The first association of Iranian American attorneys in the U.S. - Established 1994

Piercing the Veil of Culture

Cultural Competency in Family Practice

Five panels of family law judges, mental health providers and attorneys present a global view of marriage, relationship during marriage, divorce and its consequences, i.e. custody, support & division of property.

Saturday, July 27, 2013
The University of West Los Angeles, School of Law

9800 S. La Cienega Blvd., 12th Floor, Inglewood, CA 90301



Jami Fosgate:

"I thought the seminar was GREAT! I learned so much, yet I feel the surface was barely scratched and I would LOVE to attend similar programs in the future. I am disappointed that more of our colleagues did not attend..."

Cultural Literacy in the Courtroom
by Thomas M. Hall

"The Iranian American Lawyers Association has begun to explore ways to bring greater cultural awareness to L.A. attorneys, judicial officers and medical professionals. They have presented programs on Islamic and Jewish marriage issues, and on July 27, presented a daylong program on Cultural Competency in Family Practice. It is only a beginning. As our world grows smaller and our community increases its business and other ties to Central and South American cultures, and to the Pacific Rim, attorneys who are able to understand and work with cultural nuances will be more competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Bar associations will benefit their members by producing programs on cultural literacy. As the State Bar considers ways in which legal training might be restructured to better reflect modern society and modern legal needs, it should consider that a multi-cultural community needs lawyers who understand the complexities and opportunities inherent in such a community..."

Thomas M. Hall is a California certified family law specialist attorney, practicing in West Los Angeles. In this article published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal (August 15, 2013), Mr. Hall points to the impact of culture in trial testimony of an Iranian client. Mr. Hall concludes that the Cultural Competency Seminar was an exploration in bringing greater cultural awareness to L.A. attorneys, judicial officers and medical professionals. Mr. Hall may be reached by e-mail at

Read full article by clicking here.

Commissioner Keith M. Clemens (Ret.):

"This was a fascinating and valuable post. As to whether there should be programs for MCLE credit that educate family law lawyers about the law library's resources and how they can actually be tapped, that is a fine idea. If those prorams can be structured to qualify to meet an MCLE special requirement such as elimination of bias in the legal profession, so much the better."

Robert A. Fairfield, Esq.:

"There have been many inquiries on this forum regarding child custody and visitation where a parent resides or will reside or has resided in a foreign country. There have been many inquiries on this forum regarding immigration problems with a parent who may be removed from this country, raising a new set of custody and visitation issues.

Yesterday, I attended a program that had been announced on this forum. It took place at the LA Law Library and included an introduction to the wonderful assets this library has regarding international law and foreign country law. In the end, we were given a problem, perhaps similar to the one above, and each was assigned a country to research to see how the laws of that country might relate to the problem. In the end, we did not become experts, as that was not the intent of the program. In the end, we understood the assets available to us at the library - assets that include the staff who are very knowledgeable and very able to assist the customers, books and other writing, and internet sites.

Neel Agrawal from the LA law Library and Abbas Hadjian from this forum put in a lot of time and work to present a wonderful program. I think this family law section should consider working with the staff at the law library to present a program on how these assets in the law library can be utilized.

My own opinion, with the shrinking world and more legal issues in family law regarding property, children, customs and foreign country laws, this presentation gave us something that was very practical. I think others would agree after they had the exposure that I did."

Susan Carlisle, CPA:

"The all-day seminar was an enormous success. It was informative, creative, and entertaining. It was clear that an extraordinary amount of time and effort were used to generate such a multi-faceted experience. I would also like to thank your warm and intelligent staff who helped you put it all together.

The seminar made me think of possible follow up ideas:
  1. How about a once per month focus on one of our many ethnic communities in LA and the San Fernando Valley-- those people from India, Armenia, China, etc?
  2. How about introducing a first generation immigrant and his or her 20 or 30 something attorney offspring to give us some perspective on the changes taking place in the community?
  3. Although all-day weekend seminars are great for broad topics, it makes it difficult for our young attorneys with children to attend. How about doing more of these at lunchtime so that we may help the next generation of attorneys grow?
  4. How about inviting some of our elected officials to participate along with the judges?
That's it for now. I'm so grateful to you both."

