With more than 16 years of practicing law under her belt, Jana Lamanna has worked in family law, estate planning, medical malpractice, divorce, probate law, and more. But it took a personal journey in completing her own family to find her true passion: helping others fulfill their dreams of becoming parents through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Today Jana is one of only a few fertility law practitioners in the Mid-South region and is the head of the Black McLaren Jones Ryland & Griffee, P.C. (BMJRG) fertility law group. Her recent acceptance into the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys as a fellow illustrates her commitment – the highly selective process requires a minimum of five years of legal practice, at least 50 adoption or ART cases, and a rigorous ethical and competency review. Meet this trailblazing and empathetic FACE of Memphis!
What attracted you to a career in law?
I’ve always felt driven to help if someone had a problem or wanted to accomplish something. I like the concept of building trust and working with people to determine the best course of action. The law gives you the means to come up with creative solutions to help people solve problems.
Your career as a fertility law practitioner started on a personal level. Will you share your story with us?
I have one child, my son, conceived in the usual manner. For my daughter, we used a gestational carrier. She taught me as much about the process as anyone; we were her second family to help in this amazing way. It was a wonderful experience for both of us, and we still keep in contact. In fact, I represented her when she undertook her third and final surrogacy journey.
I was already practicing when I started on this journey myself. As I got to know my own lawyer who I hired for my journey, I became extremely interested in the legal process. I started learning and working to develop my own very distinct practice. I soon realized that all the other areas I practiced – and still practice – helped prepare the ground for me. For a gestational carrier agreement, for example, you need to know contract law, employment law, medical and legal terminology, estate planning, the list goes on. My background and experience laid the foundation for me.
What does a fertility law advocate do?
I understand the many aspects of fertility law and walk with a client step-by-step through the whole process. Most people don’t realize everything that must happen just to get started. Using the gestational carrier agreement again as an example, the carrier must undergo psychological as well as medical testing. Insurance provisions are evaluated. There are lost wages and vital records components. Parents need medical power of attorney so they can assist in making decisions for the child. Court processes are involved. A contract for surrogacy is over 60 pages long! I am able to draw it up and clearly explain the provisions to my client.
Sometimes I’m contacted directly by an individual who is ready to begin the process and has been given my name by reproductive physicians. If there is no agency involved, their reproductive endocrinologist and I guide them all the way, whether they’re doing an egg or sperm donation agreement or a gestational/surrogacy contract. I also get calls from people who are interested in exploring their options. I can explain clearly what it takes to effectuate a journey and give them guidelines and resources.
There are no surrogacy agencies in Memphis currently, but I work with agencies nationwide. When a client hires an agency, an attorney is absolutely still necessary to handle all the legal components – I just do a little less of the emotional guidance and support.
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You work with prospective parents who are pursuing what may be considered “non-traditional” ways to form a family – gestational carriers, egg donors, sperm donors, and LGBTQ parents. Can you expound on why this is important to you?
It’s important to me to let prospective parents know their options for non-traditional family formation. People will come to me and say [they] don’t know what to do, [that they are] overwhelmed with the thought of using a gestational carrier or egg donor to help [them] form [their] family. The first thing I tell them is, let me get you some information and see what your options actually are. Anytime you are faced with a significant challenge, you need to know you do have courses of action available. When you find out you have choices, it gives you hope and opens up a path. I want to be an advocate and an advisor for that path. It’s not an easy one, but it is definitely doable.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
I really enjoy getting to know the families and their stories and being able to advise them. I love going on this journey with them. I’ve lived it too. I know what an absolute joy it is to look at my little girl who would not be here without all the help we received. It was not an easy path, but it was so worth it. If I could give that to a million families, I would. From the first family I helped to now, I get the same feeling of excitement when someone’s dream of being a parent becomes a reality.
In addition to the American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys (AAAA), you’re a member of the Society for Ethics in Egg Donation and Surrogacy (SEEDS), the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Legal Professional Group, and the American Bar Association ART Committee, among others. Why is membership in ART-related organizations important?
As a lawyer, I want to be able to give my clients more options, and the more I know, the more help I can provide. I am in organizations that can keep me up on the latest information and technology, and collaborating with lawyers around the country that do this work is invaluable. This is not necessarily a local or even regional practice. At this point in time, I’m working with attorneys from across the country on legal agreements. It is a great honor to be accepted as a fellow with AAAA, but the main reason it is important is that it broadens my network of professional contacts and deepens my knowledge base.
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Where can we find you when you are not working?
My front porch! You will often find me out there with my family, neighbors, and friends.
What’s your best piece of advice?
You have to experience the journey to appreciate the end result. When you are trying to accomplish a goal, put your heart and soul into the work for each step along the way.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My porch, bedtime conversations with my kids, and a glass of good wine.
Thank you, Jana!