The Law: Family

Although at times distressing, family law work brings both responsibility and rewards that other areas may not provide

The Law: FamilyWhats it all about?
Family lawyers handle a broad mix of work, ranging from legal issues arising out of relationships between men and women, such as divorce and pre-nuptial agreements (a legal document entered into between a husband and wife before they get married setting out their legal rights if it all goes wrong) through to areas of law relating to children, such as adoption, child support or kidnapping.

In most situations a client will turn to family lawyers when some aspect of their life is in crisis. So a family lawyers role will be to guide their clients and, to some extent, reconstruct their lives.

As a family lawyer a lot of your time will be spent in court. Every case will be different. You could be advising a client on a dispute that straddles several countries for instance, you could be acting for a mother seeking to get permission to relocate to Switzerland with her child.

The pros:
The thrill and satisfaction from helping others
Plenty of client contact 2Real responsibilities from the outset
Varied work

The cons:
Pay will not be as high as your corporate counterparts
Family lawyers working in smaller firms spend a lot of time filling in forms
Court deadlines

A family lawyers client base will vary depending on the size and location of their firm, but most will act for individuals or entire families. Those family lawyers who do not work in high street firms tend to be based in specialist (niche) practices. It is extremely rare, if not unheard of, for family lawyers to work in City firms.

The working culture
Family lawyers will not be expected to do all-nighters. However, they will need to work hard. The pace can be fast-moving, so you will need to think on your feet for example where an emergency application to court is required.

Why is this interesting?
Family law covers a very wide area of law and will enable you to gain an understanding of other practice areas such as property and tax law. In addition you will liaise regularly with other professionals such as doctors, psychologists and social workers.

Personal and legal skills required
As a family lawyer you will need to have strong interpersonal skills as well as be a good negotiator. While a good dose of empathy will clearly be essential, you will nevertheless need to be able to distance yourself from your clients emotions and remain objective and calm when your client might no longer be so. You will also need to think on your feet. You will be confronted by distressing situations and will need to have a mature outlook on life.

Case Study

The UKs biggest-ever divorce settlement was awarded in August 2006 when a woman received a whopping 48m.

Beverley Charman, the wife of insurance tycoon John Charman, received the sum after their marriage ended in 2003.

The Charmans tied the knot in 1976, before John made his millions. He set up the Dragon Trust in 1987, which had assets worth 68m.

After the 11 September atrocities he then set up Axis, a global insurance and reinsurance company based in Bermuda. But in 2003 John Charman relocated to Bermuda permanently, separating from his wife.

Beverley Charman, represented by Manches, issued a petition for divorce, which included an application for financial settlement, known as ancillary relief, in June 2004.

John Charman, advised by private client firm Withers, submitted an application for a stay of his ex-wifes petition, arguing that she should receive substantially less than the usual 50-50 share of the couples wealth because the Dragon Trust was set up for the long-term benefit of family members and he did not control the assets.

But in 2005 High Court judge Mr Justice Coleridge refused John Charmans application and earlier this year awarded Beverly Charman around 37 per cent of her ex-husbands 131m fortune.