|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JUNE 2009|
Scott Adams has witnessed the joy and pain that accompanies adoption countless times during his 15 years as an attorney. Mostly adoption brings happiness — for those who want to become parents and finally get their chance, and for those who already live as a family but just want to make it official.
Yet, for every adoptive parent who gains a child there is a birth parent who places one. In the worst cases, somebody has a change of mind and contests an agreement. And not every successful adoption is joyful. Adams, adopted as an infant in 1969, tears up as he tells of working with Washington County Circuit Court Judge Rita Batz Cobb to expedite the paperwork for a couple seeking to adopt a baby diagnosed with a terminal illness. The couple got their wish for the baby, if only for a little while. The baby died within an hour of the adoption’s finalization.
While every adoption story is unique, one common thread is that social attitudes toward adoption have become overwhelmingly more positive, says Adams.
“Adoption has always been just as popular — there just wasn’t the same level of openness about it,” he says. “I’ve seen how complete closedness about it can hurt people. In the past, kids were sort of the forgotten element in the adoption triad. If the records were sealed, the child had no choice to learn about their biological parents. The unknown is always the worst part of it.
“On the other side, I’ve seen how openness has helped people. I’m so delighted in the change in adoption as a whole so that the birth parents and the child are part of the process, too,” he adds.
A Lifelong Quest
Adams’ parents, who also adopted a baby girl when Adams was 4, were open with both children early on about their adoptions. It wasn’t until Adams was in high school that he began to wonder about his birth parents.
“We had moved to Oregon when I was 6, and I went back to Akron (Ohio) to visit my grandparents when I was a senior in high school,” Adams says. “I did a little bit of looking since I was in the area, and my grandparents were able to share a few memories. I got to where I was a phone call or two away from being able to trace who they were and then I just stopped. I didn’t really know what I wanted for
myself by doing the search, and I didn’t think it was fair to continue without knowing that.”
He let the issue rest while he earned degrees in political science, religion and Spanish at Willamette University. Adams planned to go to law school there as well, but was offered a job in the corporate law department of a Fortune 200 company in Akron that offered to put him through law school. Adams and his wife, Frances, then newlyweds, moved east and Adams graduated from the University of Akron’s law school in 1994.
While in Ohio, Adams connected with other adult adoptees and assisted them with records searches as they looked for their birth parents. As he helped arrange reunions between the adoptees and their biological families, Adams attempted to continue his own search. “At that point, I had a better feel for what I wanted for myself,” he says.
By that time, Adams had done several records searches on behalf of other adoptees at the same agency that had handled his own adoption. Though most of the records were sealed, one agency worker would covertly share information by
placing a particular file on her desk and leaving the room. But when Adams requested his own file, she had a very different response.
“She held up a file and said, ‘This is your file and you can’t see it. Have a nice day,’ ” Adams says. “To this day, I don’t know why.”
When the Adamses moved back to Oregon in 1999, Scott devoted his legal practice to what he calls “constructive” family law. He will not handle divorce cases or custody disputes, preferring to take only cases that help build families. To that end, he specializes in a range of adoption types as well as surrogacy and gestational carrier agreements and guardianships.
Adams also chairs the Adoption Subcommittee of the OSB Family Law Section and is involved in legislative issues such as attempting to reinstate Oregon’s tax credit for adoptive families. In his practice and his professional volunteer work, Adams has seen adoption evolve to include same-sex couples and transracial and transcultural families.
A 24/7 Commitment
Adams says what he enjoys most
about his work is that it gives him a chance to protect children and families. He works from his home office in Banks, where Frances handles the business operations and his daughters, Rebekah, 7, and Sarah, 4, provide entertainment for any children who accompany their parents to the office.
“It’s a family business and everyone in my family is involved, so I do bring it home,” he says. “It’s what I choose to do. I wouldn’t want a job where I work 60 or 70 hours a week and then ignore it when
I go home. There is no shutting it off.”
Adams doesn’t ramp down professionally even during life’s toughest moments, and there have been some big ones. His older daughter, Rebekah, was diagnosed with a form of inoperable cancer called Ewings sarcoma four years ago. Chemotherapy and radiation apparently have gotten rid of the cancer, but have taken their toll on Rebekah’s health physically and mentally. (During her treatment, Adams worked out of his camper in the hospital parking lot.)
As if that weren’t enough, the family’s house caught fire and was destroyed while they were preparing for Rebekah’s 6th birthday party last year.
“We’ve had some challenges, but it provides great perspective,” Adams says. “The generosity of people out there is amazing, so we spend a lot of our time just trying to give back. If ‘pay it forward’ is accurate, I’ve got a pretty big debt.”
Among the ways he’s repaying that debt, Adams became a volunteer firefighter and EMT in 1997. “The adoption work gives me long-term gratification, and the firefighting and medical work give me instant gratification,” he says. “My house burned down, so I know what it’s like to have people come to help.”
The Adamses also support Candlelighters for Children With Cancer and Kory’s Foundation, two organizations that help families dealing with a child’s cancer.
“We literally survived for a year because of donations from Candlelighters, Kory’s Foundation and others,”
Beaverton attorney Mark Holady met Adams shortly before Rebekah’s illness was diagnosed and about the time his own mother-in-law suffered a massive stroke. Holady says Adams initially approached him for advice on a probate issue during an informal networking event. The pair stayed in phone contact and, when personal tragedy struck both, they turned to each other for support.
Among the many things he admires about Adams, Holady says, is his passion for helping others. Adams, who enjoys ham radio and motorcycles in his spare time, also owns a tractor. During last December’s snow storm, he plowed open many driveways, including the fire department, small businesses and his daughter’s preschool. He also helped several people recover their cars from the ditch along the way, Holady says.
“As a husband, he values his wife above all else. As an American, he firmly believes in giving back in service to his community. As a lawyer, he cares more about his clients than he does himself,” Holady says. “He lives out his faith by being a great husband and father, and taking care of his clients.”
For Adams, who at one point considered going into the seminary rather than law school, his commitment to his clients involves his heart as well as his time and expertise. “I take my job personally and I get involved in my clients’ lives,” he says. “They say lawyers aren’t supposed to do that, but how can you not?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. She and her husband, Barry, met Scott Adams while adopting their son three years ago. (Adams represented the birth parents.) The Finnemores say they were “profoundly touched” to find Adams cradling their son when they arrived at the hospital to take him home the day after he was born. Adams’ reply: “I never miss the chance to hold the babies.”
© 2009 Melody Finnemore