Family law is a broad term that covers a wide variety of legal issues related to the family. This includes everything from divorce and custody to adoption and support payments. These cases are often highly emotionally charged. Family lawyers not only have to understand the legal requirements in these cases, but also how they may affect individuals’ lives outside of the courtroom.
Family law attorneys must have a strong knowledge of state and federal laws, as well as any laws specific to the jurisdiction where they practice. They may specialize in one area of family law, or may be generalists who handle a variety of issues related to family disputes.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a family lawyer and what it takes to become one yourself.
Family Lawyer Job Duties
Typical job duties of a family lawyer include the following:
- Drafting separation agreements, prenuptial agreements, and divorce decrees
- Advising clients on issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and property division
- Negotiating with opposing counsel to resolve disputes or reach settlements involving complex financial issues
- Drafting legal documents such as motions or complaints in cases where there is a dispute over child custody, visitation rights, or spousal support payments
- Maintaining accurate records of all activities in a case file using electronic case management software
- Appearing in court on behalf of clients to represent them during trials or settlement negotiations
- Reviewing and updating client files including case notes, financial statements, pleadings, wills, trusts, property appraisals, and other documents
- Maintaining client confidentiality through attorney-client privilege
Family Lawyer Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for family lawyers is $108,000. The highest earners of the profession are making over $200,000 per year.
Demand for family lawyers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade. As the population grows, more people will need legal help with their divorces. However, this could be offset by an increase in alternative dispute resolution methods that are less expensive than hiring a lawyer.
Family Lawyer Job Requirements
The requirements for family lawyers are as follows:
Education: Lawyers should earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school. There are many law schools throughout the country that offer programs that focus on family law. Some programs can be completed in two years or less, while others require three to four years of study. Students who specialize in family law may also be required to take additional courses specific to this field of legal study. Courses may include issues like adoption and parental rights.
Training: Aspiring family lawyers may obtain training through internships or part-time jobs. During this time, they learn by observing more experienced family lawyers and by completing tasks that the senior attorney assigns them.
Certifications & Licenses: After obtaining the law degree, family lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state in which they intend to practice.
Family Lawyer Skills
The following skills are required for this job:
Strong communication skills: Family lawyers must be able to clearly and effectively communicate with clients, witnesses, judges, opposing counsel, and other court personnel.
Legal knowledge: Familiarity with the laws of the state in which you practice is crucial.
Ability to handle pressure: The job can be stressful because it involves sensitive situations that require strong legal skills.
Detail-oriented: It’s important to have strong attention to detail so that you don’t miss any details or facts when representing your client.
Excellent analytical skills: These skills are necessary for determining which arguments will hold up in court and how best to present them.
Knowledge of child psychology: Family lawyers must understand the different stages of development in children in order to properly represent their clients’ interests.
Family Lawyer Work Environment
Family lawyers work in a comfortable office setting. They spend much of their time reading and writing or talking on the phone to people who need legal help. They may travel to meet clients or work with colleagues on cases. However, they can also represent clients in courtrooms and other places where the client is required. The nature of family law work is to deal with people in difficult and emotional situations. As a result, the job can be stressful.
Work hours are not regular and may change from one day to another. Family lawyers often have to meet deadlines and produce results for their clients, which requires them to put in long hours when needed.
Family Lawyer Career Path
New family law attorneys are assigned to work with experienced practitioners during the first two years. This provides an excellent opportunity to learn trial techniques, court protocol, and client management skills. It is also important for new lawyers to establish relationships within the community and build their reputations. The hours are long, but many people find working with clients rewarding.
Five Years Out
Family lawyers who remain in private practice begin to specialize in areas such as divorce or custody litigation, adoptions, or estate planning. They may handle appeals or provide services related to mediation, arbitration, or other forms of dispute resolution. Many of them take on pro bono work defending the rights of the disadvantaged. Satisfaction is high for those who love their work; employees can still expect long hours.
Ten Years Out
By ten years, family lawyers have established strong reputations within their fields. Most are very busy; many are members of the bar association’s Family Law section (and other specialized sections) and serve on committees related to these issues. These individuals often act as arbitrators, mediators, or facilitators for other attorneys who are struggling with cases that cannot be resolved through traditional means. Each year brings more responsibilities and rewards. Ten-year veterans make significantly more money than their peers who left the field after five years; satisfaction remains high despite long working hours.
Family Lawyer Trends
Here are three trends influencing how family lawyers work. Family lawyers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increased Role of Collaborative Law
The majority of family law cases that go to trial result in a settlement just before or after the actual court date. A more collaborative process that encourages mutual decision-making is becoming increasingly common among divorce attorneys.
Collaborative law divorces are based on the idea that both parties are invested in their relationship, which results in fewer conflicts during the divorce proceedings.
Children’s Rights Movement
The movement to advocate for children’s rights is growing at a rapid pace.
For example, the Children’s Rights Council was founded in 2000 with the goal of influencing policymakers to pass legislation that protects children from abuse and neglect. Since then, the organization has helped create over 400 state-level laws that benefit children.
Growing Focus on Mental Health
Today, an increasing number of individuals are turning to divorce lawyers to help them navigate complex mental health issues.
This is especially true for those who have experienced trauma, including domestic violence and sexual assault. Trauma often leads to complex cases involving parenting time disputes, legal custody disagreements, child support conflicts, and more.
Family law attorneys are trained in handling these cases effectively due to their experience in navigating family court systems.
How to Become a Family Lawyer
1. Planning Your Career
Family law attorneys are responsible for protecting the rights of families. If you’re interested in this type of work, it is important to remember that every family is different; there is no single right or wrong way to parent. Though each case is unique, most cases involve one or more of the following: child custody, spousal support, or property division.
When considering a career as a family lawyer, it is important to be aware of the sensitive nature of the cases that you will be working on. You should expect some emotionally challenging moments throughout your career and it is crucial to be able to maintain an objective perspective even when things get tough.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for family lawyers highlight their understanding of the law, ability to empathize with clients, and excellent communication skills. If you’ve completed an internship in this field, include it in your resume. Emphasize your empathy for clients by describing how you helped them make informed decisions or helped them structure their lives according to their wishes.
In addition to listing your education and license information, emphasize your ability to handle a large caseload effectively. List details about previous cases you’ve worked on and how they were resolved, including any court appearances or mediations that required negotiation skills. Your writing skills will also be useful when writing up case reports on your work progress or preparing letters of representation for court appearances–see an example here.
3. Applying for Jobs
If you’re looking for a job as a family lawyer, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, look for jobs on job boards and social media sites like LinkedIn. As for research, begin by getting familiar with the sorts of family law cases that your chosen organization handles. You can then use that information to create a tailored resume that reflects the sort of knowledge and experience the organization is looking for.
4. Ace the Interview
In a family law interview, the employer will want to know your expertise with family law, as well as how you can help the client. Interviewers may also ask about the most challenging cases you’ve handled and whether you feel you were successful in solving them.
In addition to being knowledgeable about your area of practice, it is also important to be able to communicate effectively with those involved in the legal process. This includes not only lawyers and judges but also investigating officers and other parties involved in the case. Make sure that you demonstrate an understanding of how difficult and sensitive these situations can be and how critical it is for lawyers to be able to hold their own during these proceedings.