Chapter 7 - Family Law

The next big area is family law. Family law is in great demand. In addition to divorces, there are custody and child support modification and enforcement, and parentage cases. These, alone, can fill a steady diet.

But beware. Family law clients are mostly, but not always, "something else." They make criminal clients look more respectable. They will demand, whine, complain and bother you incessantly - after hours and even on weekends and holidays. You will even encounter some clients who appear to be off their rockers. This is part of the family practitioner's life. It is impossible to stop it. These clients just cannot control themselves, as irrational as it is. Rather than try to control it, you have to learn to bill for it. Every time they call, bill them. Keep the pressure on them to pay, pay, pay. The more they demand of your time, the more you get after them for more money. (More on billing and collecting later).

Keep in mind that with litigated family law cases, you will often do more work than you can bill. It is not that you cannot justify the hours spent. You can. Typically, however, the client runs out of money and cannot get any more. At that point, it is all on you, so be efficient, cut to the chase, and get a reasonable settlement.

Many family law clients should be considered as "special." These types of clients, in fact, are so "special" that you are better served with a different sales pitch - one that violates what the professors taught you about professionalism without really violating it. More importantly, one that tends also to work in other practice areas. This pitch involves being a real junkyard dog - or at least convincing the client that this is who you are.

Family clients are often very mad, and to them, you are an appendage they want to use to inflict pain on their opponent. For clients like this, walk with a swagger and talk tough. However, still be professional with opposing counsel. It is easy enough to do. Whatever you do, do not sell your clients short in cases like these. It needs to appear that you scraped and tugged for every single penny. Otherwise, they feel shorted and will not be good referrals. Bear in mind, too, that they are quite likely to be unhappy even with a good deal. The law simply does not offer castration and smacking upside the head as remedies.

Novice attorneys enjoy some built-in legislative protections in family law. In many jurisdictions, if not most or all of them, trial judges in family courts have vast discretion in terms of property division and quite a lot less discretion when it comes to child support.

In terms of property division, the court's high discretion serves as protection against malpractice liability and grievances. As long as you can defend your efforts and your diligence, you can point to the court's discretion, along with the client's craze and general repulsive attitude, for the disappointing result. As regards child support and the court's lower discretion, there is not a whole lot of wiggle room, and no matter how brilliant an attorney you are, the statutes set forth the precise amounts which are presumed to be fair. Court's are going to follow those statutes, and when they do, there is no room to blame you for not being a smart attorney.

Finally, family law clients can also be great sources of referral, provided they feel you fought for them and "protected" them. Do not worry when these clients are not happy. It goes with the turf. In the next 60 days, they will refer their friend or sibling to you. Also, if your family law client is not financially strapped post-divorce and can afford some incidentals, sometimes, you can get a will and power of attorney out of them. Sometimes, you get to explain to them, "If you would have incorporated your business before you married, property division would have been a lot more favorable." Then, they realize it is time to have you go ahead and incorporate.


2015, Jeff M