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Advantages and Disadvantages of Family Law

published February 08, 2013

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Over the last thirty years, the field of family law has experienced a tremendous expansion of substantive law topics. While in the past being a family lawyer may have meant primarily handling divorce and custody cases, today's family law practitioner may choose from a wide variety of subspecialties, including adoption, genetics and reproduction, children's rights, elder law, tax planning, and many others.

At the same time, the role of family lawyers has also undergone dramatic changes. With the advent of no fault divorce laws, the lawyer no longer has to prove the other spouse guilty of wrongdoing before a marriage can be dissolved. This has allowed family lawyers to become mediators and counselors; helping clients who are parents begin to build a working relationship with their ex-spouse for the sake of their children.

"You often see good people at their very worst during a divorce," says Professor Andrew Schepard, who teaches family law at Hofstra University School of Law. "The family lawyer has to help them stabilize to resume their normal functioning."

Many more options are available today in the areas of custody and support, and there are many more forms of dispute resolution accessible as well. These options have allowed the family law practitioner flexibility to use creative skills in finding solutions for each individual client.

In addition, the growing need for legal services and the increased efficiency of firms through technology have combined to make family law one of the most attractive fields for lawyers.

 

Career Satisfaction

 

More importantly, however, family law offers many the chances to do what they went to law school for in the first place: to help clients who need them.

"I think it is the most exciting kind of law because you really make a difference in people's lives" says Lynne Gold Bikin of Norristown, PA, a former chair of both the ABA Law Student Division and the Family Law Section. She frequently encourages law students to consider this field because it "encompasses every kind of law" along with the opportunities to serve people.

"In order to be a family lawyer, you must be a caretaker, a litigator, a psychologist, a tax expert, a business valuation expert, a custody evaluator, a negotiator and a mediator, to name just a few roles," explains Gold Bikin. "Being a family law practitioner means that you must be sensitive to people's needs, must care about them, but know enough to know when

they must stand on their own."

 

"It's a great field for those who still believe the practice of law is a service to others, not just a money making endeavor," says W. Robert Montgomery of Lakewood, CO, a family law practitioner for over 26 years. "You can gain a great deal of personal satisfaction by helping others successfully get on with their lives."

"It is a wonderful feeling when you've helped someone go from the depths of despair and low self-esteem to a self-confident, independent person with a secure future," explains Pamela Deal of Clemson, SC.

 

Weighing Advantages and Disadvantages

 

There are, of course, special challenges faced by those who choose this field, as practicing family lawyers are quick to point out. There are more lucrative fields of law, although many family lawyers make a very good living. "If you like to work with people and money is not the be-all and end-all to you, this is very rewarding and fulfilling work," writes Ellen Schell of Keeseville, NY, who has been practicing for four years. "I love it!"

 

What Does Family Law Encompass?

 

The following list includes areas which can be considered to fall in the category of family law. The topics illustrate the wide range of issues addressed by family law practitioners:

 
  • Adoption
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Custody, including Joint Custody
  • Bankruptcy
  • Cohabitation
  • Divorce and Separation
  • Alimony, Maintenance, Child Support
  • Domestic Violence
  • Elder Law
  • Estate Planning
  • Genetics and Reproduction
  • International Laws (Adoption, Parental Kidnapping, Custody)
  • Juvenile Law
  • Marriage Requirements
  • Marital Property
  • Marital Torts
  • Mental Health
  • Parent Education
  • Paternity
  • Post-Decree Counseling
  • Premarital Agreements
  • Relocation
  • Step-Families
  • Taxation
  • Third-Party Parenting (Same Gender; Grandparents, Guardian)
 

Family lawyers are also frank about the high level of stress involved in handling divorce cases. Dissolving a marriage is difficult, to say the least, even when both the husband and wife agree that the divorce is necessary.

"Most of the civilized world allows folks to get a divorce through a municipal office or a government civil agency," points out Ronald W Fox of Lynne, MA. "In the United States, we force people to start by going to lawyers whose basic training is in conflict and advocating a position for their client."

