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Are there any family lawyers here? I would like some insight into this field, in particular what the starting salaries appear to be in the Toronto market, courses to take after first year of law school, how to gain experience in this area, whether there are family law firms hiring for the OCI season, what hiring firms look for in candidates, and lastly, why many of the family law boutiques only appear to hire females? When I visit the websites of many of these family law firms, their personnel is all women. So, I am wondering how hard it is to break into the field as a male. Other than Introductory Family Law in second year, are there any other courses that people here recommend.

 

Also, what are the working conditions of family lawyers like as opposed to other areas such as criminal, immigration and estate lawyers?

 

Thank you to anyone who contributes to this discussion.

Edited by Deadpool

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An interesting survey I happened upon recently: http://www.sulemanfamilylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Not-with-a-ten-foot-pole-Law-students-perceptions-of-family-law-practice-Zara-Suleman-2009.pdf

 

Apparently family law is perceived as feminine by law students. My guess is that fewer men apply to family law positions and that is why there are less men at the firms you are looking at. At least, I am hopeful that is the reason as I am a man interested in family law as well!

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I'm not a lawyer yet but I identify as a male and have some experience working in family law.

 

Courses? Negotiation and mediation courses will be helpful; the vast, vast majority of family law cases do not reach trial. Child protection will also be helpful, since Children's Aid Societies have open files on many family law disputants.

 

OCIs? Epstein Cole is the major family law firm that hires during OCIs. The Family Responsibility Office, the government agency that enforces child support and spousal support orders, also hires. Most family law firms that hire summer students hire outside of the OCI process.

 

Why so many female hires? If the applicant pool is indeed mostly made up of women, then the most-qualified candidates are simply more likely to be women. I did not experience any overt sexism in my interviews with family law employers.

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Not a family lawyer but currently articling with a sole practitioner in family law.  Mostly Legal Aid files.  In terms of courses I think apart from Family Law I would take Child Protection (if it is offered).  You are right that I have observed that a good majority of family lawyers I see in court are females. (I am male)

 

I am not sure about established family law firms like Epstein Cole or Niman, but IMO the best way to break in to the sole practitioner family law circle is to network and cold call.  Most of these lawyers do not advertise even when they are short staffed and looking for articling students or associates.  It is a very small circle and most lawyers working in this field know each other well, so getting your name out there is a sure way of having more opportunities.  

 

Again, I can't speak for family law firms that DO NOT do legal aid files, but if you do legal aid files, most of your time will be spent in the OCJ (since you noted the Toronto Market) and Case Conferences.  There will be the occasional Motion and rare trials.  A lot of the time will be spent speaking to clients, negotiating with opposing counsel while at the court house.  

 

The most taxing part of the job IMO is the clients.  Family law, as other posters have noted is a very emotional area of law where clients are often at their most vulnerable.  Take this and add on top the complicating factor that many legal aid clients suffer from substance abuse and addiction, and/or varying severity of mental illness.  This makes it oftentimes very stressful to communicate with clients and set their expectations.  

 

And a very common situation is when the other party is self-represented and thinks he/she knows the law and just makes everything very very difficult.

 

Having said all, I love my job and love the area of law that I am articling in.  I actually can feel, on a day to day basis, that I am a part of someone's life and helping them through a rough patch.

 

My two cents.

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I'm going to disagree with artsydork at least a little, though with the clear understanding that he practices family law and I don't. His theory that family law lends itself more to work/life balance suggests we'd see the same in similar, sole practice areas like criminal law. And obviously we don't. He's mentioned the issue of bravado and personality and that's some of it, sure. But in criminal law there are a lot of women interested in the field, just they end up overwhelmingly doing Crown work because that's where the work/life balance is actually more manageable. There are a lot of different factors, of course, but my personal theory is that it's mostly about clients.

 

The fact is (and AD also alluded to this) we work in a client-centric industry and whatever values and social mores we bring to the table we still need to work with and appeal to clients who may be less ... nuanced, in their views. Criminally accused clients are over-whelmingly male. Some of them don't care whether their lawyer is male or female. Sometimes there's actually value in having a female lawyer (or perceived value) as when it's a sexual crime at issue, usually. See Jian Ghomeshi (though Marie Henien is awesome regardless). But for the significant portion of the cases where the client is male and relates better to a male lawyer ... it's hard as a women. And despite many people claiming otherwise, there's fuck all we can do about it. We work in a service industry where clients are free to choose their lawyers for reasons that are smart, stupid, rational, irrational, sexist, or otherwise. That's the way it is.

 

Now, porting that observation over the family law ... I can't help but notice that half of all family law clients are going to be male. And to me, that suggests an opportunity for men, rather than the reverse. Now I could totally be wrong, but I can imagine that many men would actually want a male lawyer. I can easily believe that law students wouldn't realize this and would imagine that family law is a "female" field, somehow. But the client base isn't.

