As a family law attorney, I am self-conscious of the stigma of my choice of law. The shadow that follows we brave few everywhere we go. Not so much a shadow as a stench. Family law attorneys are not popular, chic, or incredibly wealthy. We are NOT the cool kids. We are not the attorneys in the newest Benz. We are the red-faced attorneys screaming into the phone you see around the seedy parts of your town with our ties undone and our toupee falling off. We are the attorneys who look 50-ish in our late 20s. We have seen some stuff.
Let me explain what it’s like to do family court stuff this way: If the legal field had a yearbook come out, family lawyers wouldn’t even be mentioned. We are not even black sheep. No one wants to admit we exist. Least of all us!
Over time you come to believe that you get used to this, you internalize being the unclean. Or you think you do.
I am still sometimes amazed and amused by the reactions I get from my fellow lawyers who have other disciplines. The bankruptcy attorneys, the criminal attorneys, the ones who do real estate closings. Because every single one of them, without exception, has the same reaction when I tell them I practice Family Law:
“Oh, gross, why?” (spits out her salad),
“You do not. Why?” (He scoffs),
“I’m sorry, what? I was checking my stocks. Why the hell would you want to do that? Why, why why?” (She asks, checking her stocks).
Telling a “real” attorney that you handle divorce, child custody, domestic violence, DCYF, child support, etc. is the end of that social relationship. We are the lepers of any networking event.
While criminal law attorneys talk about the criminally-large flat fees they get paid and real estate attorneys commiserate about finding quality paralegals, no one even talks to the family law attorneys because why would you?
Jaded, alcoholic, insomniac, and pessimistic by nature we are not the kind of people you want around your children. Or even your house plants.
We have spent the last several years (or some, decades, bless what is left of their hearts) seeing the worst in human nature on full f*(&ing display. On the record. In courts of law. Or, courts of “law”.
Husbands DE-MAN-DING they get awarded their wife’s wedding gown? Seen it. Argued it. Lost it. Did a night in prison.
A Mom insisting Father can’t see their child because “his girlfriend is illegal”. Seen it. Argued against it.
Have you ever had to argue to a judge that a man should not see his child because he has had sex with a vacuum cleaner? I am willing to bet you have not.
The sublime, the absurd, the petty and the banal. The painful, and soul-destroying, and borderline criminal. They all come to stay at Hotel Family Court. Family lawyers have seen and heard it all. No one hates like those once in love. A party to family court case is going through the worst six months of their entire life (barring health issues). But, see, that person is only there for a little while. They come, and make a mess, and go. Imagine the lawyers who are there every single day just trying to save some semblance of humanity. Forever cleaning up the mess. The lawyers who don’t end up in an insane asylum are appointed to be Family Law judges (which is worse, but with a pension).
A lawyer practicing in Family Court for a long time once confided in me that he didn’t know what to make of himself. After years and years of this practice, a woman was openly crying to him in the hallway about a turn the case had taken and he (the lawyer) was thinking about lunch.
For the party it is a crisis, for the attorney it is Wednesday. Is it a defense mechanism, or the seeds of sociopathy? Not sure! Roulette!
And then, on a random day, I get a text from a client I have been working with for years, a picture of him playing with his daughter in the backyard and that client, that father, is happier than any client any criminal or real estate attorney will ever have, basking in the joy of spending quality time with a child who loves him unconditionally.
No other attorney will get that text. So there.