Family law breaks down into three main areas of work: matrimonial, finance, and child law. Many lawyers choose to specialise in either matrimonial law, or child law; others maintain a mixed client base.
What does this type of lawyer do?
Typically family lawyers act on matters such as divorce and separation; child contact and adoption; Local Authority care orders; and financial settlements.
When acting for a client seeking a divorce, family lawyers are engaged in taking initial details, gathering evidence (including financial), preparing the necessary documentation, negotiating settlements and contact/residency for children, referring to mediation, and advocating for the client in hearings. The work may also include instructing Counsel, and attending Counsel at court. Child law lawyers may also represent parties in care proceedings: for example, acting on behalf of parents or children or Local Authorities.
What skills are required?
This is a ‘people’ area of law, and you must have a non-judgemental attitude and a genuine interest in the lives of others. The aim is to remain empathetic but detached: you will need to be able to inspire trust and show empathy, while remembering that the best way you can help your client is to be a quick and effective lawyer – not a counsellor, friend in need, or a social worker (other are better placed to fulfil those roles).
You will therefore need excellent interviewing skills, and the ability to calm angry, upset, or frightened clients while extracting the salient pieces of information from them.
Negotiating with the other side is a key part of the job, and a practical approach, and good judgement (based on a firm grasp of family law) will go far.
In recent years, family law has been noticeable by its extremes: multi-million pound divorce cases being heard at the same time as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act removed legal aid support from most areas of family work - as a result of which, more individuals are representing themselves in court.
The Children and Families Act, 2014, among other changes, placed a requirement on parties to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting before making certain applications to the family court. And, in 2014, a new single Family Court came into operation.
Other changes in recent years include same sex marriage and on-going debate about the role and importance of pre-nuptial agreements.
What's it like in practice
Find out what some of our people who have practised family law say about it, and the advice that they would give those interested in a career in this area. Look at the following Case Studies:
The student guides to the legal profession have useful information working in family law. Look at:
- Lawcareers.net: http://www.lawcareers.net
- Chambers and Partners Student guide: http://www.chambersstudent.co.uk
- Target Law: https://targetjobs.co.uk/career-sectors/law-solicitors
The Law Society has an accredited panel of solicitors specialising in family law:
Join ‘Resolution’ (national organisation of family lawyers):
Keep up with family and child law issues and news through: