Your first year as a family lawyer may be a bit of a rollercoaster. But stay the course and you’ll learn that being a family lawyer is rewarding, challenging – and lucrative.
By Erik V. Larson, Family Lawyer
The initial surprising reward is that practicing family law challenges you in ways you could never have anticipated. Addressing family law cases can make you feel as though you are wearing many hats: social worker, mediator, accountant counselor, and if children are involved, a psychologist/parenting expert. Whether you thrive or feel out of your comfort zone in these roles, you will not be bored! Having plowed through law school and the bar exam, your muscle memory for tackling the unfamiliar and rising to the occasion will return. Embrace it!
If you’re in your first year of practice as a family lawyer, you will find yourself on a bit of a rollercoaster. This experience is not unusual. Stay the course and stay tuned; when you wrap up your inaugural year, it will have taught you a substantial amount.
Complexities and Challenges in Your First Year as a Family Lawyer
Okay, so you studied family law inside and out and even helped out on cases now and again. Your first year as a divorce lawyer will teach you that there was still a lot you did not know. While your state’s statutes codify divorce and other family laws, every family’s situation is unprecedented, with unique legal considerations. You will have to adapt your legal strategy to each setting.
Also, the practice of family law requires you to draw upon basic knowledge (or the knowledge of others) of areas within family law and more regarding:
- Real estate law,
- Estate and trust law,
- Business law,
- Child custody law,
- Visitation law,
- Guardianship rules,
- Child support law, and
- Other areas of law.
Like family medicine doctors who rely on various skills they have in every medical specialty, you will find that you need to be able to pull information from a broad base of legal knowledge (again, yours or others within your firm).
Family Law’s Unique Interaction with Mediation and Negotiation
Family law often involves dissolving or altering an array of familiar relationships. You will find yourself representing clients in custody disputes, emancipation hearings, separation arrangements, divorce proceedings, and more.
In each of these situations, there is hope within our judicial system that the parties can handle the situations amicably, for the best interest of all involved. Your first year of practice will teach you that mandatory law school classes and optional professional development classes on negotiating skills are worthwhile.
Consider this: A divorce is less traumatic for a child if the parents are satisfied and compliant with a custody agreement. This is especially true if the alternative may be tension and hostility during custody exchanges at best, or returning to courts again and again to address custody at the worst. Having a cordial outcome may only be possible if the lawyers take the step to negotiate or mediate for their clients.
Handling Family Law Cases: Not As Harrowing As People May Think
It is a fallacy that family law is always depressing. Of course, separation and divorce are never goals when a couple gets married. No one wants marriages to fail. But the reality is that some couples do need to split up. When you help expedite this process for the good of all involved, you’ll often feel good about doing so. In highly contentious divorces, you sometimes wonder how the couple stayed married as long as they did! When the court finalizes the divorce, it gives you a sense of relief for your client.
It also may be challenging to see a family dealing with a 17-year-old child seeking emancipation – but the case may bring to light issues the family needs to address. In your representation of either party, you may find that legal interaction leads to the best outcome for all involved, especially your client.
The bottom line is that as a family lawyer you will be able to use your skills, interests, and knowledge to advocate for your client and settle a family matter that must be resolved. That is the ultimate upside of practicing family law!
The Lucrative Field of Family Law
Handling more and more family law cases helps you become skilled enough to manage several clients with competence and care. Your initial year will teach you that family law can be profitable. Here is how you can make this happen.
Remember That Your Practice Is a Business
Family law, the umbrella under which divorce law falls, sometimes attracts those of us who are more touchy-feely lawyers. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are not running a charity. Charge reasonable fees, and collect those fees. A good deed now and again is worthwhile. However, unless you’re independently wealthy or have built a clientele of high net worth individuals to pay the bills, don’t develop a reputation as a lawyer who regularly takes on pro bono cases – regardless of how sad a situation might be.
Start Building a Broad Client Base and Referral Base
In your first year as a family lawyer, seek to provide representation to parents of all genders and incomes and people of various backgrounds. Most importantly, handle all types of family law cases. The result will be that you will have an array of clients seeking your services. It is best to not have the public or other lawyers define you as “a great lawyer who handles adoptions,” for instance. You want your stamp to be that of “a great family lawyer.”
Reach out to other professionals who often are the sounding board for people who are having family issues. Ministers, police officers, lawyers in non-family law fields, and even barbers and hairdressers often have friends or random acquaintances tell them their family woes. Let these professionals know that you are taking family law case clients.
Do a Great Job
Clients do not measure the success of a case solely by the completion of the actual case. Your clients need to know that you were honest with them, advocated strongly, and were available when needed. These are traits people look for in a family law attorney. Your former clients can be your best referral base if they are satisfied with your services.
Old-time lawyers sometimes balk at advertising. But times have changed. As you wrap up your first year of practice as a divorce lawyer, you will see that lawyers advertise. Join the fray and be strategic when doing so. For instance, studies show that March and August, not around the winter holidays as people often assume, are when most divorce filings occur. Plan your advertisements accordingly. Child custody issues sometimes ramp up over school holidays and summer breaks. Keep this in mind as well.
Your first year of practice as a family law attorney will teach you all of the above and much more. One of the most extraordinary things you will learn? While family lawyers may be adversaries in court, they tend to be an affable and supportive group outside of court. Reach out for help and advice. If you are honest and fair, you will be welcome to the community that is the “tribe” of family law lawyers.
Erik V. Larson is an attorney at The Larson Law Office in Houston. His practice consists primarily of divorce, child custody, and child support cases. He is licensed to practice law in all Texas State Courts by the Supreme Court of Texas and is admitted to practice in federal courts in the Southern District of Texas, the Northern District of Texas, the Eastern District of Texas, and the Western District of Texas. www.thelarsonlawoffice.com
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