When I tell people that I practice family law, I’m prepared for their response. It is typically a grimace followed by a comment like, “I could never do that.”
“Divorce attorneys,” are viewed by some as the bottom of the law hierarchy. Aside from the obvious – the profession is breaking up families, helping people divide possessions and more importantly their children - there’s also the media image. For example, David Lee on The Good Wife (the most vindictive partner at Lockhart Gardner).
Usually, the follow up question is something like “how did you get into family law?” What people really want to know is whether I chose to help people get a divorce for a living? Yes, I did, and here is why.
This job is intellectual. I get to write, a lot. I research real issues with real life applications. I have to understand and know how to apply various types of law to a number of scenarios. For instance, I now know how to divide stock options of the hot technology companies that are in the paper every day. I also get to learn more than I would ever know otherwise about various subjects, like local schools (which ones are the best, how much they cost, their schedules), how to really get into trouble with the IRS, and the value and market for items like Star Wars collectibles.
This job can be silly. I have had to ask for orders that my client could vacation with his children at a tropical 5-star resort. I have also helped a couple divide up seemingly meaningless personal property, including the extra rolls of toilet paper that remained at the family residence.
This job is never boring. Like a hairdresser, I hear the dirt, firsthand.
Most importantly though, this job is meaningful. I have sought and obtained emergency orders to protect my client and child from their abuser. I have also helped stop a parent from unilaterally moving across the country with the children. Although in that instance, some distance between the parents would have been good for both of them, it would have significantly and permanently impacted the children’s relationship with the other parent. Every day, I help people get resolution and close a chapter in a broken relationship.
Do not get me wrong, this is a hard job. Divorce is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. When a relationship is so irretrievably broken that the couple can no longer stay married, there is enormous tension. Outside of that relationship, the couple may be level-headed and rational, but in the relationship they are emotional and irrational.
I have heard the divorce process compared to the stages of grief – denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Sometimes the grieving process is short (generally when the divorce is many years in the making), but often it takes years to recover. Sometimes one party is very ready to be done, and the other just wants to hold on, in any way possible, even if their only connection to their former spouse is litigation.
I feel privileged to help people through such a difficult experience. When I talk to former clients after their divorce is final, and the dust is settled, I hear how happy they are and I feel proud to have been a small part of that. They appear lighter, less weighed down by personal issues. Some actually physically transform themselves (some say that is the best revenge against an ex).
These are the reasons I practice family law, but because that answer is a little too long for a cocktail party, I usually nod, and agree, “yes, it's hard, but it can be really rewarding.”