Divorce lawyers are frequently the targets of "projection" by clients who blame their own problems on their attorney or on opposing counsel, according to experienced litigator Lawrence Stotter of San Francisco.

"Family law is both the most satisfying and the most frustrating form of law," warns Gold-Bikin. "If you do not have a strong stomach, don't put your foot in the water."

Many family lawyers deliberately limit their practice to mediation or non-contested divorce and custody cases.

"If you need to 'win,' you are probably not the right person to practice in this field," says Gold-Bikin. "There are no winners or losers in a divorce and the best a good family law practitioner can hope to do is to reduce the conflict and tension in the family so the parties can co-exist after the divorce is final."

Even those who do not handle contested cases experience a high level of stress, she points out, because they are often called upon to respond to a family in crisis. Throughout this article, practitioners reflect on their own experiences and offer advice to those considering this field.

At the same time, family lawyers are very proud of their work and understand the valuable role they have in helping people through difficult times. Practitioners are critical of law schools that do not adequately prepare students for this field nor encourage them to choose it.

"Many students enter law school wanting to use their legal training to help women and children," points out Fox, who practiced family law in the 1970s and today counsels other lawyers on career decisions. "Unfortunately, the traditional law school curriculum diverts them from this path."

"As you contemplate serving the public and making a living in matters of family law," writes Bostonian Ed Hamada in his advice to law students, "please keep at least these three thoughts at the forefront of all your thinking. Namely, that the subject of family law is much broader today than you can imagine; that it is not the bottom of the barrel of subjects to be handed once you've passed the bar, as some snobs may chide; and above all, that your participation in this single field of law is more noble than anyone will ever credit you for being."

"The field of family law may well be the most important single field of law in which our personal efforts will affect the future of the greatest number of people in our society," writes practitioner Bob Downs of Chicago, IL. "The economic, social, and personal welfare of children and adults is impacted by everything we do and how we do it."

Because family law encompasses so many substantive areas, those who choose it are constantly learning. "If you want to practice in a field that requires a broad variety of skills and legal knowledge, this may be the place for you," suggests Carrollyn Cox of Virginia Beach, VA. It may well be the only practice specialty which comes close to offering the diverse assortment of cases handled by a general practitioner "Family law is a fascinating field," says Professor Schepard. "To practice it well, you have to have a broad mastery of many legal fields. You also have to have an appreciation of the many different sides of human nature."

Frequently Asked Questions
 

Is Family Law A Good Career?


The question of whether family law is a good career is broad. A good job is one that balances the advantages and disadvantages. An attorney or lawyer must have the ability to handle clients who will test his or her patience as well as need legal aid during a tough time. This requires a variety of skills.

It is not just about grades in law school and proving yourself in court. Family lawyers must have empathy, toughness, compassion, and resourcefulness. Not only do they have to possess top-notch negotiating skills for the sake of their clients, but also to maintain good standing in their legal career.

Here are a few more things you need to know before you pursue a career in family law:
 

1) Know Your Interests


When you enjoy what you do and strive to get better every day, a profession becomes fulfilling and satisfying. You will be able to make more informed choices in law school if you have a fairly good idea of what kind of career you would like to have. Concentrate on the type of work you would like to do in the legal industry rather than taking too many classes. By doing so, you will be able to zero in on a niche of law that you will enjoy working in.
 

2) Choose Work That Will Satisfy You Financially and Emotionally


Law schools offer a very versatile and valuable degree. There are many different legal careers to choose from, and you can practice law in a field of your choice.

When you know what you want to do after law school, you can choose targeted classes and study according to your goals. A few minutes of online research will also provide you with several names of firms that specialize in the type of work you need. Consider taking on a summer job at a firm or government agency that does this kind of work. You can work for a state agency that deals with the protection of children's rights, for instance. You will get a good understanding of how things work and decide if you want to pursue a career in that field.
 

3) What Makes a Law Degree Versatile?


