didn’t know how long we’d be jointly working together, but we have different strengths and it has turned out to be extremely fun,” she says. “While I handle the legal aspects of all the cases, he does the financial end, a lot of the communication with clients, and he’s the point person for the surrogacy process.”
Going through the adoption experience themselves taught them a lot. “I can definitely relate to the anxiety of our clients a lot more,” McNair says. “We had a disrupted adoption, in May, which was heartbreaking. But our son was born in October, and he’s perfect for us.”