What does a family lawyer do?
Family law deals with family-related issues and domestic relations. Most family law practices focus on representing clients in a divorce and on the issues related to divorce, such as the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony. Family lawyers also draft prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and litigate related matters. Some family lawyers represent victims or perpetrators of domestic violence in civil protection order proceedings and defend clients accused of domestic violence in criminal proceedings. Adoption and guardianship, juvenile delinquency, and child abuse and neglect are also areas of family law. Five Maryland circuit courts have Family Divisions that adjudicate divorce, custody, alimony, child support, visitation, marital property, paternity, adoption, juvenile delinquency matters, hearings for dependent or neglected children in need of assistance, and civil protection order cases. These cases often involve contested hearings before masters or judges.
What skills do I need to be a family lawyer?
While some family lawyers have developed a particular specialty, such as adoption law, most family lawyers are experienced in several practice areas. Family lawyers must have a wide range of legal skills, as they draft and negotiate contracts, pleadings and other legal documents; litigate contested matters; counsel clients on their legal rights and options; and attempt to resolve disputes. Family lawyers should also have a basic understanding of accounting and financial matters. Finally, family lawyers also must have exceptional interpersonal skills and be adept at managing emotionally volatile situations.
What kinds of jobs are available for family lawyers?
Many family lawyers work in small firms that specialize in family law or in midsized firms that have a family law practice. Others work in nonprofit legal services organizations that represent low-income clients. Attorneys with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s Children In Need of Assistance (CINA) division provide legal representation for parents and guardians in court proceedings regarding the abuse or neglect of a child. Most state’s attorney's offices have specialized units that handle domestic violence, child abuse and child support matters.
What courses should I take?
You should satisfy the Family Law concentration. Take all the courses offered on family law and also consider taking a tax course. If possible, participate in the Bronfein Family Law Clinic, the Mediation Clinic for Families, the Family Law Workshop or the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ Student Fellows Program. Here are some other courses to consider:
Dispute resolution: Mediating Family Disputes: Theory and Practice Seminar • Dispute Resolution Workshop • Mediation Skills • Mediation Clinic for Families I • Mediation Clinic for Families II
Litigation and trial preparation: Bench Trial Advocacy • Litigation Process • Interviewing, negotiating and Counseling • Trial Advocacy
Practical experience: Mediation Clinic for Families I • Mediation Clinic for Families II • Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ Student Fellows Program I • Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ Student Fellows Program II • Bronfein Family Law Clinic I • Bronfein Family Law Clinic II • Family Law Moot Court Team • Family Law Workshop
Substantive areas: Family Law • Juvenile Justice • Child and the Family • Advanced Legal Research involving a family law topic (approved by Family Law concentration adviser) • Child and the Family • Elder Law • Families, Law and Literature • Gender and the Law Seminar
Tax/Trusts and Estates/Financial Planning: Federal Income Tax • Planning for Families and Seniors Workshop • Trusts and Estates • Corporate Taxation • Partnership Taxation • Executive Compensation • Fundamentals of Federal Income Tax II • Qualified Pension and Profit Sharing Plans • S-Corporations • Tax Exempt Organizations • Tax Policy Seminar • Tax Practice and Procedure Workshop
What co-curricular and volunteer activities should I consider?
Join the Family Law Association, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Family and Juvenile Law Section and the American Bar Association’s Section of Family Law and attend events. Develop your litigation and advocacy skills by participating in moot court. Become a certified mediator by taking the training course offered by UB’s Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Volunteer with a nonprofit that provides family law-related legal services, such as the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, the House of Ruth Maryland or the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland. Work as a law clerk at a firm that specializes in family law. You can find family law firms, as well as UB alumni who practice family law, by doing a search on www.martindale.com. Another option is to work as a judicial law clerk or to do an externship with a Family Division judge.
Who should I talk to for more information?