Choosing a new practice area: Consider family law

The following is a guest post by Roy S. Ginsburg.

As an attorney coach, I often counsel lawyers who are considering a move to a new practice area – helping them balance the pros and cons of such career choices. One overlooked area I often recommend is family law.

Lawyers often object to the idea of family law. Most of you didn’t go to law school to be divorce lawyers. Most of you believe that the clients can be difficult. After all, divorce is an emotional business. Most of you believe that your skills as an attorney can be put to better use than deciding who gets the fine china.

As an experienced lawyer coach, let me ask you to challenge these beliefs and think again. Most people go to law school because they want to help people, get into court and work on sophisticated issues. All of these needs can be satisfied by a career in family law.

Make a difference

Many lawyers went to law school to help people and “make a difference.” No matter what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not the same as individuals. Helping corporations make more money will never be as personally fulfilling as helping individuals resolve problems in their daily lives. When a soon-to-be-ex wants to restrict visitation with the children, a lawyer’s work to ensure more frequent visits surely makes a real and significant difference to the party you represent.

Go to court

Family law is a litigation-based practice. Any family law practitioner will tell you that he or she spends far more time in court than any commercial litigator. Family law is replete with motions to draft and argue, and cases that do not settle require full-blown trials.

Work on sophisticated issues

Family law disputes are not limited to who gets the fine china. Successful family law attorneys with wealthy clients deal with complicated business as well as family law issues. The recent McCourt divorce case, for example, contained many fascinating legal issues. Was the post-nuptial agreement valid? How do you value the Los Angeles Dodgers? Who gets control of the team going forward? Issues like these are sophisticated enough to whet the appetite of any talented attorney.

Consider the prospects

When coaching attorneys in the selection of a new practice area, I ask them to carefully consider two things: short- and long-term prospects and competition.

Forty to 50 percent of marriages in theUnited Statesend in divorce – and I doubt that these numbers will change much in the foreseeable future. The long-term prospects in family law are excellent. Other factors leading to growth in this segment are the issues raised by the rapidly growing areas of assisted reproduction and same-sex marriage.

Assess the competition

If you take a cursory look, there certainly appear to be a lot of family law attorneys in virtually all markets – small, medium or large. But if you dig deeper and take a more careful look, the picture soon changes.

Many lawyers who say they are divorce attorneys are not specialists; many actually dislike this work and only accept it when not much else is walking in the door. As a result, they are not very good at this area of law. They are not at the top of their game. You can easily stand out from this crowd by handling divorces on a full-time basis.

Try this exercise. Create a short list of the truly talented family law attorneys who practice in your town or metropolitan area.  It will probably be short.  Now, create a short list of the talented commercial and business litigators.  It will be much, much longer.  If you want to rise to the top as “the best and the brightest” on one of these lists, there is much less competition in the area of family law.

Family law is not for everyone, but for some – especially those who want to help people, be in the courtroom and deal with sophisticated issues – it can be the path to a rewarding and lucrative career.  Isn’t that why you went to law school in the first place?

Roy Ginsburg is an attorney coach in the areas of business development, practice management and career development/transitions. He helps his nationwide clients achieve individualized practice goals and career satisfaction. He is also a solo practitioner and practices in the area of legal marketing ethics. His clients include FindLaw and Super Lawyers magazine, Thomson Reuters businesses.