I thought it would be fun to share some memories from law school now and then, just to give you all a little glimpse into what your future holds after you conquer the LSAT and finally get that acceptance letter.
Today I’d like to talk about Family Law 🙂
Family Law was one of my favorite classes in law school. Why? Because after sitting through countless afternoons of Corporate Taxation and Civil Procedure, Family Law felt graspable and important. It was about human beings, and the real problems they confront and the real emotions with which they struggle. I loved it because it felt like it mattered.
I think another reason I enjoyed Family Law was because it was one of the few areas where I saw clearly how a good lawyer could make things better for people. A lot of the time, getting lawyers involved is just bad news for everyone. In Family Law, that can easily become the case. But if you’re truly great at what you do, you can look at Family Law as a form of counseling rather than fighting. You can represent your client passionately and loyally, but also recognize that the opposition is, quite literally, family. In that sense, you become a mediator and a source of compassion and empathy, rather than another angry voice yelling at a hurricane.
So, what is my most vivid memory of Family Law? Well, despite my gushing praise for the class and the general area of law, I had one of the strangest, most uncomfortable experiences of my life as a result of taking the class. As part of the course, we were required to attend at least one day of open proceedings in New York’s Family Court. I went to the Manhattan branch one morning with my yellow legal pad and pen, all dressed up like a respectable law student just trying to get an education. And boy did I get one.
I ended up in a courtroom that had a series of divorce hearings scheduled, and even worse, I was the only person there to observe. So, I spent the day sitting alone on a bench, listening to not-so-happy couples spill excruciatingly graphic details of their marriages to the judge. It was just the couple, the judge, their lawyers, and me. Details of affairs, of abuse, of medical issues, financial issues, lies, horrible fights, sexual incompatibility…you name it. I heard it. And every single time the details started to spill, someone would start crying. Then, they would turn and look at me, and I could see the meaning in the look, “Why are you here listening in on my secrets, invading my privacy?” To my relief, the judge made it a point to explain my presence to each new couple, but that wasn’t much comfort to anyone when things really intensified.
In any case, there were two things in particular that I took from that day. As awful as it was for me to observe the spectacle of divorce court, it was way worse for the couple who were actually experiencing it. No one is a winner when the courts get involved–especially not in Family Court. Secondly, compassionate lawyers are desperately needed in Family Law. There are so many sharks out there who think that good representation is defined solely as getting the most money or hurting the other person as much as possible. I can not stress to you enough how strongly I disagree with that perspective. In Family Court, money and custody and property are all too often used as weapons rather than as assets. If you remember that each case begins with a family that is falling apart, you might be better equipped to help separate them gently, so that each piece can survive on its own.
So, now that this conversation has turned all heavy and such, I’ll bid you adieu. I promise the next Law School Memory will involve David Bowie, Forever 21, and plenty of choreography.