 

Anyway, that's my two cents. Obviously I don't suggest you approach the field by pandering to clients' worst instincts. Please don't become a family lawyer with the goal of saving men from the emasculating bitches who want to take their money and children. But I think it would be perfectly reasonable to approach interviews and such with the assumption that a firm heavy on female lawyers might actually want and have reason to recruit a male lawyer. At the end of the day, lawyers and law firms and entrepreneurs. And whatever ideology they may bring to the table, we all need to earn a living. It's a rare lawyer of any variety of is willing to screw themselves over financially only because they favor X employee over Y.

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There's a lot of women who practice in the area, but there are certainly enough men to make the case the family law isn't exclusively practiced by women. That being said, more women tend to leave the profession than men and it may be that the women who remain in practice after 5 or ten years tend to concentrate in family law. So, maybe family law has a reputation for being the 'pink ghetto' not because it's an area of practice dominated by women  but rather because women tend to concentrate in this particular area? 

 

I have however noticed though that there tends to be a bit of a gender schism within the field of family law. Most female barristers seem to focus on areas relating to custody and parenting while it seems that a comparably greater number of men handle cases where asset division is the only issue. 

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I have however noticed though that there tends to be a bit of a gender schism within the field of family law. Most female barristers seem to focus on areas relating to custody and parenting while it seems that a comparably greater number of men handle cases where asset division is the only issue.

Perhaps reflecting clients' sexist attitudes, mentioned by Diplock.

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A large portion of my practice is in family law. I can try to answer some of your questions.

 

what the starting salaries appear to be in the Toronto market: No idea. Don't live or work anywhere near Toronto. 

 

courses to take after first year of law school: Family law. Would recommend a course on trial practice, because guaranteed you'll get something taken the distance in litigation, be it on an interim application or a contested property division. Know how to run a trial. Might want to look at post-law school course options for collaborative practice. Family law is the one area of law that's perhaps easiest to segue into in practice without taking any background courses in law school: the rules aren't rigid for child custody, property division can be straightforward, child support generally comes from the tables. It's half rote exercise, half pleading the equities. 

 

how to gain experience in this area: If you can get involved in a legal clinic while in law school, you'll probably encounter some family law. To gain practical experience, articling may be the best place for it -- if you're practicing with a sole practitioner or a generalist firm, odds are there'll be some opportunity for family law exposure. 

 

whether there are family law firms hiring for the OCI season: In general, firms participating in OCIs are larger, corporate-focused ones. Family law is often practiced by smaller shops and solos, so your options at OCI will be very limited in this particular field. You'd probably do better going off the beaten path and making contact yourself with offices/firms that practice family law.

 

what hiring firms look for in candidates: A willingness to do family law. There aren't a lot of lawyers who like practicing family law or who want to do it. This is especially true with generalist firms; family law is almost a necessary evil, since there's high demand for family law services. 

 

 

and lastly, why many of the family law boutiques only appear to hire females? : Not sure which side accounts for it - self-selection or discrimination by senior male lawyers. Family law being so in demand and operating mostly at the small shop level, it can be one of the more lucrative practice areas that allows for a work-life balance. I've known a lot of female lawyers to have been saddled with family law files during their articling and first years in practice, as though they were being routed into the field. 

 

Also, what are the working conditions of family lawyers like as opposed to other areas such as criminal, immigration and estate lawyers? : Apart from immigration, I do criminal and estate work too. Family involves needy people and dynamic situations. When you're brought into a custody dispute, the situation is fluid, because the parties will keep interacting and more conflicts can easily arise. The situation isn't over and won't be over for years, even when you're done. It's wholly unsatisfying for many clients, since no matter how the situation goes, they generally lose. They've lost a relationship, but if they have kids, they're tied to the ex for years to come. House has to be sold or refinanced, all the property has to be sorted out and divided, and on top of it all, they have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for the lawyers. People can be spiteful and emotional. And the money runs out fast; you deal with a lot of everyday people who otherwise wouldn't ever encounter the legal system in a contested proceeding. They're not usually sitting on thousands of dollars to hand over for a full-blown trial on custody, access, division of property, etc. Nobody ever gets what they want out of it, and pays a lawyer for the privilege of it. As to comparison: (a) Criminal law involves people who know they're fucked, and a battle against the state. The rules are clear, argument may turn on statutory wording, and you have the burden of proof in your favour. I find criminal more satisfying and less emotionally-wrought. (b) Estates are usually straightforward matters and desktop affairs. No emotional business and a clear endgame.

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There's a lot of women who practice in the area, but there are certainly enough men to make the case the family law isn't exclusively practiced by women. That being said, more women tend to leave the profession than men and it may be that the women who remain in practice after 5 or ten years tend to concentrate in family law. So, maybe family law has a reputation for being the 'pink ghetto' not because it's an area of practice dominated by women  but rather because women tend to concentrate in this particular area? 

