While the requirements to enter the legal profession are similar for most practice areas, the field of family law also has specific requirements. Family lawyers work with clients on divorce, marital property and spousal support, child custody and support, adoption, domestic violence and other related issues. Since their clients are family members, including children, family lawyers must have strong interpersonal skills in addition to legal education and training.
An aspiring lawyer must complete a four-year undergraduate degree. While students can choose to study any academic subject, they should consider majors that will develop their skills in writing, problem-solving, critical thinking, reading comprehension and debate. Students interested in family law should also consider coursework in counselling, psychology and social work to develop their interpersonal skills.
To gain admission to a law school, an applicant must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardised test of reading and verbal reasoning skills, as well as provide undergraduate transcripts, essays and recommendations. An aspiring lawyer must fulfil her law school's requirements and complete the coursework to earn a law degree. Some law schools offer family law certificate programs that allow students to complete a specialised family law curriculum in addition to the general J.D. requirements. At law schools without a specialised certificate, students can still study topics relevant to children and families, such as adoption law, child law, domestic violence, family law, education law, juvenile justice and mediation.
State Bar Admission
A lawyer must hold a professional license to practice law from a state bar association, usually the state where he wishes to work. A license applicant must pass the state's written bar examination and a moral character background check. Most state bar associations have family law sections where licensed attorneys can access continuing education and networking opportunities with other family lawyers in the state.
Family Law Training
Law students and new lawyers should gain practical experience by working with an established family lawyer or firm. Legal research and writing about family law issues through practical training will allow them to develop knowledge in the practice area. Law students and new lawyers can also develop valuable client counselling and courtroom skills by serving family law clients through law school clinics or public interest organisations.
Family Law Professional Associations
Law students and lawyers can join professional associations focused on family law at the local, state and national level. For example, the American Bar Association's family law section provides its members with continuing education, family law news, events and listserves. Membership in professional associations can be helpful for developing a professional network of family lawyers.
Beyond the academic requirements and practical training, family lawyers must be able to empathise with their clients and other people. Empathy is considered critical to success in the field of family law because practitioners constantly work with clients in emotional situations. Without empathy, compassion, sensitivity and patience, family lawyers may have difficulty developing their clients' trust.
Family lawyers should be able to counsel their clients to make rational decisions, even when clients are dealing with emotional stress or shock.
While the LL.M. degree is not a requirement for practicing family law, lawyers may wish to complete a highly specialised degree through a post-J.D. program. LL.M. programs in family law offer practical training and cutting-edge family law coursework beyond what is normally available in a law school curriculum.