How To Become a Family Lawyer
Updated June 30, 2023
When going into a law career, there are many areas you can specialize in. If you are interested in handling relational matters, then you may want to consider becoming a family lawyer. Those who pursue this type of law career work on a wide variety of cases, often involving strong emotions and high stakes.
In this article, we explain how to become a family lawyer and what to expect in this career.
A family lawyer advises and represents their clients in family-related cases, such as divorce or adoption.
To become a family lawyer, attend law school, take specialized courses and complete a clinic or internship with a family law firm.
After graduating from law school and gaining experience, you may consider earning another advanced degree to expand your skills and knowledge of family law.
What is a family lawyer?
A family lawyer is a legal professional who works on family-related cases. Oftentimes, these cases involve divorce, domestic disputes, child welfare, adoption, custody and annulment. When working as a family lawyer, you are responsible for representing your client and helping them navigate a variety of legal situations. You may handle the cases of spouses, family members or a guardian representing a child.
What does a family lawyer do?
Each facet of practicing law comes with its own challenges and expectations. A family lawyer is responsible for the following tasks:
Advise and counsel clients on legal proceedings.
Act as a representative for your clients throughout the legal process.
Build a case on behalf of your client to present in the courtroom.
Use evidence and research to find a favorable position for your client.
Help families and spouses come to mutual agreements or compromises.
Speak with key witnesses and other individuals involved in a case.
Travel to meet with clients and other legal professionals.
Attend court hearings to argue your client's claim or reach a settlement.
Fill out applications to send to family court.
What skills do you need to become a family lawyer?
The legal field in general requires exceptional communication skills, while working with families demands the capacity to connect with and relate to others on a very human level. Family lawyers thus need the following skills to be successful:
A major part of your job is looking at evidence and information to come to a conclusion that serves your client. Family lawyers use their analytical thinking skills to come up with solutions. Family cases can be quite complex and emotional, making it important to use your analytical thinking skills to figure out what's best for everyone involved.
When working as a family lawyer, you will use your communication skills every day. From writing important documents to speaking in court, your written and verbal communication skills are an important part of clearly conveying your ideas and arguments. Having strong communication skills can help you connect with clients and make a solid case for them.
Whether a couple is dealing with a dramatic divorce or joyful adoption, emotions can be quite strong in family court. While family lawyers need to remain logical and follow legal procedures, it is also important for them to treat their clients with empathy. Having empathy skills means that you can understand how someone is feeling in a certain situation. While you aren't a therapist, you may need to be a comforting presence when working in this career.
When it comes to any court case, there is a lot of negotiation involved. This is especially true when working with divorce or custody cases. Having strong negotiation skills is an important part of ensuring your clients get fair treatment in the courtroom. Many people involved in family court cases are in vulnerable situations, especially children, making it important that you can make a good case for your client's needs.
Family lawyers work with a great deal of paperwork and important documents. Having organizational skills can help you keep everything in order. Along with being able to easily access your files, staying organized ensures that you are protecting the privacy of your clients. You are always sure that your confidential information is only going to authorized parties.
While your client may provide you with useful information, you'll need to use your research skills to fully understand the entire situation you are dealing with. Through research, you can find useful evidence and key testimonies. You may even use your research skills to conduct interviews with people involved in your case. Asking the right questions is an important part of finding the information you need to best serve your client.
Although having empathy is an important part of serving your clients, you also need to have stress-management skills in order to separate yourself from overbearing situations. Family lawyers need to have the ability to balance their work life and home life to avoid burnout. Stress management is also an important skill to have in the courtroom. Even when situations get intense, you need to find ways to keep your composure and continue to serve your client.
Court proceedings tend to be time-sensitive, meaning you'll need skills that help you prioritize your work. By having time-management skills, you can meet important deadlines and submit all of your documentation on time. Keep in mind that when you are a family lawyer, things will come up all of the time. This means you need to be able to adjust your schedule accordingly.
How to become a family lawyer
Practicing law in any capacity comes with specific licensure and academic expectations. If you want to become a family lawyer, then you need to follow these steps:
1. Earn a bachelor's degree
Before law school, you need to earn your bachelor's degree. While some four-year schools offer a pre-law program, there are other areas of study you can pursue during your undergrad. Students preparing for law school tend to major in criminal justice, psychology, sociology or government. The coursework you take can also prepare you for law school. Consider enrolling in courses that can help you improve your communication and public speaking skills.
During your undergrad, there are quite a few things you can do to prepare for law school. Along with taking relevant courses, you can use this time to build meaningful relationships with your academic advisors and professors. By having these connections, you can have a pool of qualified people to choose from when you need a letter of recommendation for your law school application.
2. Pass the LSAT
One major part of getting into law school is passing the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Most aspiring family lawyers take this exam toward the end of their undergraduate program. The questions in the LSAT are designed to test your logical and analytical thinking skills. You can prepare for the exam by taking study courses and practice exams.
Along with a favorable score on the LSAT, many law schools require you to submit letters of recommendation, a personal statement and your application payment. Having a high grade-point average (GPA) during your undergrad and a high score on your LSAT can improve your chances of getting into law school.
3. Complete law school
When looking for a law school to attend, make sure it is accredited y the American Bar Association (ABA). As you attend law school, you will work toward earning your Juris Doctor (JD). Many law school programs last about three years. During your first year, you'll learn about all kinds of law topics. When progressing to your second and third years of school, you'll have a chance to enroll in advanced-level courses. This is your chance to become knowledgeable about family law topics, such as divorce, adoption, custody, child welfare and marriage.
During your final year of law school, you will learn about taking the bar exam. This is a test that states administer to determine if you know enough about the law to become a licensed lawyer. Along with preparing for the bar exam, you can work on gaining relevant family law experience to make yourself a more hirable candidate after graduation. Many family law students participate in family law clinics and intern at family law firms.
4. Obtain a law license
Once you graduate from law school, it's time to take your bar exam. Depending on your state's rules, you may need to take a series of exams that may take a few days. Some of these exams will include multiple-choice questions, while others might involve essay questions. Once you pass your exams and submit everything to the state, you are officially a member of your state's bar.
5. Accumulate continuing education credits
Even after you finish all of your schooling and licensure tests, you may need to earn continuing education credits throughout the course of your career in order to keep your license to practice law. These requirements vary by state. You can earn continuing education credits by attending conferences, seminars or lectures. You can also earn credit by completing an in-person or online course. When figuring out ways to continue your education, you will need to ensure your state approves of them.
6. Consider additional education
While earning an additional degree isn't necessary for family lawyers, it is a great way to pursue even more career opportunities. You may find that by earning your master of laws degree, you are a more hirable candidate for high-level family law positions. Some of these programs allow you to specialize in family law.
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