Interested in a career in law? There are many kinds of law opportunities
available to you if you know where to look. Besides more well-known careers in criminal and corporate law, there are also other types of law practices. If you are interested in the law and how it applies to everyday people who aren't high-profile corporations or criminals, you may want to consider examining law positions
in the area of family law.
What is Family Law?
Family Law is part of the greater area defined as Civil Law, and it deals with issues such as adoption, parental rights, establishing paternity, domestic and child abuse, and other personal legal issues. Since many issues of family law are determined by the laws of the governing state, there are often many different ways to resolve issues such as marriage annulments, divorce, elder and juvenile law, probate law, and child support rulings. Family law attorneys represent clients before special family law courts, which have far greater latitude on how they handle cases regarding divorce, nullifying marriages, trial separations, restraining orders, child custody, child and family support, elder law issues, violations of domestic violence laws, and other family-related casework.
Family law calls for attorneys who are as much family therapists as they are legal advisors. They must be capable of mediating between family members so that amicable or workable resolutions can be reached based on what are usually very heated and painfully personal disputes. By interviewing each member of a family, family law attorneys learn about the individual personalities and histories of all concerned parties. They must be skilled at working with social workers and other family-services personnel as well.
Family Law Attorneys
If you're hoping to become a family law attorney, you should be prepared to spend many years gaining the skills and credentials needed for this career. Most family law attorneys specialize in one aspect of the law. The vast majority of family lawyers deal in divorce and marital separation. These cases often involve long-term hostilities over children, money, and the pain of adultery or sexual incompatibility. Divorce attorneys must therefore be good at resolving these delicate issues without appearing to take sides and escalate the issues.
Other family law attorneys deal exclusively with juvenile or family issues. They may represent a particular family in a series of family law court appearances.
An Alternative: Family Law Paralegals
To work in Family Law doesn't always require a legal degree. There are also alternative law jobs
. Family Law paralegals (also known as legal assistants) often handle the non-legal aspects of a case, helping an attorney by taking on general tasks such as drafting property and prenuptial agreements, filing legal petitions and requests for discovery and other motions, as well as handling briefs for litigation involving divorce or child custody. Family Law paralegals must not only have a strong understanding of family court rules and litigation, but must also be very sensitive to the emotional needs of clients who are undergoing traumatic issues such as divorce or custody battles. Since they may need to serve as a liaison between a client and their attorney, paralegals are often required to have knowledge of other areas of the law that may have an impact on the family law setting.
As a lawyer or paralegal, you will do most of your work in a family law courtroom, a law library, or a legal office. You will need to interview clients, especially in complex family cases, as well as expert witnesses such as psychologists and family therapists. Late nights and fifty-hour-plus weeks are common in all law jobs, as is some travel.
To practice as a Family Law Attorney requires a four-year degree, plus an additional three years of law school. Competition for entry into law school is intense, with high college grades and a demonstration of related extracurricular activities (political clubs or service groups) a requirement. In addition, law school candidates must also pass a specialized test called the LSAT and score highly to be considered for most law schools. Graduation from law school is only the next step; prospective lawyers must pass the bar exam for the state they hope to practice in (many states require passing their bar exam as well if you intend to practice in more than one state). Entering the job market is also highly competitive; most lawyers work for several years as interns, clerks, or in other less-exalted positions before they are even considered for even a junior partnership at a law firm.
If you're looking to work in Family Law and don't want to go through this lengthy and arduous process, you may want to consider law positions
as a clerk, legal secretary, or paralegal. These positions require only a bachelor's degree and the additional training needed for a paralegal can be studied at a wide variety of colleges and technical schools nationwide.
Lawyers are well paid for all the time they put into getting educated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median salary for lawyers as of 2007 was $118,280, with the high end around $124,230. Starting paralegal and clerk salaries are typically around $35,000, with a high end of around $54,000 for ten or more years of experience.
How to Find Jobs
If you're looking for a job as a full-time Family Law attorney, it's best to start making your contacts early. Consider working as a legal intern or unpaid legal clerk for a summer so that your face gets known around the firm and so you can gain experience. You'll need to keep that contact database up to date to get past the many applicants competing for a job. On the other hand, paralegal and clerk positions are easier to locate. Many temp services offer work for floater legal help; this is a good way to check out various firms and keep an ear to the ground for openings.
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