April 2017Volume 60Number 9PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Five traits of a successful family law attorney

Family lawyers are accustomed to wearing many hats. They serve as counselors, therapists, advocates, confidants, and advisors. They need to be well-versed in various practice areas such as estate planning, criminal law, and business matters, just to name a few. More importantly they need to possess certain personal characteristics. The following traits have been found to be especially helpful to attorneys who deal with sensitive and emotionally-laden matters such as divorce and child custody:

(1) Patience. As lawyers, we often have an impulse to advocate for our clients. We want to articulate our positions and convince the audience. However, an effective family lawyer needs to have patience and be able to listen. He or she needs to let clients vent and to let opposing counsel tell the other side of the story. What many family law clients suffer from the most is a feeling of betrayal and abandonment. A listening ear goes a long way toward establishing trust and ultimately ensuring that you are fully understanding of your client’s feelings, needs, and the outcome they desire.

2. Compassion. Effective lawyers know to not let emotions intervene in their advocacy. However, they don’t necessarily need to be cold and uncaring. You need to be able to sympathize with your clients’ needs while at the same time apply the law to the particular facts of their case. Clients want to know that the outcome of their case matters to you and that you understand and support their position.

3. Neutrality. While you need to be a zealous advocate for your client’s position, you need to also be able to recognize and consider that usually there are two sides to every story. That doesn’t mean that your client’s positions or goals are any less valid. However, you need to be prepared and know that at any moment opposing counsel may bring out a fact or two that can be a game changer for your case.

4. Openness. In family law, you will hear about a lot of betrayal and bad behavior. You will become accustomed to mudslinging and dirty deeds. Your job is not to judge or add any fuel to burning fires, but rather to analyze the existing situation with an open mind, while at the same time being aware of how the law may or may not be applicable, given the facts that apply.

5. Creativity. Family lawyers are always dealing with a unique set of problems coupled with the strong emotional expectations of their clients when it comes to the outcome. A good lawyer will be able to craft a solution that is outside of the box and facilitate unconventional but mutually beneficial negotiation options and results.

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Umberto Davi and Marie Sarantakis practice family law in Western Springs, Illinois. Mr. Davi is the Immediate Past President of the Illinois State Bar Association and Ms. Sarantakis is the incoming Chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Family Law Committee.

Member Comments (2)

Very nice article. Thanks!

All very true. Well said.

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