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How to Become a Family Attorney

If you are looking for a fulfilling career where you can help others, use your high-level negotiation and communications skills, and explore your interest in the law, becoming a family attorney is an excellent career path. 

Family lawyers specialize in legal problems between members of the same family. Typically, they handle cases involving divorce, adoption, guardianship, and emancipation. Family lawyers perform many duties, including filing legal documents, assisting clients in court proceedings, taking part in mediation sessions, and advising clients on their legal rights and options.

A family lawyer must be professional, empathetic, and a good counselor as clients typically are going through a very stressful time in their lives. Compassion is key, as is the ability to fight for the client. Basic accounting knowledge and an understanding of financial matters are essential. Working as a family lawyer can be very stressful, but it can also be very satisfying when you know you’ve helped your client navigate through a difficult time.

Sample job description

Family attorneys work to resolve matters and domestic relations between members of the same family. They may oversee issues dealing with marriage, adoption, child custody, divorce, and guardianship. They may be involved with child protective proceedings, juvenile law, and paternity cases. A successful family attorney seeks objectivity. They also must be articulate, responsive, and assertive. In-depth experience is a plus. A lawyer with a lot of experiential knowledge often has a far better ability to apply and interpret law than one who’s just started off, because family matters can be very complex and creativity is often essential. [Your Company Name] is hiring committed and motivated family lawyers to take our company to new heights. If you have experience with monitoring and overseeing family matters, a family lawyer position at our company may suit you.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Draft motions, marriage and divorce agreements, division of assets, and child custody documents
  • Appear at court hearings to argue motions or represent a client in a trial
  • Negotiate with clients and opposing attorneys
  • Assist clients with navigating family court

Education and experience

This position requires a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where the candidate will work.

Courses in basic accounting, finance or law school specialization in child custody issues, property rights, and related subjects are preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Knowledge of federal and state laws and regulations regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and division of assets
  • Research skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Expertise in negotiation
  • Counseling skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • 3+ years of experience working as a family attorney
  • Ability to de-escalate situations

Typical work environment

Most family lawyers work primarily in law offices, but some may travel to attend meetings with clients at homes, hospitals, or prisons. Generally, the day may be spent negotiating minor issues, drafting correspondences, and preparing pleadings for court, and going to court. A fair amount of time is spent in court hearings. Careers in family law provide stable hours with a lot of one-on-one time with clients.

Typical hours

The typical work hours in an office setting for a family attorney are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many attorneys work more than 40 hours a week, especially when nearing deadlines or preparing for court proceedings.

Available certifications

Online courses in family law are often offered through paralegal programs, legal studies programs, and in a few law programs. Check out the following:

  • The Family Law Specialist Certificate Program. This certificate is offered through the University of Texas at Austin as an online self-paced course. There is a three-part modality to the course: Family Law, Juvenile Law, and an elective that the instructor helps students select based upon which fits best with their particular field of interest. 

Career path

Family attorneys are required to have a Juris Doctorate from an accredited law school and a license to practice law in the state where they work. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to pursue a J.D. degree. College coursework in subjects like basic accounting, as well as law school courses in child custody law, property rights, marriage and divorce law, and related subjects is preferred.

Most attorneys start in law firms as associates, then progress on either a partner or non-partner track, leading to positions as partners, senior attorneys, or of counsel.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1011

2020 Employment804,200
Projected Employment in 2030876,578
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift71,500 increase

Family attorneys should be aware of some significant trends that impact their chosen profession. One of those, according to an article on the career planning website The Balance Careers, is the concept of collaborative law. It’s an alternative to litigation for divorcing spouses and other clients involved in different family law disputes. In collaborative law, the parties hire attorneys who commit to using group meetings to include both parties in all negotiations. The aim is to resolve the matter without going to court. Should either party decide to go to court after all, both attorneys agree not to represent either party in court. Another social trend that may affect how family attorneys do their work is conscious co-parenting, in which parents who decide to get divorced choose to present a united front to their children. The parents agree to custody terms on their own, rather than through a potentially adversarial court hearing.