Things I wish I had known when I was first starting out in family law.
By Gerald Tomassian, Family Law Attorney
Practicing family law is a rewarding and challenging career choice. Family law is so complex that even the most experienced of family law attorneys are continually learning and growing in the field. There are a few common mistakes that most family law attorneys make starting out. Knowing what to do and what not to do will help you build a client base and a solid reputation that will carry you for years.
Client Communication: the Cornerstone of your Practice
How you communicate with your clients is the foundation of your legal practice. An attorney that does not show compassion, understanding, and respect for his client will find himself with few clients and virtually no referrals. No one wants an attorney that doesn’t care about them. You are representing them and protecting their families and their future. This is very important to them and they need to believe it is equally important to you.
- Hold yourself to the highest standards
- Always speak in a manner that is socially acceptable in any company
- Your ethics and morals must represent your core values
- Listen carefully, making sure you understand what they are telling you
- Be honest: if you say you are going to call, write, or do something for your client, do it
- Do your homework
- Research your case carefully
- Be clear and concise when writing your client
- Show empathy for your clients
- Put yourself in their shoes and show empathy
- Never talk down to the client (if it is important to them, it is important to you)
You never know it all. No one ever knows it all. Feel free to sit in the court and listen to other council and more importantly the judge. The other council may know things you don’t know, and gaining that knowledge is priceless. However, your best resource is the judge. The judge hears cases from every type of lawyer. How he responds to the attorneys in front of him will be the way he reacts to your case. This knowledge is power, and it is yours for the taking.
Stay in Your Lane
Family law is usually the first legal step a person takes toward a variety of issues. The same client that comes to your office today may be looking for a divorce attorney, someone to help with guardianship, child custody, bankruptcy, and much more in coming months. Resist the urge to be a Jack of all trades. Choose one or two areas and stick with them. Be the best you can be at what you do. Sometimes spreading yourself too thin early in your career hurts you and makes you less effective.
You Are Building Your Brand
Your skills and talents are your product. How you represent yourself is how you build your brand. If you allow your name to be associated with questionable or unethical behaviors, it could take years to rebuild your reputation. Be selective about what you will put your name on.
Even before you open your legal practice, you can network. Take advantage of opportunities to volunteer your services. Treat every relationship as the one you will need to secure your future. Give people a reason to trust you and to remember you. Ask people to tell their family and friends about you.
Be Careful about what You Post on Social Media
Be very careful about what you put on social media. Social media has cost people their reputation and had destroyed relationships. This includes potential relationships that would have built your business. Anything posted on social media is fair game and will be used against you. It does not matter how secure your settings are set, there is a way to gain access to your social media. Never underestimate the council you are working against or the people being represented.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
If you are uncomfortable speaking in front of crowds, try litigating. You must learn to appear at ease and in control even if you are uncomfortable. This is the key to a successful family law practice. Travel as much as possible. Traveling exposes you to situations and people that are unfamiliar to you. This is the perfect environment to practice keeping your cool under pressure. It is a good way to work on your “first impression”. Take note of what you do well and what you do not do well. Some people consider strangers to be friends they haven’t met yet – but some people take friendliness too far and they come across as fake. Some people can be blunt and can disagree with others, without being disagreeable.
Get a Mentor
There is no substitute for experience. Most new attorneys spend a lot of time asking questions. Having a mentor you admire and respect is a major stepping stone in your career. If you feel compelled to follow in the footsteps of a particular lawyer, ask them if they would consider mentoring you. If they share your passion, they will be more likely to take you on. Having a mentor gives you life experience that you simply cannot get in law school.
One of the best ways to get a mentor is to get active in your local Bar Association. Check for formal mentoring programs in your area. Ask lawyers that are a few years ahead of you to recommend a mentor to you.
Before you begin your mentorship, decide what skills and talents you want to develop. Have a discussion about how much time you can give the mentor and ensure he or she can work within that time frame.
Development of your social skills and your ability to empathize with your clients is the cornerstone of any family lawyer. But this is not something a lawyer can do once and forget about. These skills are continually added upon. You must refine your talents and expand your knowledge. Putting in the essential work will allow you to have the practice of your dreams.
Gerald M. Tomassian, of Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian, is a highly respected attorney in California. He is driven and passionate in all areas of family law. He was admitted to the California Bar in 1988. For more than a decade Tomassian has served as Judge Pro Tempore for the Family Law Department of the Fresno County Superior Court. He is zealous and determined to help create a better system to help clients who find themselves in need of a family law professional. He has built a reputation for being proficient, caring, honest, and fair. www.tpslawfirm.com
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