If you’re considering a career in family law or if you’re already a practising solicitor, you might be wondering what a family lawyer’s career should look like.
While it’s important to remember that everyone’s career is slightly different, generally speaking, most family solicitors tend to follow a similar path in their career.
The earlier you can gain relevant family law experience the better, whether that be through completing a vacation scheme while at university, approaching specialist family law boutiques for work experience or volunteering at a domestic abuse centre or legal clinic.
Not only will work experience help you to decide whether this is the practice area for you, but later down the line, it’ll be a valuable way of demonstrating to employers your dedication to a career in family law.
Unless they’ve done some work experience while at school or sixth form, it’s at university that many people have their first glimpse into family law, usually through family or childcare modules during their LLB. If you’re thinking seriously about pursuing a career in this area, you might choose a family-related topic as the focus of your third-year dissertation.
It’s also a really good idea to get a free student membership with Resolution. Not only will this help you to start building your network, but Resolution also offers great training and development opportunities for students and junior lawyers.
Opting for family law electives during the Legal Practice Course (LPC) will provide you with an opportunity to build on your knowledge gained during the LLB.
Training contract and Professional Skills Course (PSC)
If you’re set on a career in family law and you go down the training contract route to qualification, it’s important that you complete a 6-month seat (or a 12-month extended seat) in a family department. During your training contract, you gain hands-on experience; you might attend court, draft statements and applications, and be involved in preparing cases for hearings. You’ll be fully supervised, but will be given real responsibility and have the chance to see how family law works in practice.
When it comes to completing the PSC, taking the family centric electives will give you an insight into advocacy in care proceedings and domestic abuse. In this stage of your study, you’ll also develop your drafting skills and learn how to interview and negotiate with clients.
However, gone are the days when every lawyer would follow the traditional path of completing a training contract immediately after the LPC.
While this is still a popular option, it can be a costly and increasingly competitive way of qualifying.
More and more family lawyers are choosing to go down the CILEx route instead. This involves working in legal practice (as a paralegal or fee earner) and completing a portfolio that allows you to become a Chartered Legal Executive. While legal executives enjoy similar practising rights as solicitors, some lawyers do choose to go on to qualify as a solicitor.
NQ-3 years PQE
In your first few years after qualifying, you’ll start to get a feel for what areas of family law you like the most; usually family solicitors will have a preference for finances or children work.
If you happen to work under a Partner or senior colleague who handles these kinds of cases as a junior lawyer, you might also get a taste for a specialist area of family, such as surrogacy or fertility law.
You may also decide to get involved in YRes, Resolution’s network of junior family lawyers, to develop your skills and share your experiences with like-minded solicitors.
Associate to senior associate (4-9 years PQE)
Family law has become increasingly niche in recent years. After practising for a number of years, many solicitors decide to specialise in a particular area, such as adoption law, domestic abuse cases or cohabitation law.
Those who want specialise can apply to become an accredited Resolution Specialist in their chosen area or apply to be on the Law Society’s Children Panel, Family Panel or Child Abduction Panel. Alternatively, a family associate or senior associate may choose to become an accredited mediator or get involved in collaborative law.
It’s also at associate level when many family solicitors focus their efforts on cultivating a strong personal brand, through networking, social media and pro bono work.
Partnership (10+ PQE)
As in other legal practice areas, the main goal for family solicitors is to achieve partnership. Lawyers tend to be in with the chance of becoming Partner after working in practice for around a decade.
At this stage in your career, you might have the opportunity to supervise or mentor junior colleagues, perhaps as in a team leader or head of department capacity.
The fee-sharing model
While it’s true that partnership is still thought of as the holy grail for lawyers, in recent years, growing numbers of family solicitors have chosen to leave the security blanket of the traditional law firm and become self-employed consultants.
The fee-sharing model allows family lawyers a greater degree of control over how, when and where lawyers work, but it often also results in them earning more too.
It’s been predicted that a third of lawyers will be working under this kind of model in five years’ time. The rise of flexible and remote working over the last 12 months is likely to have expedited the move towards this consultancy approach and more and more family lawyers may choose this alternative to the traditional legal career.
Are you a family lawyer looking to take your next step?
If you’re a family solicitor or paralegal considering making a move, Associate Consultant Lucy, one of our family law recruitment specialists, is ready to help you.