To work in family law, individuals may choose to focus on family law in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. Both programs require a bachelor's degree and the postgraduate LL.M. program requires a law degree. J.D. candidates must submit their admissions test scores. The LL.M program can be completed in one to three years. The core curriculum of both options covers the range of familial issues, such as child custody, divorce and mediation, while possibly requiring students to complete special projects in specialized fields or an internship. To work in family law as an attorney, law school graduates need to pass a licensing examination ('bar exam').
Juris Doctor in Family Law
A Juris Doctor (J.D.) program that allows students to focus on family law should also provide students with the minimum education typically required to become an attorney. Family law programs focus on the legal aspects of domestic issues. Students learn about handling domestic issues in court, preparing for divorce and child custody cases and dealing with the special issues that may arise in family law scenarios. Usually in the first year of a program, students take general legal courses. After the first year, students may begin moving their curriculum focus to family law topics. Some topics that may be studied in a family law program include:
- Juvenile law
- Family violence
- Marriage and divorce
- Child custody
- Child abuse and neglect
Master of Laws in Family Law
A Master of Laws (LL.M.) program is a law school graduate program that goes a step beyond a J.D. program. An LL.M. program in family law allows students to carry out specialized research in this legal topic area. Programs also allow students to gain practice in this area and study topics that are currently changing, such as the division of inchoate property in a divorce, non-marital partnership issues, same-sex partner adoptions and trends in involving children in custody litigation. An LL.M. program typically involves completing coursework and an externship. Research is often a large part of a program, with students being required to complete an independent research project. Topics covered in the program may include:
- Family law procedures
- Financial divisions in a divorce
- Mediation in family law
Popular Career Options
A J.D. program with a concentration in family law is designed to prepare students to work as family law attorneys. Graduates may decide to work in a specific area of family law and hold titles such as:
- Divorce lawyer
- Child advocate
- Family law mediator
Continuing Education Information
Graduates from law school must be licensed by the state in which they want to practice law, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS (www.bls.gov). Individuals must pass their state's bar exam. Some states will also require students to pass ethics exams. Most states require that students graduate from a school approved by the American Bar Association before they can sit for the bar exam. States may create their own bar exams, but many use the Multistate Bar Examination.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In 2014, the BLS reported that there are about 778,700 attorneys. The BLS reports include all specialty areas as it doesn't list each specialty separately. The BLS projected a 6% job growth from 2014-2014 for the field. In May 2015, the annual mean wage for lawyers was $136,260.
Family law can be pursued through either obtaining a J.D. or LL.M degree, while concentrating on family law topics such as marriage and divorce law.