Laws at all levels are complex, whether they are state, federal, or international. Business law, real estate law, corporate law, labor law, personal injury law, and entertainment law are equally complicated. Attorneys are highly sought after in nearly every industry. A big law firm hires law graduates in marketing roles, and most real estate companies have lawyers drafting contracts and agreements.

Journalists and reporters with a law background bring a deeper understanding of news and are in high demand for media roles.

You can also work for legal firms that search for talent and get into legal recruiting.

When hiring senior management positions in nonprofit organizations, law degrees are considered an advantage. Negotiating with government agencies, sponsors, and other stakeholders will be easier.

Once you have a firm grasp of business laws, you can become an entrepreneur and run your own business. Having a legal professional assist you with negotiating deals and forming partnerships and agreements will save you money.

Knowing what you want to do after school will help you concentrate on a particular area of law and learn the skills necessary to land your dream job.
 

4) Why Choose Family Law?


Families that are happy make happy communities. Many lives can be brought back on track by resolving family disputes amicably.

Do not assume that family law matters are only about divorce proceedings and child custody disputes. From property disputes to prenuptial agreements to spousal support to taxation and management of family businesses, you will be dealing with a variety of complex issues. When multiple warring family members, children from assisted birth methods, international marriages, and/or homosexuals or lesbians are involved, cases can become quite complex. The city of Victorville, CA, allows same-sex marriages, so you will also have to deal with various types of domestic marriage laws.

Family law must change with the times and be interpreted keeping in mind the changing nature of traditional family structures and relationships.

Litigation is a major part of family law. As a result, you will have to appear in court regularly to draft motions and argue them. Lawyers who specialize in family law get more opportunities to hone and polish their negotiation skills and practice their trade than their commercial and business counterparts.

A family lawyer never has a dull day in the office since most cases are emotional and involve vulnerable clients. One of the perks of being a family lawyer is meeting interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds.
 

5) Consider the Prospects


In our country, family attorneys will always be needed because 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. By working out the split with the help of an experienced family law attorney Victorville, both parties can move forward without an acrimonious tug of war.

Due to the fact that family law is perceived as less rewarding than other types of law, fewer skilled lawyers are available to serve the needs of clients. Choosing to specialize in family law cases will make it easier for you to establish and grow your business.
 

What Do Family Lawyers Do On A Daily Basis?


Attorneys who specialize in family law have an extremely challenging job. Each day, they deal with cases ranging from divorce to abuse protection. However, handling things like mutual power plays can be very challenging after the case is closed.

In Pittsburgh, Raphael Ramsden & Behers attorney said that a family attorney's day is never the same. Clients are always having problems, from account hacking to missed custody depositions. As a result, family lawyers spend much of their time returning phone calls and preparing for court appearances. A court appearance can last from a few minutes to several days. Family law attorneys are, therefore, very busy people.

There are several reasons why family law is currently a very popular practice. Divorce rates are at an all-time high, child support and adoption laws have become more liberalized over the past two decades, and the forensics of paternity has become more accurate. Further, cases regarding domestic violence have also increased substantially over time.

To become a Family Lawyer, one must be prepared to work more than 40 hours a week. It is a job with constant interruptions, unexpected challenges, and being called into work at odd hours. Particularly large firms may require extra hours of research, preparation, and review. According to their daily workload, most family lawyers are in their offices between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, and leave between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. Sometimes they have to attend seminars or other social events within the firm, so they are at the office later.
 

Family Lawyer's Job


In addition to interviewing clients, family law attorneys devote a lot of time to their practice. Attorneys are responsible for helping their clients understand their next steps in ongoing cases as well as discussing each hearing.

Family law attorneys work in teams like most other lawyers. They are accustomed to exchanging case discussions with colleagues and corresponding with experts outside their fields.

Family attorneys face many challenges, but they are also rewarded for their efforts. Every day is different, and new issues with clients can arise at any time. If everyone cooperates and keeps their end of the bargain, family life can be very stable or very chaotic. The job of managing family conflicts can be challenging, but gratifying once they are resolved and the case can be closed.
 

What Education Do You Need To Be A Family Lawyer?


