Like many Americans, I have gone through both a divorce and having to litigate family law issues in a court of law. I have spent enormous amounts of money hiring lawyers to represent me, and have often represented myself.
Unlike most Americans, while I was going through the litigation, I decided to enter law school. So my approach to family law is also intersected with my academic life of being a PhD in Technology. Yes, I like to learn. That is obvious. And it is upon this nexus of real-world experiences/law student/academic that I’ve started blogging.
Recently, I pitched an idea to a legal website about the potential use by family law attorneys of the Ashley Madison data dump. My idea was quickly rejected; I was told that I could not write about substantive law because I was too junior of a lawyer. I found this humorous because I’m not yet a lawyer at all! However, this dismissal was telling.
Do lawyers really believe that only other senior lawyers are qualified as experts in family law?
I beg to differ. First and foremost, a JD or bar-passage does not make anyone an automatic and well-rounded expert in every legal sense. Many lawyers I know believe the degree means you’re ready to start practicing law. It’s the same thing in many colleges… students learn the most after they receive the degree.
Secondly, being dragged through litigation almost forces a party to compile and acquire legal knowledge. My knees were skinned with the “real world” applications and twists of the family law courts. And I was able to see the disconnection between what I was experiencing within the courts as compared to the beautiful theory of the law. Law school taught me the law and what the ideal process should be. My experiences as a defendant taught me the applications and realities. Additionally, most of my law professors would answer my questions with, “Family law has its own rules”, which gave me the impression that this area of law truly needs people who have practical experiences gained in more ways than by being the attorney of record.
On that same note, the fact is that many people are litigating without the assistance or representation of legal counsel. It’s incredibly expensive to be involved in a lawsuit. A surprising fact is that 2/3rds of California family law cases are filed by a self-represented litigant! So whether it is by choice or by default, people going through the system are learning in a way that is experiential.
Additionally, the State of Washington has started a program where, surely, these non-lawyers will claim expertise in family law matters!
Some lawyers are taking note of these changes and reacting in a flexible way. They may be offering non-traditional services like limited scope representation (ala Julie Tolek) or teaching people how to represent themselves without an attorney (ala Jason Levoy)
Based upon my experiences, the changing fee structures offered by flexible attorneys, and the emerging programs to license non-lawyers in the area of family law, I think that the belief that senior attorneys are the only family law experts is, well, antiquated. We become experts in various ways.