Zach Butler, a while back, asked:
So how’s being a lawyer going?
Well. I work here.
The thing about family law that the casual reader may not understand is that in law school, I’m pretty sure there isn’t another branch of law where you will hear more horror stories – many of them from former family lawyers who got out – about the practice of family law. You have to really be dedicated to the idea of practicing in it to want to do it while you’re still in law school, which makes my roundabout way of having become a family lawyer (I certainly never planned on it when I went to law school) all the more odd. I recently attended the Ontario Bar Association’s annual family law conference, and was struck by the age of the participants: I’m not exactly a kid any more but even so, I was still one of the younger lawyers there. Granted, the entire Ontario bar at this point is aging, it seems, but the family law bar is definitely older than many other subsectors of law, and I think young lawyers being scared away from it has something to do with that.
This is not to say that it is not emotional and difficult work. It is, and I had to learn early on to not take it home with me. A lot of people can’t do that – find that line where caring about your client and wanting the best for them stops at where it becomes onerous on your own emotional health. I can do it, though – that’s quite obvious to me at this point. (I’m not sure what that says about me personally.)
Clients can and will lie to you – most of them will do so unwittingly because they have become to believe their narrative so firmly that the points where said narrative is not really true in the classic sense will become lost to them, but every so often you deal with the client who just straight-up lies to you because they’ve realized that, as a lawyer, you actually aren’t allowed to lie on their behalf, as so many people assume is the case. I can not proactively mention details that are pertinent to my client’s case in a proceeding, but I can’t lie about the existence of those details.1 But the active liars are easier to deal with than the self-convincers, frankly, because the self-convincers are, well. convinced. Most of the time, it is not so great an issue that it can’t be resolved. A lot of people just need their lawyer to tell them “this is how it is” and be a sympathetic but firm voice of reason. But sometimes it is an issue.
Ultimately, I like the work. I don’t know if it’s my life’s work per se, but I’m going to do it for a while because, well, I’m kind of good at it. The emotional thing aside, I quite like the fact that in family law, being somebody’s counsel isn’t just an empty word: I have to talk with my clients about much more than legal strategy because a large part of practicing family law in Ontario is explaining to clients that it doesn’t matter how much they might loathe their ex at this point: if they had kids together (and practically all of our casework involves custody in some way), then the other parent of your children is going to be a part of your life for the next twenty years regardless of how custody and access plays out because, hey, you had kids together, and the province takes the view that, where a parent isn’t abusive, it’s in the best interests of the kids to get to have a relationship with that parent. Which means you’re just going to keep seeing them. Which means part of my job, as a lawyer, is to get clients to accept that and move on – help them get past the emotional pain of the end of a relationship and work them through the five stages as quickly as possible so they can get to “acceptance” for their own sake. I’m not going to do all of their counselling – I’m not a therapist – but I have to be mindful of it. And I quite like the fact that my work is hands-on in that sense.
- In many ways lawyering is much like being an Aes Sedai in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Yes, I said that with a straight face. [↩]