Robert A. Fairfield, Esq.:

  1. "The program was excellent. It showed a lot of attention to detail and preparation. Each of the five panels met its objective and provided a lot of information. The best analogy I can give, is to say that it is like a meal. Each part of the meal is distinct from the other, but complements the other. Mustard does not go well on a salad, but goes well with a hot dog that goes well with a salad. When the first speaker began telling us about her personal experiences, I wondered if this would be group therapy of a seminar. A minute later, I knew it was appropriate as it was a perfect introduction and set the tempo and tone for the program. Those who gave a personal experience gave reality to cultural differences, and our perceptions of cultural habits. Each panel had an excellent mix so we could get the information from the experts, from the judicial officers who see it, and from the people who are familiar with it.
  2. This was an excellent first program. I look as the first part of walking a mile in the shoes of someone else. I got the shoes on and stood up. Now, I need to take a few steps. I hope there are some future programs.
    • Perhaps, there are some litigants who can relate their experiences, especially when they thought the judicial system did not understand them.
    • Since we can not stereotype all members of a culture or religion, how do we introduce evidence and find relevant law to persuade a court to consider culture or religion when making decisions, whether it concerns property or children?
    • I think the audience needs to include those who work in the court conciliation/mediation programs. They are the ones who meet with the parents and the children and gather the initial information for child custody disputes. Those who sit as mediators regarding property division and support need this information in order to make recommendations to the parties.
  3. Divorce is one of the few areas of the law where parties must go through a court process. If you are in an automobile accident, you do not have to take your dispute to court, even a big dispute. If you are married, you must take your marriage to court before you can become an unmarried person, regardless of how small the dispute. With budget cuts, this is a more difficult task. With cultural and language problems, the task is even more difficult.
    • If California could go from a fault divorce state to a non-fault divorce state, why can’t it make dissolution of marriage more simple? What does this question have to do with the program? Is it possible that the majority of the family disputes are ill-served by the family code? If child support and child custody are driven by the mantra of the best interests of the child, don’t we, with our case law, look at one type of best interest of the child?
    • Cultural and religious customs of the parties may present a different view of the family dynamics. Maybe it does take a village. The families in the rural areas in Vietnam lived in simple dwellings. When they came to the United States as refugees in the 70's, housing laws prevented them from living in the type of conditions they were used to living in their native land. Our legal system penalized them. We eat cows, a practice frowned upon by some religions and cultures. Others eat things that disturb us - dogs, cats, horses. Yet, our legal systems punish those whose religions and customs differ from our norms.
    • How do these things affect the outcome in divorce courts? If the custom is to remove one’s shoes before entering the house, is that any different from a custom of not bathing every day? I think we need to get away from international notions about families and divorce. I think we need to get away from a national notion about families and divorce. I think we need to get away from a state notion about families and divorce and allow more room for individualism, which means more religious and cultural influences. Why should a young couple that grew up in Iran, educated in Iran, who come to the California so the wife can attend medical school at Stanford University, be subject to California’s laws regarding dissolution of marriage when the marriage fails a year after they arrive here? Or, what about if she were accepted to Johns Hopkins in Maryland or NYU in New York, instead. Should their fate be different, then? Should the impact of the divorce laws influence where people immigrate and reside, even if for a short amount of time?
    • I think culture and religion, and other intangible factors, play an important role in how people live before marriage and how they would expect to live after the marriage ends. I hope that our courts would become more sensitive to these factors, I hope our laws would become more sensitive to these factors.
  4. As the United States is becoming more and more heterogeneous, do we need sensitivity training for judicial officers, support personnel (court appointed experts, court appointed attorneys) as it pertains to cultural habits ? If so, is this something the legislature needs to address? If so, shouldn’t the bar associations be involved with this process?
  5. Is there a place where attorneys can contribute their exposures to cultural differences so that other attorneys can see them? Although there are very few cases on this, should they be recorded? There was a recent published opinion from Orange County in a personal injury case regarding a person from Mexico. The court’s attitude that was verbalized to the plaintiff and his attorney showed a prejudice against persons from Mexico."

Jeannette J. Wright, Esq.:

  1. "The moderators did an outstanding job on keeping the time limits for each panel... I was amazed that they were able to do that when each member had so much information to give the audience... I know each speaker was told in advance how much time he/she had; however, some of them, I'm sure, did not have sufficient time for their presentation... my comment is that the time for each panel was well done and should not be extended for the benefit of the panel members who were trying to cover a lot of ground... I can only suggest that the benefit of the oral presentation is to let the audience know that the written materials will have more detailed coverage...
  2. The presentations applying visual information were excellent as a teaching tool. The selection and variation of the panel members were well done.
  3. I have never had such wonderful food selections... it was the very best...
  4. We all learned a great deal... and the selection of the topics was varied for giving us all a wide range of information...
I don't know how you found the time to make this all come together. I was so impressed with the hard work that must have gone on behind the scenes to make this happen."

