Family Lawyer Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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A family lawyer's median annual salary is around $114,970, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a family lawyer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Family Lawyer

Family lawyers assist clients with legal issues involving relationships. While this can be a good career option, it's important to weigh all the factors so you can make an informed decision.

Pros of Becoming a Family Lawyer
Good pay (median annual salary abouty $114,000 in 2014)*
Variety in daily activities**
Ability to work in many geographic areas*
Helping families can be rewarding**
Comfortable work environment*

Cons of Becoming a Family Lawyer
Must be licensed*
Can be emotionally taxing**
Fierce competition for law school and jobs*
May require long hours*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Loyola University School of Law.

Career Information

Job Description

Family law attorneys help clients with divorces, guardianships, prenuptial agreements, adoptions, parental rights and custody. They may also advise clients on the financial and tax implications for these proceedings. Since this specialty often involves the creation and dissolution of relationships, family law attorneys may counsel clients on matters not strictly related to legal issues. The work can be emotional, both in happy and sad ways.

Family lawyers generally work at small law firms or boutiques that specialize in family law. A few large firms have family law divisions; these generally deal with the financial aspects of the proceedings. A few family lawyers work in legal aid or government settings. The job can require irregular and, often, long hours. You will primarily work in an office, but you may visit clients at their homes or in other settings. You'll also appear in court with your clients.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The general economy has much to do with the demand for family lawyers, since people are more likely to defer discretionary legal matters during a recession. However, some proceedings, such as divorce, may increase during financial hardships. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment for all types of attorneys, including family lawyers, will increase by 10% from 2012-2022, about as fast as average for all occupations.

The BLS noted that the job market is highly competitive because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year. The median annual salary for attorneys of all types was $114,970 in 2014, the BLS reported. Most attorneys made between $75,000 and $172,000.

What Are the Requirements?

You'll need an undergraduate degree to start a career in law, followed by three years of law school. There is no specific major for aspiring family lawyers, so it's best to take a multi-disciplinary approach and hone your verbal and written communications skills as well as your research and logical thinking abilities.

Getting into law school is extremely competitive. Your score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), your undergraduate GPA and your personal interviews with admissions representatives will all be taken into account. In law school, you'll study constitutional law, contracts, legal writing and civil procedure. Individuals looking to go into family law should choose courses that teach about the law and relationships, especially marriage and parental rights. After graduating from law school, you must pass a written bar exam in the state where you intend to practice. Each state has its own requirements, and some require more than one examination.

Useful Skills

Family lawyers must enjoy working with people and be able to win their clients' trust. They need to be logical, but also creative, in coming up with solutions to unique legal problems. The work can be stressful and the hours long, so perseverance is key.

What Employers Want

Experience and licensing are the main requirements for getting a job as an attorney. Employers want someone who can begin to work on cases immediately, according to job postings. Here is a sampling of job postings from real employers in March 2012:

  • A New York firm focusing on family and matrimonial law is seeking an associate attorney with at least two years of experience.
  • In Minnesota, a mid-size firm needs a family law attorney with at least three years of experience in complex family law matters. The candidate should have a strong academic record.
  • A boutique family law firm in Maryland is seeking an experienced attorney who can handle complex cases and get to work immediately. This person should be licensed in Maryland and in either Virginia or Washington, D.C.
  • Also in Maryland, a firm is seeking a family law attorney who could also handle civil litigation and criminal cases. Trial experience is also necessary.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Experts expect competition to be fierce for many more years due to the number of students graduating from law school. To stay ahead of the competition, take part in internships or clerkships while you're still in law school. In this career, it's not just what you know, it's often who you know, so keep up with your friends from law school and make new contacts throughout your career.

Another way to stand out from the crowd is by getting involved with your local bar association and with community activities that pertain to the law. Continuing education is also important, because it shows that you are staying apprised of new developments in your field.

Alternate Career Paths

Paralegal

If the length of study to become a lawyer doesn't appeal to you, you can work in the legal field as a paralegal, and you won't need a license. You'll need an associate's degree in paralegal studies. A paralegal certificate will suffice if you have a bachelor's degree in another subject. Paralegals can't give legal advice or try cases, but they do assist lawyers in many ways, including preparing documents and researching cases.

The BLS forecasted that this field would grow much faster than other occupations, about 28% from 2008-2018. Competition for jobs may be tough, with many people entering the profession. The median salary for paralegals was $47,000 in 2010.

Mediator

If you'd like to help disagreeing parties settle their disputes outside of court, such as in child custody cases, you might consider becoming a mediator. Mediators are often lawyers, but that's not mandatory. Some have master's degrees in other subjects. Many mediators earn master's or doctoral degrees in conflict management; others complete certificate programs. Mediation programs funded by the government have regulations regarding training. In addition to holding college degrees, most mediators must complete a 40-hour basic training course and a 20-hour advanced course. State regulations for mediators vary.

As people continue to try to avoid costly litigation, employment for mediators should grow faster than average from 2008-2018. The median annual salary for mediators, arbitrators and conciliators was $56,000 in 2010, according to the BLS.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Widener University

  • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration

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Baker College Online

  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

What is your highest level of education?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?