All lawyers work to help their clients with legal troubles, but few carry the emotional weight that comes with family law. There’s a lot at stake in these cases, such as a child’s future or navigating complicated family dynamics during a divorce.
Though family law may involve heavy situations like these, it can be an incredibly rewarding practice area. Learn more about what you can expect from family law and how you can become a family lawyer.
What Do Family Lawyers Do?
Family lawyers focus on issues that impact families, such as divorces, child custody, and adoptions. They may draft wills and estates, prenuptial agreements, and custody agreements, as well as participate in litigation.
Benefits of Choosing a Career as a Family Lawyer
Family law can be challenging, but it also brings a sense of fulfillment. Family lawyers play a crucial role in supporting clients during some of the most trying times in their lives. They advocate for individuals in vulnerable situations, such as spouses and children, and make positive contributions to their communities.
Some practice areas involve a lot of the same types of cases, but family lawyers get to work on a variety of different cases. Along with custody and property disputes with divorce, family law can sometimes cross over into other areas like property law, probate, or constitutional law.
Family law is also one of the areas in which lawyers may practice remotely, providing more flexibility and work-life balance. With tools like law practice management software, family lawyers can complete their casework and serve clients from anywhere.
This flexibility can be beneficial for lawyer burnout and help family lawyers broaden their book of business.
How to Become a Family Lawyer
Lawyers in all practice areas have to complete a rigorous academic program and obtain licensure.
Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
First, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Some colleges and universities offer pre-law programs, but you can enter law school with a bachelor’s in criminal justice, government, sociology, or psychology.
Take the LSAT
Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you have to pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which tests your logical and analytical thinking skills. Ideally, you should take your LSAT near the end of your undergraduate program. Consider taking practice tests to prepare.
The LSAT is important for law school, but it’s not the only criteria for admission. You will also need a personal statement and letters of recommendation for most schools, as well as a high-grade point average (GPA).
Enroll in Law School
It’s best to look at law schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Typically, these programs last three years, after which you’ll earn your Juris Doctor (JD). In your final years of law school, you will have an opportunity to enroll in specialized courses to focus on family law topics like adoption, custody, child welfare, and divorce.
Prepare to Pass the Bar Exam
Once you’ve completed law school and earned a JD, you must pass the state bar exam in the state you intend to practice. Depending on the rules in your state, you may need to take a series of exams over the course of days. After you pass and submit your results to the state, you will be officially licensed to practice.
Getting licensed isn’t the end of the journey. Throughout your career, you will need to earn continuing education credits to maintain your license to practice. The requirements vary by state, but you’ll likely need to attend a series of conferences, lectures, and seminars or complete online courses to satisfy your credit requirements.
For family lawyers looking to expand their knowledge further, you could also consider enrolling in a Master of Law (LLM) degree program. While not required, family lawyers with an LLM degree may be considered more competitive in the job market, opening more doors for career and professional development.
Essential Skills of a Family Lawyer
Family law often involves high-stakes cases with a lot of stress for clients. If you want to be a family lawyer, there are several skills that are indispensable.
When you work as a family lawyer, you must have strong communication skills. Along with the written and verbal communication that every lawyer needs, family lawyers need emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to effectively interact with clients who are often dealing with high-stress cases, such as divorce or custody battles.
Family law matters can be emotional and stressful. Family lawyers need to balance their logic and objectivity with empathy to connect with their clients and understand how they’re feeling about their cases. While you’re still there to provide legal advice, you need to be a comforting presence for your clients.
Divorce and custody cases can be complex. The strength family lawyers have is that they can analyze situations from different perspectives to find an agreeable solution. Clients rely on their lawyers to relieve the burden on their shoulders, so they have to be focused on getting the most practical outcome.
Negotiation is a big part of the law, especially in divorce or custody cases. Having strong negotiation skills is a vital part of advocating for your client and helping them achieve the best outcome for their family law case. These clients are often in vulnerable positions, particularly when children are involved, and you have to know how to effectively negotiate on their behalf.
Family lawyers work with a lot of paperwork and legal document management, which requires high attention to detail and organizational skills. You must stay organized to not only protect your clients’ privacy but to access the files you need when you need them.
Legal Tech Skills
Most successful law firms use legal practice management software to streamline workflows and make their practice more efficient. Law firm technology can handle tasks like automating documents, tracking time, and billing clients, so it’s important for family lawyers to be comfortable with modern legal technology.
Job Market Trends for Family Lawyers
There’s an increasing demand for family lawyers across the country. The average growth rate for the job market is 7%, but for family lawyers, it’s projected to increase by 9% from 2016 to 2026.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also anticipated that by 2031, the demand for lawyers will increase across all practice areas by 10%.
How Much Do Family Lawyers Make?
Currently, the average family lawyer salary is $99,795 a year in the US, which breaks down to $47.98 an hour and $8,316 a month. Across the country, salaries can be as high as $156,000 and as low as $40,500, but the average market range falls between $76,000 and $118,000.
It’s important to remember that salaries can vary by location, skill level, education, and years of experience.
Best States to Work as a Family Lawyer
Based on demand and compensation, the best state to work as a family lawyer is Nevada with an annual salary of $114,490. A close second is Massachusetts, which has high demand and an average salary of $112,930. Followed by Alaska, which beats the national average by 9.3%.
Washington, New York, and Maryland also rank favorably for family lawyers. The average in Washington is $104,867, followed by New York at $102,155 and Maryland at $101,247.
Outlook on Family Lawyers
Family law offers a rewarding career path for aspiring lawyers. With the demand for family lawyers — along with high compensation — increasing across the country, the family law practice can offer a lucrative and satisfying career with flexibility, innovation, and community impact for family lawyers.
Download as PDF
Want a copy of this article? Download it for free!Download This Post