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How to Become a Family Attorney

Learn the steps to becoming a family attorney. Research the job duties, education, and licensing requirements to find out how to start a career in family law. View article »

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Should I Become a Family Attorney?

Family attorneys, also known as family lawyers, advise clients and serve as representatives in the court of law in matters relating to marriage, divorce, custody, adoption, domestic abuse, and child support. Travel is required to meet with clients or to appear in court. Many of these professionals work long hours on a weekly basis.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree in any area; law degree required
Experience None; part-time or summer jobs may lead to job offers after graduation
Licensure Must be licensed by state board of bar examiners
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication, research, and analytical skills; familiarity with legal research software
Salary $115,820 (2015 median salary for all lawyers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As required for all lawyers, family attorneys must earn an undergraduate degree and a law degree. They must also pass the bar exam in the state in which they plan to practice. Key skills for family attorneys include strong verbal and written communication skills, research and analytical skills, and legal research software knowledge.

In 2015, all lawyers earned a median annual salary of $115,820, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now let's check out the career steps for family attorneys.

Career Steps

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Some students enroll in pre-law programs, but they're not required for admission into law school. Students planning to go to law school major in criminal justice or government. Admissions offices look for coursework in writing and logic as well as public speaking and government. Individuals interested in family law should take courses in psychology or sociology. Many students apply to law school while they're completing their undergraduate degrees.

It is important to prepare for the LSAT.

Scores on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) are an important requirement for law school admissions. The standardized test is designed to evaluate individuals' logical and analytical thinking ability. The test consists of five sections of multiple-choice questions in reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Sections are timed at 35 minutes each. To prepare, students take practice exams or prep courses.

Additionally, build relationships with professors.

Ask professors with personal knowledge of abilities to write letters of recommendation for law school admission. Build relationships with professors throughout undergraduate studies so they have a frame of reference when writing the letter.

Step 2: Attend Law School

Most students earn their Juris Doctor (JD) in about three years when attending law school full-time. It's important to attend a school that's accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). During their first year, students take courses in civil procedure, criminal and civil law, contracts, and property law, as well as constitutional law. Courses in criminal law, property rights, and constitutional law also relate to family law issues. Students also take courses in the legal process and writing for the law. In their second and third years, students have the opportunity to take advanced-level courses in family law covering topics such as divorce, marriage, and adoption. Students also participate in mock court proceedings to gain courtroom experience.

Remember to prepare for the bar exam.

Students contact their local board of bar examiners at the end of their third year of law school to find out the procedures for taking the bar. Students should also familiarize themselves with the exam ahead of time by taking practice exams.

Additionally, gain experience.

Students participate in family law clinics at their school to gain first-hand experience with interviewing clients, researching cases, and representing clients under the supervision of a licensed lawyer. Participation in clinics may be graded. Students also choose an internship at a law firm.

Step 3: Get a Law License

Earning a law license is known as passing the bar. The bar is an exam administered by each state that tests knowledge of the law. Every lawyer, regardless of his or her practice specialty, has to pass the bar exam. Applicants must submit background information and proof of education to the state board of bar examiners. In addition, students have to take a series of tests over the course of two or three days. At a minimum, aspiring attorneys have to take the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions relating to areas of law covered in the first year of law school. The second exam consists of more in-depth essay questions which are related to local laws as well as broader U.S. law subjects. Some states also require the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) as well.

Step 4: Earn Continuing Education Credits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states require lawyers to earn a minimum number of continuing education credits on a regular basis. Continuing legal education (CLE) credits are earned at conferences, through electronic downloads, or in seminars and courses (both online and in person). CLE courses must be approved by the state legal regulatory entity.

Step 5: Consider Earning a Master of Laws (LL.M.)

While not required, earning a Master of Laws degree may open the door to new career opportunities. Some programs allow students to specialize in family law.

To recap, with an undergraduate degree, law degree, and licensure, family attorneys can make about $116,000 a year to advise clients and serve as representatives in the court of law in matters relating to marriage, divorce, custody, adoption, domestic abuse, and child support.

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