When people learn that I am a lawyer, I am often asked the question, “What kind of lawyer are you?” When I answer that I predominantly work in family law, the response is normally something akin to, “Oh, you poor thing. I don’t know how you do it.”
To be honest, I am not surprised with the response.
Working in family law often means working with people in very sad and dire situations. Hearing stories of families dealing with extreme financial loss, domestic abuse, childhood trauma, and the like can certainly take a toll on one’s emotions. Sometimes I think that I need to expand my practice to other areas to diminish my involvement with these types of cases in order to protect myself from what some call, “second-hand trauma.”
However, I always seem to come back to the notion that even though my job can take an emotional toll, the work I do is extremely important and rewarding. I take great pride in the fact that although often I am not able to reconnect families in the way that most would like, I do provide a level of compassion and dignity to my clients while they move on with their lives, which seems to make it all worth it.
It is easy for people to lose their sense of dignity while going through the complex and difficult process of navigating the legal system. This loss of dignity becomes even likelier given the vulnerabilities people suffer while reinventing their lives with respect to family structure, childcare, financial loss, etc. Separation is not an easy process to go through for most, if not all, people. I am often witness to people’s deepest emotional pains. Although this does provide a challenge to me at some points, I am in a role where although I cannot stop the hurt, I can hold a person’s hand through the process while they are hurting. This may seem like a small thing for someone who has not gone through a significant separation, however, my clients often state that they would be lost if they had to go through this process alone.
So, despite the emotional difficulties of practicing in family law, I have to acknowledge the rewards of helping people move forward after separation. The rewards aren’t limited to just this either. More than anything, I have learned so much from my clients and their situations. In a way, through their testimony, my clients constantly remind me of what is important in life. I continually hear comments about how clients desire to feel appreciated in their familial role, not what their role is. They speak about their desire to be truly heard, either by the other party or the judge. They speak of feeling respected, loved, and being free of judgment from their loved ones.
One might think that in practicing family law, one would learn about complicated tax rules and pension splitting. However, more than anything, I have learned to be in tune with the things that are truly important to feeling loved and supported. These lessons weren’t expected when I set out to be a family law lawyer, but they are nonetheless the most pleasant surprise of my job. And I guess knowing about tax laws and pension splitting isn’t bad either.