Exploring this Job
Talk to family lawyers about their careers. Visit the Web sites of law associations for lists of family lawyers in your area. Consider volunteering at a family law practice. Join law clubs and participate in mock trial and moot court activities to gain experience in the field.
If you are already in law school, you might consider becoming a student member of the American Bar Association. Student members receive Student Lawyer, a magazine that contains useful information for aspiring lawyers. Sample articles from the magazine can be read at http://abaforlawstudents.com/stay-informed. The ABA also publishes several publications that are of interest to family lawyers, including Family Advocate, Family Law Quarterly, Child Law Practice, and Children’s Rights Litigation. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers publishes the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Civitas ChildLaw Center offers the Children’s Legal Rights Journal. Visit the Web sites of these associations and law school to learn more about these publications.
Family lawyers provide legal advice and representation to individuals or families in areas such as domestic and foreign adoption; child custody/visitation; children’s rights; child support; guardianship for children and for the elderly, infirm, and mentally disabled who cannot care for themselves; domestic violence; marriage; marital legal separation; divorce; estate planning; prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; alternative family arrangements; bankruptcy; elder law; reproduction issues (surrogate mothers, rights of sperm donors, etc.); and wills and trusts.
Family lawyers may be generalists, who work on a variety of issues for clients, or specialists, who focus on particular areas of family law such as adoption, divorce, elder law, or juvenile delinquency. Regardless of their specialty, family lawyers must be skilled in client counseling, negotiation, client advocacy, rules of evidence, planning and drafting pleadings and briefs, investigation and determination of facts, taking depositions, and trial practice. Since the field is so diverse, general family law practitioners must be proficient in a variety of legal areas, including laws relating to bankruptcy, real estate, disability, torts, criminal issues, insurance, contracts, tax, and wills and trusts, among others. Here are a few examples of typical duties for general family lawyers:
- coordinating local, national, and international adoptions
- representing parents in child custody cases
- filing civil lawsuits on behalf of state agencies against parents and guardians who are suspected of abusing or neglecting their children
- handling divorce proceedings (duties might include client counseling, negotiation with opposing lawyers to determine a settlement agreement, arbitration or mediation, and litigation)
- drafting prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that outline issues such as spousal support, property division, and even child custody in the event of a divorce
- helping clients begin guardianship proceedings if a client or client’s family member becomes mentally incapacitated due to age, disease, or injury
- representing children who are charged with criminal conduct such as assault, drug possession, and other misdemeanors and felonies
- probating a will and dividing the assets of the deceased per his or her wishes
- contesting a will by filing a lawsuit to set aside and invalidate the will
Family lawyers must also stay up to date on practice issues by reading industry publications, participating in continuing education, and attending association conferences. Other duties for lawyers who own their own firms include supervising paralegals, outside counsel, and other support professionals; preparing billing for clients; and promoting their practices.