The Law Degree
To address the question what does a family lawyer do, one must go back to the basics and ask what is a lawyer. A lawyer first is someone with a law degree. Lawyers receive law degrees after they have first received an undergraduate education at a four year university. They then go on to graduate school and receive a doctoral degree after three years of graduate school and they earn a Juris doctorate degree or doctor of jurisprudence. This means that Lawyers are doctors of law. In order to practice law, an individual who has first received their Juris Doctorate must pass a state bar exam in the state they wish to practice law. A family Lawyer is an individual who has first an undergraduate education, a juris doctorate degree and will have passed a state bar exam if they are practicing family law.
A counselor is defined as 1) a person who gives advice or counseling, 2) a lawyer; specifically : one that gives advice in law and manages cases for clients in court 3) one who has supervisory duties at a summer camp. “Counselor.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services. “Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1979), 799.”
The art of being a lawyer involves a complex blend of knowing and understanding the law, knowing how to solve problems, counseling individuals who seek legal services with legal advice and advocating for the interests of those with whom the lawyer represents.
As a counselor, the lawyer is charged with relating to the client and assisting or counseling the client in a manner that allows the client to understand the law. By counseling, the lawyer helps the individual understand the best or most advised path to navigate their legal issue.
A counselor at law is not a therapist however. But a lawyer that easily relates to people, who has the ability and desire to use compassion and empathy for individuals and who can be there for people on a human level while at the same time maintaining a consistent focus on helping the client understand the legal task at hand is a lawyer who is a strong counselor at law.
It might be said that a lawyer who is first a counselor will be first a problem solver. Should more layers undertake to become strong at their role as counselor, more problems will be easily and readily solved. There is no doubt that out of all the areas of practice, a family lawyer should need to be a consoler the most.
The family lawyer needs to know how to negotiate. Today, there is such an emphasis on mediation and divorce mediation as well as other avenues of alternative dispute resolution that the family layer must know how to first negotiate prior to running to court. The Judges quite frankly do not want to hear it. They do not want lawyers and clients to dig their heals in the sand. There is a strong emphasis today on helping individuals solve their problems and empowering them to do so.
Various avenues exist for lawyers to offer their clients including mediation, parenting coordination and collaborative law. No matter which avenue a lawyer advises, the lawyer must know what the issues are and what the mot common and best ways to settle them are. The lawyer also must know what amounts to fair tradeoffs.
A family lawyer can be an advocate as a litigator or as a negotiator. There are times when the other party or opposing counsel is incapable of doing the right thing or even coming close. Those are times when going to court makes sense. The vast majority of other cases however involve issues that should be settled. A family lawyer can be a great advocate by advancing the opportunities to negotiate, by being prepared to negotiate and by knowing how to vigorously negotiate. The lawyer as an advocate also should know which option to advise and that the court room option is not the best option to gain the best outcome unless it is otherwise necessary. By being an advocate, the lawyer must know which option to advise.
Peace maker and Problem Solver
As a peach maker, a family lawyer understands that once the legal battle is over the real life part takes over. In essence to be a peace maker is to be a problem solver. Being able to think big picture is critical. Winning the battle has nothing to do with real life. It has nothing to do with how the parties will be able to conduct themselves in the future. Winning the war should be viewed as a peaceful solution where both parties can be happy and where the children can thrive. A family lawyer actually should recognize the inherent interest in solving problems with a peace maker approach since happy people will refer work to them. If you win in court and the opposing party is mad and disgruntled, your client will not have an easy time going forward. That makes for a difficult referral source. Advocate and counsel for peace while problem solving for your clients and their children. But as a family lawyer, do it for yourself.