By: Monica Mazzei
Partner, Sideman & Bancroft LLP
Common Challenges when Practicing Family Law
Perhaps the biggest challenge of practicing family law is dealing with all of the emotional issues that generally arise when you are handling a divorce case. You need to stay somewhat objective while also being empathetic to your client—again, keeping in mind that he or she is going through a very hard time.
As family law attorneys, we are representing individuals and their families, and making important decisions that are affecting the client’s children. While it is often difficult to go home and shut off that aspect of our work, it is healthy to do so. Family law attorneys need to strike the right work/life balance so that we can be there for our clients when they really need us; we cannot allow ourselves to become emotionally drained. Certainly, this is a highly emotional practice area, often involving high conflict issues such as domestic violence and child abuse. Therefore, you need to reach the right balance between your career and personal life so that you are able to work on these cases effectively and efficiently.
Looking ahead, I believe that the practice of family law will increasingly involve alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and private judging. Family lawyers will be expected to be expert negotiators. Ultimately, I think that we are going to see a reduction in the amount of litigation in family law cases, and that might be a result of the fact that our court system is not able to handle the increasingly large number of litigated cases. Consequently, more clients will be driven to use private judges or mediators. Certainly, the family law attorney community seems to be in agreement that working to resolve as many issues as we can outside of litigation is best for everyone involved. Therefore, we will see an uptick in alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and private judging, and less litigation and trials in family law cases.
To succeed in this practice area, I believe that you have to be passionate about family law: it is not an easy area to practice in and if you do not love what you are doing, it becomes very evident to your clients. Simply put, you have to be passionate about helping families and working with individuals. You also need to recognize when you can achieve the right resolution for your client outside of litigation.
Finally, my advice to family law attorneys who are just starting out is to find a mentor. That individual does not have to be an attorney who you work with or someone at your firm; he or she can be a lawyer who works elsewhere in the community. An experienced family law attorney offers invaluable learning opportunities. Fortunately, I have found that most people in this practice area are willing to share their time and knowledge—but I do not think that many younger attorneys are taking full advantage of the knowledge experienced attorneys have to offer.
- Become well versed in the art of negotiation to effectively navigate the various forms of alternative dispute resolution.
- Specialize in a subset of family law such as custody or international issues.
- Communicating with your client is essential. Schedule weekly reminders to check in with him or her to let your client know what is going on with the case. Educate the client at the outset about the family law process in general, and identify what the client’s objectives consist of.
- Keep the client on track in terms of reminding him or her to focus on the ultimate goal; do not allow the client to be sidetracked by fighting over small issues when he or she has to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Outline the work that you want to do or anticipate doing in relation to a client’s case so that there are no surprises when the bill is received. Suggest that the client see a therapist, if necessary.
- Be passionate about helping families and working with individuals. Recognize when you can achieve the right resolution for your client outside of litigation, and when there are issues that you have to litigate. Find a mentor; an experienced family law attorney offers invaluable learning opportunities.
This article is an excerpt from Inside the Minds: Strategies for Family Law in California, 2014 ed. This excerpt was provided by Aspatore Law Books, part of Thomson Reuters. Aspatore books were originally created for a legal professional audience, but have since become popular with non-attorneys thanks to easy-to-understand writing and smart, real-world insights. You can find the entire book available for purchase on the Thomson Reuters Legal Solutions website by clicking the book title linked above.