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An introduction to family law

An introduction to family law

The Rookie Lawyer


Reading time: three minutes

Ever since I tuned into the Forsters LLP’s 'Breaking Good – Rethinking Separation and Divorce' podcast, I began to develop an interest in family law. However, I wasn't sure whether it was the interesting and jovial discussions on the podcast that drew me in, or whether it was the topic itself. As a result, this article – a product of curiosity and compiled research – was born. 

Family law can be split up into different sub-areas. As a solicitor specialising in family law, you can expect to work on matrimonial issues (perhaps the most obvious example), issues pertaining to childcare and, occasionally, financial issues. Expect to see a range of issues come up – from inheritance conflicts to domestic violence. Family law is certainly not for the faint of heart.

What do family lawyers actually do?

So, we have a rough idea of what family law covers, but what do solicitors in the family law sphere do?

It depends on the specific circumstances of their case. The details of a divorce, for instance, will differ significantly from those of an adoption case. Generally, most family lawyers will be involved in a combination of research, drafting documentation, gathering evidence and occasionally referring clients to mediation. 

In terms of more specific tasks, family lawyers can advise on and draft pre and post-nuptial agreements to protect the financial interests of one or both parties, alongside drafting separation agreements in the event of a divorce or civil partnership dissolution. They can advise on financial settlements following divorce and ensure that assets are equally divided between parties involved in a divorce. They may also advocate for their client in hearings, attend counsel at court and, in child law cases, act on behalf of parents, children or local authorities.

Key skills for a family lawyer

As the name suggests, a family lawyer will be privy to one of the most vulnerable and personal areas of their clients' lives. Whether this is the making or breaking of that family, it is of vital importance as a family lawyer that you handle each case with sensitivity and empathy. A non-judgmental attitude and a sense of friendliness are also paramount – as well as resilience when dealing with those in a vulnerable emotional state. It should go without saying that being trustworthy is part of the package. Equally, it's important to remember that there's a difference between a lawyer and a therapist. As a lawyer, your area of expertise should be your knowledge of the law. So, while empathy is an important accompaniment to the role, you're there to provide legal advice and aid – you're not your client's counsellor or social worker.

In addition, as being a family lawyer sometimes involves negotiating settlements, your negotiation and interview skills must be top-notch. Communication and social skills are at the forefront of this job – be prepared for lots of client-facing work, with both adults and children.

While these skills are a huge part of making anyone suitable for their desired job, the best family lawyers are those with a genuine interest and curiosity in the work that they do. If you're someone who loves problem-solving, working with people (particularly in the field of interpersonal relationships) and are capable of stomaching some difficult cases, family law might be the right fit for you.

Personally, though the idea is daunting, the research I've done has inspired me to at least give family law a try. It may not be for everyone, but the chance to help individuals and families is one I find incredibly rewarding.

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