Lawyers have a tough job no matter what area of law they work in. They are always on one side or the other of a legal dispute in an adversarial system. Family law practice is no different and a family lawyer must have thick skin for some tough domestic relations, legal rights, and an emotional roller coaster of difficult legal issues.
Asking if family law is a good career is a broad question. It is good for those who can balance the advantages and disadvantages of the job. There must be an ability to handle clients who will both try the patience of their lawyer or attorney and need legal aid through a tough time. The skills needed to handle the good and the bad are varying.
It is not just about law school marks and the ability to do well in the courtroom setting. A good family lawyer must be sympathetic, tough, compassionate, and resourceful. Their negotiating skills need to be top of the line not only to protect their client(s) but also to make sure they maintain good standing in their legal career.
The Pros of Choosing Family Law as Your Career
Unlike corporate or IP/IT law, family law has a substantial amount of client interaction. It is an area of legal practice where “everyday” people are your client base. It is not big corporations or business ventures, but people who have had something happen in their family lives that now need legal support to help them through it. It can be anyone from any walk of life.
A family lawyer must be ready to help people, not just put forward a case in court. It is a job that sometimes must be a part social worker to work hard for the best outcomes.
Family law is also a specialized practice that can have a drastic effect on a client’s life. This can be in both good and bad ways. Going into family law as a career choice should mean that you want to help people and understand the impact that can be had.
Clients are dealing with very real and emotional situations both in and out of the courtroom and need someone to walk them through it in what can be a terrifying interaction with an oft-confusing legal system.
When a case goes well, a family lawyer can work with both sides to help get over differences and work towards attaining what is best for the whole family. Working through differences, protecting the vulnerable, and building civility can be a huge win not just for the client but all those who are involved. Setting a tone of civility can help not only with the immediate issues but in future interactions. Being able to create a state of some sort of harmony for those in need is a skill.
Family law is an underserviced area of law, as it is not only tough but in demand. With divorce rates sitting at almost 50%, there is a never-ending list of people who are looking for a family lawyer. Getting clients should not be difficult if you are good at what you do. Wills and estates, divorce, and dealing with child custody and support are not areas where there will be a decline in demand.
A family lawyer is a protector. They are protecting their clients from the other parties involved, themselves, the opposing counsel, and the system itself. The system can be very black and white and often feel overwhelming, so being able to protect a client and interject some grey areas that allow for negotiation and mediation can be a great benefit. This type of protector role is not for everyone but if a lawyer has that ability and enjoys it, then they have the makings of a good career in family law.
The learning curve offers more than just the ability to work in that niche. Negotiation and mediation are all skills that are honed in law school but even more so in family law. Working on pleadings, settlement briefs, client and counsel interactions, and assessing truth from fiction are all skills that are applicable beyond family law. These skills are all helpful as a family lawyer becomes more prominent and moves up in the world around family law.
When things are less contentious, such as with separation agreements or amicable divorces, family law can be a very lucrative practice area. Proceedings that straight forward require less effort and stress, offering a good return for time spent on them.
The Cons of Choosing Family Law as Your Career
Being a family lawyer is not for the faint of heart. It is a very adversarial career that puts a lawyer at the heart of the conflict. It is a time when clients and the people they are looking to deal with are often at one of the toughest points in their lives.
The breakdown of a marriage, the loss or fight for children, losing or fighting to retain assets all make the dynamics of family law difficult. Dealing with real people and their lives rather than just money and legal clauses means there are lots of emotions involved. Clients on both sides often have trouble seeing their situations objectively.
While a family lawyer can do their best to support and get the best outcome possible, it does not mean that they can fully fix the problems that got a person to this point of needing a lawyer. It is often making the best out of a difficult and painful situation. A family lawyer needs to be able to keep a professional distance and set boundaries.
It can be difficult to do this, but burn out will come quickly if a lawyer becomes so immersed in client issues that they cannot be impartial and give proper legal advice. It is also emotionally taxing to personally take on each client’s emotional story. It can burn a family lawyer out quickly.
People that a family lawyer must deal with are often shocked by the legal costs not just of retaining a lawyer, but of litigation overall. They often do not have a realistic view of how the system works and the large number of hours it takes to not only prepare for court but to get a case in front of a judge. It is a frustrating job to keep clients focused when they are looking to avenge things that they perceive were done to them. Managing clients and their expectations is not a simple task and can be stressful and frustrating.
The system is fact-based and that does not always allow for grey areas in regard to planning around areas of custody, access, and support. It may often feel that what is set in stone is neither workable nor fair to a specific family situation. Sadly, it is hard for a client to hear things that they cannot sway and that becomes hard on the counsel as well.
Finances can have a big part to play in the outcome of a family’s legal situation. Clients’ money can run out before a matter is resolved. This means that a family lawyer either has to walk away or work for free. Neither situation is desirable, especially if a client is going to lose a winnable case because they do not have legal representation. Too often, family law clients lose because the opposition has deeper pockets.
Family lawyers can get mired down in nasty suits. Whether the family gets an interim or final order, the calls can begin about each little thing the ex has done or had issues with. The case can become a dominant part of the day that it should not be. Clients that are stuck to a lawyer can become extremely trying and problematic when they cannot let a single thing go without being in touch.
Clients may not be willing to listen to reason. Family law is often very emotional, and this is especially true when dealing with any children from the relationship. Making sure the children come first is often something that can take a lot of work and extra time in discussing with a client to help them work past their emotional reactions and see what is best overall.
Compromise is tough and can cause resentment. Walking a client through how courts see a case compared to how a client sees their case as an emergency takes patience and time. Clients are not always amenable to the rational, legal perspective when they are being self-focused and bringing adult issues into a child’s world.
Family lawyers can get bogged down if they allow themselves to become a social worker rather than a client advocate. Referring clients to social services they need is fine, but lawyers often think they are responsible for getting a client’s life on track when they are struggling. Keeping detached to a certain extent is important and helps the family lawyer become a more effective advocate. Emotion can cloud judgment which makes cases personal rather than professional. Professionalism serves that client; emotion makes it difficult.