Chris A. Stachtiaris, Esq., a family law attorney with the Pittsburgh law firm of Raphael Ramsden & Behers, P.C., provides candid insight into the challenging practice of family law.
1. What is family law?
Family law is a practice area that encompasses the legal issues that face families. These issues include:
- spousal support
- child support
- division of assets and liabilities due to divorce
- termination of parental rights
- dependency and child neglect
- protection from abuse
2. What do you like about practicing in the area of family law?
In family law, you can be more than a lawyer assessing and advising a client on their legal rights. You can help an individual through one of the most stressful experiences in life. It is very rewarding to know you've helped someone through such a difficult time.
3. What are the challenges of practicing family law?
While rewarding, it can also be quite difficult to go through these events with your clients. The biggest challenge for me is when one or both parties are set on making the process as difficult as possible in a self-defeating attempt to hurt the other party.
4. Describe a typical day or typical tasks you perform as a family lawyer.
There are no typical tasks, maybe something else I like and hate about the practice. Each day brings a new issue from one of my clients that must be resolved - from a missed custody exchange to a dispute about how to handle custody over a holiday to one party taking money out of a joint account.
New issues arise daily. It can make getting through your to-do list quite challenging. Generally I spend my day returning phone calls, negotiating small issues, drafting correspondence, preparing pleadings for court and going to court for hearings and motions.
In family law you spend a fair amount of time in court for hearings ranging from ten minutes to two hours in length. Occasionally you have trials that can last several days.
5. Are employment opportunities in the field of family law growing? Why?
I would say, unfortunately yes, for two reasons. One, more people are getting divorced. The other reason is that it is difficult to stay in this field, so there is a decent amount of turn over. It takes a certain type of attorney to practice primarily family law.
6. What skills are needed to practice in the area of family law?
Family law attorneys must possess the skills of a litigator and negotiator. Time management skills are a must as the practice of law in the family area is very interrupt driven. It is very helpful to develop counseling skills as you will be dealing with people going through a very emotional time in their lives.
A basic understanding of accounting and financial matters are a must to both advise your client and to present financial issues to the court. People skills are important, particularly oral communication. You are constantly in contact with people; whether it be your client, opposing counsel, or court personnel, there is always someone with whom you need to effectively communicate.
7. How can someone break into the are of family law?
Take courses in law school in family law, intern at organizations such as Kid's Voice and Family Legal Services. Be persistent. If you can't find anything right away try again.
8. What are the latest trends in family law?
Collaborative Law is a structured process that provides divorcing parties and parties involved in other family law disputes an alternative to litigation. Although developed over 17 years ago, it has yet to reach all areas of the country. Collaborative Law allows the parties to keep control of their destiny by hiring attorneys committed to a process of including the parties, by use of group meetings, in all negotiations and discussions in a collaborative effort to resolve the matter without going to court. The Collaborative Law attorneys agree not to represent the parties in court should either party decide to litigate their differences. This process has successfully achieved satisfactory results for divorcing parties and is much less stressful for the attorney.