Family law covers a wide range of issues involving family and domestic relationships. The most common of these issues include (1) divorce, (2) child custody, (3) child support, (4) spousal support, (5) visitation, (6) prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, (7) guardianship, and (8) the termination and establishment of parental rights. A family law attorney may also help clients with legal separations, annulments, adoptions, conservatorship proceedings, and domestic violence issues.
Most family law attorneys work in small firms or as solo practitioners. A family law attorney’s daily tasks include counseling clients, handling phone calls, gathering information, drafting pleadings and briefs, and making court appearances. Because family law cases require regular attention, a family law attorney must be diligent and responsive to clients’ needs. As Neil Forester ’04, an attorney in Downey Brand’s family law division, observes, “The kind of people who tend to gravitate to this area are people who have a lot of empathy, down to earth sort of people who are more interested in resolving conflicts than pushing paper.”
Estate planning attorneys help individuals decide how to distribute their wealth in a way that will carry out their estate distribution goals after they die and minimize taxation, especially taxation arising from estate taxes. Their job may include helping clients create wills, trusts, powers of attorney, powers of appointment, and other devices for apportioning wealth, or some combination thereof. Very often, estate planning attorneys also aid in estate administration and end-of-life planning for their clients. In this role, they might identify, appraise, collect, and distribute their clients' assets after their clients' deaths or they may help their clients create advance health care directives or make arrangements for incapacity. They also aid their clients in the modification of their estate plans—and the modification of any attendant legal documents—to account for changes in their clients' finances, assets, and relationships.
Many estate planning attorneys work with their clients over a long period of time. As a result, it is not unusual for estate planning attorneys to develop close bonds with their clients and to come to know a great deal about the intimate details of their finances and personal lives. Because they advise their clients on a wide variety of issues, estate planning attorneys must be familiar with the laws governing wills, trusts, social security benefits, medical benefits, life insurance, pensions and retirement plans, real property, and probate, as well the laws that relate to taxation.
- American Bar Association Section of Family Law — Tip: If you join the Section of Family Law as a student member of the ABA, you will receive the Section’s quarterly magazine, Family Advocate, which covers current family law topics in-depth.
- State Bar of California Family Law Section
- American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
- American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
- California Divorce Basics
- National Association of Counsel for Children
- American Bar Association Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law
- State Bar of California Trusts and Estates Section
- American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
- International Tax Planning Association
- Internal Revenue Service
- The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are all good resources for keeping track of daily business and tax developments.