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Litigation/ADR: Family Law/Trust & Estate Litigation

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Litigation/ADR
Family Law/Trust & Estate Litigation

Lawyers who represent clients in family law matters often practice in a smaller firm. Individual lawyers in the firm handle legal issues relating to marriage and divorce, such as premarital agreements or property settlements, as well as a range of issues involving children, such as adoption, guardianship, the setting up of trust funds, or the handling of child custody arrangements upon a divorce. Students interested in family law should become familiar with procedures in Alternative Dispute Resolution as well as Litigation, since mediation is increasingly a part of the dispute resolution process in divorce and custody disputes, and family lawyers often represent their clients in the mediation process.

Family lawyers, whether in small firms or in solo practice, may also assist clients with Estate Planning, the process of arranging the client’s affairs to achieve [...]

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Lawyers who represent clients in family law matters often practice in a smaller firm. Individual lawyers in the firm handle legal issues relating to marriage and divorce, such as premarital agreements or property settlements, as well as a range of issues involving children, such as adoption, guardianship, the setting up of trust funds, or the handling of child custody arrangements upon a divorce. Students interested in family law should become familiar with procedures in Alternative Dispute Resolution as well as Litigation, since mediation is increasingly a part of the dispute resolution process in divorce and custody disputes, and family lawyers often represent their clients in the mediation process.

Family lawyers, whether in small firms or in solo practice, may also assist clients with Estate Planning, the process of arranging the client’s affairs to achieve maximum benefit for intended beneficiaries upon the client’s death. Estate planning typically involves minimizing the probate administration and tax burden upon the estate as well as making provisions for minor children. The law of trusts and estates (T & E) also governs the management of an individual’s personal affairs in the event of incapacity. Most clients doing estate planning will ask their lawyer to advise them as to appropriate powers of attorney and health care directives in anticipation of possible diminished capacity. A related area of law is elder law, which includes matters like planning for long term care and other issues facing the elderly and the disabled. A major difference between estate planning/T & E work and many other practice areas is that many of these clients are individuals, not large institutions. This means a lot of the T&E lawyer's time is spent working with people who are not lawyers and explaining complicated tax and legal issues to them. This is a good practice area for lawyers who are patient communicators and enjoy teaching people.

Big firms may also have a department that represents individual clients with significant net worth in family law matters, such as their Estate Planning and any Litigation involving family trusts or estates. Disputes related to trusts and estates may involve contests about the validity of a will, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and other claims related to asset mismanagement by trustees and executors. Estate planning for high net worth individuals and the division of significant assets upon a divorce may involve complex financial, tax and valuation issues, such as the valuation of stock options or a closely held business. A solid grounding in business and accounting as well as Tax Law is essential for any sophisticated estate planning. Planning for clients with significant assets may include not only the desired disposition of property to their heirs, but also a variety of techniques to fulfill their wish to make philanthropic gifts, for example, through the creation of charitable trusts. The maintenance and supervision of charitable trusts and foundations will later involve government and public interests as well, since in most states charitable trusts must register and file reports with the state Attorney General’s office.

There are many opportunities for family lawyers to serve the Public Interest sector, whether full-time for a non-profit legal services organization or by regular contribution of services to clients unable to pay for legal help. For example, they may represent troubled youth in the juvenile courts, or they may work closely with child support agencies to ensure that parents are paying child support as required by state law and the court systems. Non-profit agencies may have a specific focus, such as one concerned with the prevention and reporting of child abuse and domestic violence, or provide a variety of direct legal services that include family law matters.

 
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