If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that at least one in three clients have said to me at some point during their matter “I don’t know how you do this every day!”. Funnily enough, this same sentiment is often echoed by people you meet when that age-old ‘so what do you do’ question comes up.
I understand this comment from a client; after all it is their life, and it comes as no surprise that for them their matter can seem an all-consuming, never-ending beast (and it’s our job as lawyers to help clients overcome this). But when this comment comes as some form of condolence, I’m sometimes left feeling a little bit miffed. Family law is inherently challenging – but with great challenges often come great rewards.
As family lawyers, we are employed to apply our knowledge and skills to help people move on from a dark time in their lives. We are there to support our clients to get to the other side and to assist them to make strategic and smart decisions at a time when they are likely feeling vulnerable and perhaps not thinking clearly.
A good family lawyer will never just be the mouthpiece for their client, but will guide them with well informed and realistic advice. It is important to think pragmatically for your client and to help them create and achieve the most appropriate outcome that suits their particular circumstances and their family.
It is challenging but, as family lawyers, I think we are trained to approach matters in a manner fundamentally different to other areas of law. While we can often wear many and varied hats – lawyer, counsellor, financial advisor, confidant, advocate – we must take a holistic approach to our practice and recognise that not all issues facing our clients are legal ones, and encourage them to seek and accept whatever help they might need.
But back to where we started, how do we do this every day. The key is achieving a professional detachment without losing empathy, understanding and compassion. Family lawyers acquire a special kind of thick skin; thick enough to protect our clients while protecting ourselves in the process.
However, family law isn’t always about the end of a relationship or navigating a bitter battle. While admittedly less frequent, we also have the privilege of assisting with the start of relationships and the creation of families, too (adoption and surrogacy also fall into the realm of family law).
I know I do this every day because I enjoy a challenge, enjoy being a problem-solver, and enjoy constantly learning from both my clients and my colleagues.