May 13, 2020 Introduction

Becoming a Family Lawyer

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV

There are over 1.3 million family lawyers in the United States, but only a small percentage of them become family lawyers. What combination of attributes and skills allow a family lawyer to thrive? What training and mindset should a practitioner inject into a family dispute to improve the outcome?

There are over 1.3 million family lawyers in the United States, but only a small percentage of them become family lawyers

There are over 1.3 million family lawyers in the United States, but only a small percentage of them become family lawyers

Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir

This Summer 2019 issue of the Family Law Quarterly focuses on some of the approaches, strategies, and tools that transform a lawyer into a successful family lawyer. Extensive knowledge of family law is critically important, but there is much more to this mosaic. Largely intangible tools enable attorneys to resolve cases effectively even as they endure the personal and professional perils of family practice. When soliciting authors for this issue, we asked that they walk a fraught tightrope between legal scholarship and common sense. We reached out to authors who write simply and creatively about complex topics.

A natural starting point for this issue is a contribution from Gregg Herman, who is a prolific and practical writer, as well as a past chair of the ABA Family Law Section. In this first article, The Role of a Family Law Attorney in Settlement Negotiations, Herman explains how responsible lawyers can help clients achieve favorable settlements and at the same time serve the long-term interests of everyone involved in a family dispute. He explains why representing a client in a family case is unlike representing a client in a personal injury or criminal case. A good family lawyer chooses the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or other tools best suited for the circumstances.

The second article examines a regrettably familiar subject for family lawyers, which is difficult people complicating otherwise uncomplicated cases. In Confronting the Challenge of the High-Conflict Personality in Family Court, Esther Rosenfeld and Michelle Oberman review literature on this subject and then present the findings of their own qualitative study. They offer pragmatic strategies for lawyers involved in these seemingly intractable cases.

In Surviving Family Law: A Thinking Lawyer’s Guide to Tranquility, Fearlessness, and Freedom, author Steven N. Peskind explores the complex emotional challenges family lawyers encounter in their roles as advisors, counselors, negotiators, and advocates. Drawing in part on Stoic and Eastern philosophy, Peskind offers simple and effective strategies for family lawyers to maintain their own mental and physical health while effectively executing duties and responsibilities.

The final article, written by Mark Sullivan and Kristopher Hilscher, addresses the often-misunderstood legal landscape in cases involving military families. Avoiding Mines: What Counsel Should Know When Handling a Military Divorce Case is a must-read primer for any family lawyer who rarely handles cases involving military families. The article simplifies complicated subjects that otherwise may confound practitioners.

An individual does not simply decide to become a family lawyer. Rather, it is an evolution facilitated by choices and professional growth.

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV

Issue Editor

Editorial Board member

Family Law Quarterly

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Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV, a member of the Family Law Quarterly Editorial Board, is the issue editor for the Summer 2019 issue. He is the founding member of the Schoonmaker Legal Group, LLC, in Stamford, Connecticut. He is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut, a faculty member at the Appellate Advocacy Institute, and a past chair of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Family Law Section.