Family Law as a Second Tier Legal Career?

By Samantha Hugo, CFCC Student Fellow (2016-2017)

Why does society look down on the practice of family law? When did family law practitioners fall into disfavor? Is it because of a misconception that family law cases cover an area that society believes is insignificant? Family law attorneys are often dismissed as social workers in comparison to their colleagues who are involved in high profile criminal and civil cases and cutting-edge reform.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The practice of family law requires a deep understanding of an incredibly expansive area of law. Family law cases require expertise in bankruptcy, estate planning, contracts, taxation, military law, immigration, and criminal law, to name a few. Given that we as a society have always valued and stressed the importance of family, what could be more important, rewarding, or prestigious than offering legal assistance and rendering decisions that impact the family unit? Family law decisions can affect an individual’s personal liberty, sense of family, reputation, and relationship to the world. As a result, comparing family law to social work is a high compliment. Social workers work with individuals to elevate humanity. Similarly, family law practitioners share the burdensome task of shaping future Americans. Judges, lawyers, and personnel in family court are often the first representatives of justice and the American court system that many family law litigants see.


Family law litigants are often in their most vulnerable state when they prepare for court, possibly suffering from trauma, countless nights without sleep, and tortured by anxiety for days on end. Litigants may focus on their day in court, with the hope that in that one fleeting moment, they will be able to recount their personal circumstances and convince a judge to render a decision in their favor. To say that family law is a fragile field is a gross understatement. Family law literally shapes lives.

Family law needs to attract attorneys who understand and respect the power they can have to make an impact on the unity and well-being of families and children. We need to recognize family law attorneys and judges for their devotion to this difficult field and for their diligence in helping to reshape families. Anyone who labels family law “second string” in the legal arena should be reminded of this.

4 thoughts on “Family Law as a Second Tier Legal Career?

  1. Thanks, Samantha, for the thought-provoking post. My thinking is that family law’s low stature in the legal community mirrors the gap between often-stated values and the actual distribution of prestige and resources in society in general, or maybe in the U.S. in particular.

  2. Well said Samantha. I think sometimes family law litigants get a bad reputation because their clients or different family members are in “crisis-mode” when these disputes arise. Traditional family law claims like divorce or custody can be life-altering moments for every member of a particular family unit. In turn, the parties may have a negative view of the lawyers involved. As you stated, I think this is why it’s so important that a family law litigant expand his/her role to that of a social worker. Family law attorneys really need to understand the dynamics of family life to be able to solve problems. Being able to solve these intricate family problems requires both legal (immigration law, criminal law, trust & estates, contract/property law) and non-legal (family dynamics, active listening, rehabilitative approaches, holistic concepts, etc) understandings.

    • I agree completely and my blog above also speaks about the role of the family law attorney and the importance of this role. I agree with RJ in the reasoning that society can tend to view family law attorneys in a negative way. We as future lawyers must work to build a bridge between this characterization and the reality of the importance of competent family law attorneys and this area of law in general.

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