 

I have however noticed though that there tends to be a bit of a gender schism within the field of family law. Most female barristers seem to focus on areas relating to custody and parenting while it seems that a comparably greater number of men handle cases where asset division is the only issue. 

 

Clueless 0L question but is it possible to only handle family cases that involve asset division, no custody stuff, if you also do other types of law like immigration/wills & estates?

 

 

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I thought that as a lawyer you get to handle whatever files you want to get paid for... So, you could potentially just tell your clients that you won't take their divorce or family matter if they have custody or access components. That doesn't mean you won't get into the same thing over dogs or cats or Elvis records or whatever your clients feel like being petty over and can't just agree to share on reasonable terms between themselves.

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I thought that as a lawyer you get to handle whatever files you want to get paid for... So, you could potentially just tell your clients that you won't take their divorce or family matter if they have custody or access components. That doesn't mean you won't get into the same thing over dogs or cats or Elvis records or whatever your clients feel like being petty over and can't just agree to share on reasonable terms between themselves.

 

Oh okay, thanks! I'm interested in family law but I don't think I could handle child abuse allegations. Asset-related pettiness I could probably deal with. 

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Oh, that sort of thing...

 

In case you forgot, I'm not a lawyer, I work at what is essentially a sole's office doing parelegal/legal assistant work and I mostly witness and only occasionally touch and assist with files in family law.

 

From what I have witnessed in my very limited scope of this issue, when my boss has interviewed clients about allegations of child abuse and he is not satisfied that the client is not being completely forthcoming or honest with him, he turns them away and refunds their retainer. This might not always be an option for you as a junior or articling student, so you might have to come to terms with it if you work in a family law office. I'm not saying that you for sure will come across this, but I have only been here for two years and I have seen a few of those allegations. I have also never seen the follow up on any of those allegations, so bear that in mind as well.

 

Maybe someone else has who more of an informed opinion can help you on that front?

Edited by celli660
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From speaking with a few family practitioners, I think it is quite acceptable to avoid child protection cases. Not sure if it would be possible to completely avoid custody cases though.

 

Oh okay, thanks! I'm interested in family law but I don't think I could handle child abuse allegations. Asset-related pettiness I could probably deal with.

 

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From speaking with a few family practitioners, I think it is quite acceptable to avoid child protection cases. Not sure if it would be possible to completely avoid custody cases though.

 

 

Oh okay, that would probably be fine. I didn't really think of that as an option. Thank you!

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I personally have met some lawyers who say they prefer Child Protection files.  They find it much more interesting and less stressful than custody/access files.  Keep in mind most of the files and lawyers that I have contact with do mostly Legal Aid files.  Most Legal Aid files do not involve property division (Superior Court), although I have seen a few.

 

IMO the reason why some lawyers prefer Child Protection over custody/access (domestics) is because in Child Protection the other party is invariably the CAS and so in essence what you have is the opposing side you are dealing with as a lawyer is an agency with trained professionals and so usually won't turn into those petty fights you see in domestics (what summer camp the kid goes to or whether the father can have access for an extra hour etc), although it still does happen, just less frequently.

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I personally have met some lawyers who say they prefer Child Protection files.  They find it much more interesting and less stressful than custody/access files.  Keep in mind most of the files and lawyers that I have contact with do mostly Legal Aid files.  Most Legal Aid files do not involve property division (Superior Court), although I have seen a few.

 

IMO the reason why some lawyers prefer Child Protection over custody/access (domestics) is because in Child Protection the other party is invariably the CAS and so in essence what you have is the opposing side you are dealing with as a lawyer is an agency with trained professionals and so usually won't turn into those petty fights you see in domestics (what summer camp the kid goes to or whether the father can have access for an extra hour etc), although it still does happen, just less frequently.

 

Clients in child protection matters can be fairly difficult though. Or present a whole slew of new challenges, such as addiction, instable housing, no phone, abusive partner, etc.

 

But it is easy to not to child protection files - I'd wager the majority of family lawyers don't actually take them.

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Thanks for the clarification artsydork! Although I find it surprising that the majority of family lawyers don't do child protection.  It seems like an area with tons of cases flowing around

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and please correct me if i am wrong, the law in child protection cases usually is not very very difficult: i.e. best interests of the child.  so it would seem like a profitable area of law to go into and does not entail too much heavy lifting in terms of the law.  i understand the emotional baggage that this area of law carries with it though

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More things go to trial, and I think you might be under-estimating how difficult some of these clients are! It also gets messier with the stack of paperwork - the CAS notes from EVERY ACCESS VISIT, doctor notes, psych notes, addiction counselor notes, etc.

Legal Aid Ontario used to only fund like 25 hours, though it recently went up to 45, which should help more people actually want to take these cases.

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