By John T. Sylvester, 3L
“You must prepare for the fact that it is highly likely that almost every client that will walk through your door is temporarily insane. But if you have a dynamic personality, and you love what you do, you can help them through this emotional time.” The Hon. Harry L. Powazek (’80) offered these sage words of advice regarding a career in family law at the Family Law Society’s “Opportunities in Family Law” Panel on March 12, 2014. Judge Powazek was one of four honored guests at this panel, focusing on finding and maintaining a successful career in the field of family law. He was accompanied by Jesse Soto, Staff Attorney at the Department of Child Support Services, David C. Beavans (’08), Managing Attorney at The Law Offices of David C. Beavans, APC, and Kyle Siems, Senior Associate Attorney at Wilkinson and Finkbeiner LLP.
Professor Steve Berenson moderated the panel and brought his own wealth of experience on the subject matter as director of TJSL’s Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic and instructor for the upper-level family law course taught each semester. The panel featured questions posed by Professor Berenson regarding the pros and cons of practicing in this challenging area, the various paths each panelist took to find their current career and general advice each had for students interested in pursuing family law as a career.
Mr. Beavans likened the practice of family law to working in a trauma center, where it does little good to either the patient or the medic if the medic is too emotionally attached to the subject. Rather, Mr. Beavans pointed out that the family law attorney’s role is to be the voice of reason during a troubling time, and to offer their client objective and honest advice in order to properly and effectively guide them through the course of family law litigation.
Similarly, Mr. Siems pointed out that objectivity and reason play out when dealing with other attorneys in family law practice as well. He noted that even in the seemingly vast San Diego legal community, one can easily garner a very good or a very bad reputation for how one treats clients and fellow counsel. Mr. Siems said that with family law clients, their legal issue bears on them heavily, 24 hours a day, and the family law attorney must remain focused and willing to work with opposing counsel to find a resolution for their client as soon as is reasonably possible.
In return, Mr. Soto made a point of saying that in family law, unlike many other fields of practice, the job satisfaction and sense of personal fulfillment is unparalleled. Unlike other positions he has held, Mr. Soto noted that in his position at DCSS, every day he goes to work he helps someone in their personal life in a significant way.
Panelists recommended that because family law involves a great deal of negotiation and time spent in court, students interested in this field are highly encouraged to pursue courses in alternative dispute resolution, trial practice, as well as clinical and internship opportunities to gain valuable firsthand experience in the field.