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.
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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.