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Is Working in Family Law for me?

Girl holding stack of books

After I finished law school, I decided to do a PLT placement in a family law firm, as it was an area that I hadn’t studied but wanted to try out. I expected I would like family law. It fitted with the romantic notion that as a lawyer, I was really helping people.

I was following an absolutely brilliant lawyer, who has the uncanny ability that I am assuming will be bestowed on me at my admission ceremony, to do a million things and once and be thinking about something completely different. She makes time to talk to everyone who walks through her doors and if she can help, she will.

On my first day, I went to the children’s court to watch a case where we were acting as an Independent Children’s Lawyer. The child we were acting for was in a very unfortunate situation at home. No matter how much the child wanted to stay with her father, it was just not an option, at least not full time. The same sorts of cases came up on my second day, my third and every day after that. Children in terrible situations at home… Do you advocate for them to be taken away or do you leave them in the care of the people they love the most, but who are not capable of performing the tasks required of a parent?

Once you get past the children, you move on to the adults. Divorce is never pleasant. People are irrational, angry and hurting. When you add a solicitor into the mix, it seems to put some people over the edge. You hear people’s hate, fears and concerns. Sometimes when people have no one else to turn to, you are the person they want to turn to, but of course, you cannot be that person for every client. Maintaining professionalism suddenly becomes a lot more complicated than it seemed in your ethics classes at law school.

The firm where I interned also dealt with wills and the administration of estates. This is perhaps the part that I found the hardest. I have always taken the view that once the person you love is gone, their material possessions mean nothing. It is interesting that in so many cases, a death in the family often brings out the worst in people. Claims for family provisions take sibling rivalry to new heights. Even years after the testator’s death, the fighting continues. No matter how many solicitors are involved, how many court dates come and go, how many letters of demand are sent, that person who died is never coming back. Sometimes I think people forget this.

I worked hard to stay emotionless during my previous work experience in criminal law, and I tried to do the same at the beginning of my foray into family law. What I have realised is that sometimes this just isn’t possible. You should not be emotionless about the work you are doing. You need to accept that it is very sad. At the end of every day after my placement in family law, I felt sapped of energy. I felt a general sense of sadness for humanity and for broken families in general. I am genuinely astounded at the neglect, anger, jealousy, rage and sadness that surround so many families.

In these situations all you can do is provide the best legal service you can to your client. I don’t think that working in family law is for everyone though, and I don’t think it is for me.

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