When you first attend law school, you may think that you know what kind of law you want to practice. Maybe you want to be a corporate attorney, a criminal defense attorney, or a prosecutor. Most young attorneys don't start out wanting to be family law attorneys, but it can be one of the most satisfying areas of practice.
What Makes a Good Family Law Attorney?
Family law is not just about dissolutions of marriage, although that is what comes to mind for most people thinking about family law. This area actually requires a diverse set of skills, and an ability to connect with people during some of the most emotional times of their lives. To be a good family law attorney, you need these skills:
You must be a good listener. Clients need to be heard more than anything, and they will often use legal terminology in a different way than you will. For example, a client who comes to you for custody may need a paternity case, a divorce, a modification of a previous order, or a guardianship. You must listen and understand what they are telling you so that you can properly advise them.
You must be detail-oriented. Details are always important in legal drafting, but even they are even more important in a family law scenario because mistakes are harder to fix.
You must be able to mediate and negotiate. While you will not handle actual mediations in your own cases, you must be able to explain mediation to your client and participate in the mediation for the best possible result. You must be able to negotiate for your client while managing your client's expectations about potential outcomes.
You must be a trial attorney. While many cases settle, it is not unusual for cases to go to trial. You must be prepared to advocate for your client's position, even if you do not completely agree with the wisdom of going to trial.
You must be familiar with other areas of law. These areas can include employment, tax, and probate, because you may have to advise your client about the tax implications of a custody decree. You may have to prepare an order to divide retirement plans, which will not take effect until years later. You may need to advise a client on estate planning in connection with the property settlement. You also need to be aware of the areas of expertise in which you are not able to properly advise your client, so you can advise them to seek more specialized counsel.
Family law can be demanding and emotionally draining, but it is also one of the most challenging and potentially rewarding areas of law.
Contact a local family law attorney to learn more.