Nazli Saliminejad, M.A.:

"I wanted to also thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your seminar on Saturday. It was absolutely a wonderful learning experience. Your expertise, passion and enthusiasm, as well as your tireless efforts have always been a great source of inspiration for me, both personally, and as a member of the Iranian community. Thank you again..."

Corinne Sanchez, Esq.:

"Thank you so much. Again, the seminar was inspiring and well-over due!! Congratulations to you and your team!!"

Patricia Ju, Esq.:

"Thank you for a very helpful and informative day of multi-panels that enlightened me on the aspects of dealing with multiculturalism in family law."

Sehba Sauleha Arif, Esq.:

"I thought it was a wonderful seminar! The panels were great. I did not stay for the last panel due to a family situation with my mother, so can't comment on it, but the rest of the panels were fabulous. The attendance was surprisingly good; it's hard to get that many people to go to a full day seminar on a Saturday. You must have done a very good job of putting out the word on it."

Thomas M. Hall, CFLS:

"I'd like to chime in with my praise for the program as well. The panelists and their information were excellent, eye opening, thought provoking.
Frankly, I thought that it ended up being overly ambitious. Too many speakers had to truncate their presentations, due to the crowded agenda. Even Abbas Hadjian's talk got slighted - poetic justice, perhaps?
One of the best parts of the program wasn't ON the program. The lunch was itself a statement of cultural diversity. No standardized hotel rubber chicken in sight! No mashed potatoes sitting beside overly steamed veggies. Persian grilled veggies (which disappeared before anything else), chicken and meat skewers (were those lamb or beef?), and wonderful long grain rice. Then the fresh salad bowls, humus and and pita bread, with a small amount of stuffed grape leaves.
Cultural Competency includes knowing that it is safe to risk something new on the menu at all day CLE programs. Even the 'breakfast' table was utterly bagel free - how could that happen in L.A.!
I was really intrigued by the online presentation of materials. Even as the program progressed, the online reading list was expanding.
While praising this ambitious program, we should not lose sight of the fact that Abbas and the Iranian American Lawyers Association have done other programs in the past that encourage cultural literacy, and plan more programs in the future. This is an area in which the legal community (not just Family Law) needs more work (says the pasty white, New England WASPy couch potato, whose family was around for the Salem witch trials)."

Commissioner Keith M. Clemens (Ret.):

"I thought this program was excellent. There was a lot of substance in most of the presentations. Out of 20 presenters, with only one or two exceptions the quality of the presentations was quite high. That's a really good batting average for an all-day program. When the subject is as broad and nuanced and complex as the impact of "culture" (which includes without limitation and in no particular order race, religion, national origin and sexual orientation) on family law practice, I expected to learn a lot, and I did. Indeed some topics were really new for me, e.g., what Judge Pellman told us about Native American/ Indian family history, conduct in court and ICWA.
The program had a good balance among (i) sensitizing the audience to how cultural differences affect individuals and families in dealing with family conflict, divorce, and legal institutions, (ii) educating the audience about a variety of foreign family law systems and how foreign substantive family law is materially different from California's family law, and (iii) teaching lawyers and judges what they might do in practice to try to meet the challenges.
Many thanks are due to Abbas Hadjian for the astounding amount of work that went into organizing this seminar. He made a huge contribution to the family law community in making this program happen, but of course that wouldn't have happened without help from other organizers and the substantial and substantive contributions of the many judicial officers, lawyers and mental health professionals who made up the five panels of presenters."

Lynette Berg Robe, CFLS:

"Congratulations on a spectacular program! I enjoyed every minute of it! I drove home to go out to dinner at a Thai Restaurant with a Swiss family who was visiting us. So, that seemed to be a perfect end to the day! I felt completely appreciative of the richness of diversity and different cultures, having had delicious Persian food for lunch and Thai food for dinner and all the discussion in between! I thought particularly Judge Juhas's filmed comments at the beginning set a good foundation for the day. His remarks clearly showed how Los Angeles County has changed and how the diversity of languages and cultures is impacting our family court and our practices. Because we do not live nor practice law in a vacuum, each of us needs to cultivate cultural compentence. Congratulations on organizing a landmark program!"

Ellin Palmer, Esq.:

"This past Saturday's seminar put ob by the LACBA family law section's diversity sub-committee was exceptional. The site at UWLA worked well but might not be large enough for the next similar seminar as the room was full. All the panels provided information of significance, some used video clips to get us thinking while the lunch panel used some of Bette Davis film "The Letter" to get us talking. Lunch was delicious Persian food. Beverages and sweet rolls were provided at the start of the seminar, sweets were provided at the afternoon break along with more beverages. Parking was validated, I could not have asked for a more interesting day! Thanks to Abbas Hadjian and his committee and all the presenters!"

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