Required Education


In order to practice family law, one must complete a four-year bachelor's degree and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. The J.D. degree must be obtained from an American Bar Association-approved law school. Students can gain experience working on cases under the supervision of a law professor in the family law clinics offered by some law schools.

Future family lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state where they plan to practice law after completing the required education. Certain states require certification in a specialty field, such as family law. To maintain their legal licenses, all lawyers must complete continuing legal education credits regularly.
 

Skills Required


When beginning a family law career, one should be proficient in oral discussion, negotiation, and effective debate and persuasion. Even in highly stressful and emotionally charged situations, the family lawyer must be observant and capable of interacting well with other people. Managing multiple cases at the same time requires good time management and organizational skills as well. A family lawyer's skill determines how long it takes to build a successful practice.
 

Is Being A Family Lawyer Dangerous?


The number of threats and violence against family lawyers is disproportionate to other lawyers, according to surveys examining violence against lawyers. A majority of lawyers in the 27 states surveyed reported receiving threats or experiencing violence. However, family lawyers experienced violence at a higher rate.

Lawyers practicing family law are more likely to have been threatened within the past year and are more likely to say they have been assaulted than lawyers in general, especially by someone who has previously threatened them. Less than 10 percent of lawyers in both categories reported being assaulted.

There have been reports of lawyers receiving threats about their children being raped, having their tires slashed, and seeing clients shot to death in front of them.

Salt Lake City attorney Steve Kelson, who practices full-time business litigation at Christiansen & Jensen, conducted the surveys. 88.7 percent of lawyers who responded to the survey reported receiving a threat or experiencing violence. Only 8.6 percent of lawyers reported being assaulted, but 42 percent reported having experienced an in-person confrontation that did not qualify as assault, and 6.6 percent reported having property damaged.

The percentage of threats and violence is consistently higher among family lawyers when responses are broken out by practice area. Kelson reports that criminal law attorneys report an above-average rate of threats and violence, as do lawyers in "general practice," a category that could include many practice areas. For criminal defense lawyers, whose clients or opponents often have a history of violence, this might not come as a surprise.

However, family lawyers' work is civil, and 92.8 percent of them had experienced some form of violence or threat. Family lawyers were also more likely to report physical confrontations, property damage, or assault. The person responsible for assaulting them was more likely to have threatened them in the past (8.5% vs. 6.4% for all lawyers). Only 18.4 percent of all lawyers said they were threatened in the past year; about one-quarter of family lawyers said that.

Kellon's surveys suggest that most of those threats are coming from opposing parties. Lawyers, in general, were more likely to report having been attacked or threatened by a client, while only 38 percent reported being attacked or threatened by an opposing party. However, 54.4 percent reported being attacked or threatened by a family lawyer. For many of the family lawyers who responded to Kelson's surveys, it is a reality.
 

Does Family Law Pay Well?


The process of becoming a family lawyer is neither easy nor quick. Education alone takes 6-8 years, including a bachelor's degree. To be called to the bar, one must complete education, exams, state licensing, and then find employment.

Most family lawyers are employed by a large or small firm, and a few work independently. Their salaries will vary as a result of some of these factors. Therefore, there is no clear answer to the question of how much family attorneys make.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that family law lawyers who are partners in a large firm tend to make more than those who are self-employed. The average salary for all lawyers in May 2019 was $122,960, according to the BLS. The jobs for lawyers are expected to grow by 4% from 2019 through 2029.
 

Why Is Family Law Important?


Family law sets out and protects the rights and responsibilities of family members in a wide range of situations. It provides a framework for achieving fair and equitable results for all family members, whether they are adults or children.

Family law, as it often deals with failing relationships and conflict, is an emotionally charged area of law. As such, family law attorneys must have not only legal family law matter expertise but also a good understanding of people and how to support them sensitively.

Among the most common issues addressed under these three categories are marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, child support, visitation, child abuse, domestic abuse, and property settlement. Family bonds are made up of emotional ties, but any of these sensitive triggers can cause severe complications. In the face of such complexity, legal assistance is crucial in overcoming the emotional crisis.


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