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What It’s Like to Be a Family Law Attorney: Representing Clients in Custody and Divorce Cases
Summary: To be a successful family law attorney, one must not only know the law, but must also understand how to deal with people who are going through extremely difficult times.
Although there are some happier areas of domestic work, such as adoptions, many family lawyers find themselves dealing with highly contested divorces and custody battles. While this is very demanding work, these attorneys state it’s rewarding to truly help their clients through bad times. Read more below.
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First, how does one become a family law attorney? An undergraduate degree in any major is the first step. Stay involved in extracurricular activities and keep your grades up. Once it’s time to apply to law schools, you must take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) to apply to law schools. After scoring high enough to be admitted to a law school, it’s important to keep your class rank high so that you may be recruited by a law firm for an associate position before you graduate. Clerk during the summers to get hands on experience, volunteer in legal clinics, and do well in your domestic relations courses. After graduation, study hard for the bar exam so you’ll pass. Afterward, it’s best to join an established firm to get your feet wet, then you can go out on your own. For more information, read below.
It’s important to select a law school that has a good reputation for producing excellent family law attorneys. Ask your career counselors at school to set you up with an internship or clerkship with a family law attorney in the area. Work hard to obtain high honors and awards in law school. After you pass the bar exam, you will need to perfect your resume, listing all your accomplishments and internships and clerkships to increase your chances of landing a job. Plus, having an internship or clerkship in law school may mean you have a job waiting for you after graduation. Before you decide to go out on your own and open a firm, be sure that you have enough knowledge and experience in family law to do so. Read more tips below.
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How do you know if you’ll enjoy practicing family law? Admittedly, family law is not for everyone. To determine if family law is for you, contact your local bar association for networking opportunities. You can also join a student membership of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section for $6 per year. The best way to discover if you’ll enjoy practicing family law is to try it yourself—work in a family law firm for at least six months in law school to see what the daily practice is like. It’s tough work and it’s sad work. However, if you prefer to stay away from the contested divorce and custody cases, there are other options: many family law attorneys conduct mediations and practice juvenile and elder law. Read more below.
Professor Linda Elrod from Washburn Law School states to be a successful family law attorney, one must be a people person and must enjoy helping clients restructure their lives. Family law attorneys must also be very patient, especially since clients often vent or have emotional outbursts. It’s important to remain objective, open-minded, and non-judgmental. Family law attorneys must be competitive and aggressive, yet flexible and calm. Ed Harnada, a family law attorney in Boston, provides a list of things he wishes he knew when he started practicing, such as understanding there are two sides to every issue, to protect yourself by documenting everything, and above all, to have fun and use your sense of humor. For more, including Harnada’s complete list, see below.
Family law attorneys have much more face to face interaction with their clients than in other areas of law. A lot of your day will be spent in first meetings with clients to discuss their case. Throughout the case, you’ll meet with clients to talk about their marriage and their spouse and how to proceed. You’ll discuss all aspects of the marriage, from property acquired to the children that have been born. You may eventually meet with your client, your client’s spouse, and the spouse’s attorney to finalize the divorce. You’ll have several clients at once, so it’s important to know what each client needs. For more information, check out the link below.
You’ll have many responsibilities as a family lawyer. You’ll conduct mutual meetings with clients from both sides of the case. You will have to read case details and suggest legal choices to advise your client accordingly. You’ll attend proceedings throughout the case. Clients will look to you to explain the law to them and help them resolve problems. You may also have to advise your clients on issues involving wills, estates, trust funds and adoption. After the case has concluded, you may have to prepare for further appeals. A minimum of five years’ experience helps one become a successful family law attorney. Skills such as communication, negotiation, and empathy are also helpful. For more details, see the link below.
What will your practice be like as a family law attorney? What sorts of issues will you face in your practice? You may have clients who are attempting to terminate the parental rights of a parent, or who are at risk of having their own parental rights terminated. Parental rights termination prohibits parents on legal grounds from having any rights to their child. The child will no longer be dependent on these parents for child support. The laws vary, but common conditions include abuse and neglect of the child by the parents, abandonment, mental illness of the parent, or engaging the child in criminal activities. For more information about the termination of parental rights, read below.
Attorney Joel D. Tenebaum enjoys adoption law because it focuses on the creation of families instead of dissolution. Paul J. Buser of Scottsdale finds elder law rewarding because its purpose is to protect vulnerable or incapacitated clients who may be victimized by their family members. Attorney Tony DeMarco created the North Shore Children’s Law Project (now the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts) and served as chief counsel for a class action that led to the removal of 400 juveniles from an adult prison. To read these attorneys’ stories, click the link below.
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Who are some of the country’s most famous family law attorneys?
Laura Wasser, a prominent Los Angeles divorce attorney and partner of Wasser, Cooperman & Carter, P.C., has represented some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Stevie Wonder, and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. She has handled the divorces, prenuptial agreements, and paternity matters of the rich and famous. She has even been featured in Vogue, and boasts a rating of AV on Martindale Hubbell (the highest ranking for an attorney). Wasser has been named a Southern California Rising Star and a Southern California Super Lawyer. She also serves on the advisory council of the Harrett Buhai Center for Family Law, a nonprofit. Her best advice for someone going through a divorce is to be nice and reasonable, even if your spouse isn’t. Read more about her career below.
Ira M. Elegant, an attorney out of Miami and partner of Buchbinder & Elegant, P.A., has practiced law for the past 47 years. His practice includes commercial litigation, family law, and municipal law. He has represented several famous clients, including Shaquille O’Neal and Victor Posner. He states that “the complexities of law and human frailty motivates [him].” Read more about his lengthy career below.
Family law is an emotional, yet rewarding, area of law. It encompasses many different milestones in clients’ lives, such as adoption and divorce. With the right amount of determination and compassion, you’ll be able to have a successful and well-respected family law practice.
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Photo credit: People.comThe Most Emotional Area of Law: What It’s Like to Be a Family Law Attorney by Noelle Price