Family law refers to the body of laws that pertains to family matters and domestic relations. It encompasses a wide range of issues including child custody, divorce, and adoption. Family law lawyers represent clients facing legal issues that involve any member of their family. Read on to learn more about family law lawyers.
What Does a Family Law Lawyer Do?
Family law is the area of law that deals with individuals who share a familial or domestic connection. State legislatures determine what constitutes a family, and they enact laws to deal with legal issues that can impact these relationships. There are also a host of federal laws that regulate and influence families. While most of these laws involve parties related by marriage or blood, they also affect individuals in distant or domestic relationships. Family law covers many topics including:
- Child Abuse (also a criminal matter)
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Child Support
- Divorce and Alimony
- Domestic Violence (also a criminal matter)
- Foster Care
- Parental Liability
- Reproductive Rights
While some family issues can be solved without legal counsel, these types of cases can be very complicated, and can have a significant impact on the parties involved, they often require the skill and expertise of an attorney.
A family law attorney first meets with potential clients to determine whether they have a valid case. He or she then advises on how to best proceed, and informs the clients what they can expect. The client may also be asked to pay a retainer, which is a deposit of sorts, put into a special account to pay the attorney for legal services.
Since legal proceedings involving family law can be very long, drawn out processes, family attorneys have many duties. Once hired, they file necessary paperwork, attend mediation sessions, research case law, attend hearings, interview witnesses, and much more.
Professional Requirements to Become a Family Law Lawyer
There are several steps to take before you can become a family law lawyer. You must first be a licensed attorney, which requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and then a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.).
Common undergraduate majors for students studying prelaw include English, business, economics, and political science, but there is no singular field of study required for admission to law school. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you must successfully complete the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), as this is a prerequisite for law school.
Law school entails three years of study with the first one spent learning about basic law, and the following two on family law specifically. After you receive your Juris Doctorate, you will be required to take the state bar exam. If you intend on practicing law in more than one state, you must take the bar exam in each of those states.
Additional Education and Experience
If you want to take a deeper look into family law after receiving your Juris Doctorate, you can obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. The Master of Laws program is an internationally recognized postgraduate law program that gives lawyers global credibility.
Additional Licensing Requirements
Each state has specific licensing requirements that must be met to retain a degree to practice law. These requirements vary, but most states mandate that lawyers attend a specific amount of continuing education courses on a regular basis — usually every one to three years.
Where Can You Work as a Family Law Lawyer
Many family law attorneys work as solo practitioners or in smaller and mid-sized law firms that specialize in family law. Another option is to work for a nonprofit organization that deals with low income clients and victims of abuse. This type of attorney can also work in a court setting to represent parents or guardians dealing with legal issues regarding neglect and abuse of a child.
Family law a work primarily from an office, but they also spend time in the court room and visiting with clients in various places. Some attorneys also work as private or court-ordered mediators to help families settle their issues outside of the courtroom.
How do Family Law Lawyers Get Paid
The complexity of the case, the attorney’s experience and expertise, and geographical location all play a role in how family law lawyers get paid. Generally, the attorneys charge by the hour for more complicated cases as these often take longer to resolve. For instance, a child custody case takes longer and more work on the lawyer’s part than an uncontested divorce. The hourly fees may range from $150 to $850 per hour, and this usually does not include costs, such as filing fees, copies, postage, process service, and courier services.
If the case is relatively simple, family law attorneys often charge a flat fee. This is a fixed fee for the services rendered, regardless of how long the case takes to resolve, though a flat fee is usually only offered to do a single thing, such as prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, and file it with the court. A flat fee may fluctuate from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The lawyer should specify what is and is not included in the fee before an agreement is signed.
Many lawyers ask potential clients to pay a retainer fee before any legal services are performed. The retainer fee is an advance payment put into a special account for the lawyer to use as he or she works on the case. The client may be asked to pay an additional retainer if the original fee is gone before the case is closed.
Family Law Lawyer Salary
For 2018, the median wage for attorneys is $119, 250 annually ($57.33/hr.) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. This number accounts for all lawyers as the BLS does not separate them by field of practice.
Typically, newly licensed, solo practitioners fall on the lower end of the spectrum, while attorneys in large firms or with greater experience, expertise, and seniority can approach the $200,000 mark.
Employment Outlook for Family Law Lawyer
Between 2016 and 2026, the employment rate for lawyers is projected to grow at a rate of around 8%, which is average for all U.S. occupations. Competition for attorney jobs is expected to remain strong as more students obtain their law degree than there are jobs available.
Hiring a Family Law Lawyer
Since a divorce, custody battle, or other family law matter can be emotionally draining, it is important to find the right attorney for your particular case. It is not uncommon for a family law case to involve the client’s most valuable assets — children, physical or psychological safety, and finances — therefore hiring a lawyer that has legal knowledge and experience can be invaluable.
It is also essential to hire a lawyer that you can communicate effectively with, and who meets your individual needs. For instance, if you are going through a divorce and your spouse has a habit of intimidating you, you will want a lawyer who will stand up for your rights and deal with any communication from the other party.
After finding a few family law attorneys that seem like a good fit, set up an initial consultation with each one. This is usually free of charge, and gives you the chance to explain your situation and your expectations. You can also ask questions about the attorney’s experience, expertise, and legal fees.
How to Find the Right Family Law Lawyer
Once you have decided on hiring a family law lawyer, the next step is finding one that meets your unique needs. The most reliable recommendations come from personal or professional references. Ask good friends and family members that have went through a family law matter who they would recommended. You can also ask for a reference from a lawyer that practices law in another subject area.
Another option is searching a reputable attorney database online. These often let you search by practice area or name and location. They also often provide information about the lawyers, including experience and disciplinary records. Also, check the American Bar Association website to find licensed attorneys in your area.
If you have doubts about a family law attorney you have met, you should continue searching until you find one you connect with. Family attorneys usually become involved with very personal aspects of their client’s lives, so it important to hire one that you feel comfortable with.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) in law is optional|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice|
|Key Skills||Time management, oral discussion, negotiation, debate, observant, effective communication, able to handle highly stressful situations|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250*|
|On the Job Training||Moderate term of on-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the bankruptcy field are generally employed by large family law firms|
(*Source: the BLS)