Are You Thinking About Becoming A Family Lawyer?

By Helen Baxter  |  March 20, 2024

Helen Baxter

Law student Helen Baxter shares her real-life insights

By Helen Baxter, Student-at-Law (Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario)

I think it is clear to anyone who has worked in the legal field as a lawyer, law clerk or paralegal that the life of a lawyer is far from the exciting lifestyle that is portrayed on the TV or movie screen. I grew up with a father who practised family law, so that image of the glamorous “TV lawyer” was shattered pretty quickly, or never existed in the first place. Because of my exposure to the realities of the practice of law through my father, I was already aware of some of the downsides: you are expected to work very hard; it is difficult to balance your work life with a healthy personal life; you can experience vicarious stress and trauma if you cannot learn to properly compartmentalize your clients’ issues from your own. With this experience, I was walking into law school with both eyes open and did not expect this to be an easy road.

I was surprised, however, to discover during my summer employment this past year and my law school placement experience – both in law a law firm working with family law lawyers – that the life of a lawyer can consist of more than endlessly toiling over paperwork, with no social or family life to speak of. It has become clear to me that the practice of law is what you make of it: you can choose to spend all hours of the day at the office or attempt to separate your work life from your home life. You can also choose whether to become emotionally involved in your clients’ lives to your own detriment, or you can draw lines for yourself that define what your role as a lawyer is. Working at Henderson Family Law has given me new perspectives about what it’s like to practise law. Of course, the same stressors exist, but you can determine how you deal with them. Having a healthy work environment, where you get along well with your co-workers and discuss and talk out cases, having a clear division of work life and home life, and taking time for yourself (caring for your mental and physical health) are all ways that you can help to balance the pressures of being a lawyer.

When I first entered law school, because of both my experience living with my father, and my own experience working as a legal assistant in family law, I was hesitant about practising family law. However, I found myself drawn to work in that area because it was familiar to me and I was curious to see how different lawyers practise in the same area. As I have learned more about family law, I have begun to appreciate how diverse an area of law it is. It is interdisciplinary and includes aspects of real estate law, wills and estate law, and criminal law, among others. Family law also includes a wide range of issues and this ensures that the work is always engaging. And family lawyers are helping people in ways that impact the most important aspects of their lives, and this makes the work not only interesting, but gratifying and meaningful.

If you’re contemplating going to law school, I would say that you should think seriously about the kind of career you want. I think that taking some time off after undergraduate studies or even trying to find employment in the legal field, as I did, before entering law school can be a very good way to gain some perspective about the practical realities of law, and about professional environments in general. Working for a few years as a legal assistant allowed me to reflect on whether this was a genuine interest of mine and if it would be the right fit for me. Law school and practising law is a great deal of work and requires sacrifices.

As I complete my final semester of law school and embark on my career as a lawyer, I already have some aspirations of the kind of practice I would like to have and the type of lawyer I will set out to be, although I’m sure these will change over time. For me, integrity is very important, and I hope that my future colleagues will respect me and view me as an ethical lawyer who they can rely on to act in a reasonable way. And if I do practise family law, my goal is to be viewed as a lawyer who is willing to work collaboratively to achieve the best settlement possible for families, which is what family law should be geared towards. I want to have a reputation for providing valuable advice, while also employing effective strategies that will achieve success for my clients.

Working in family law has been a motivating experience for me. Feeling like I have a purpose that is beyond myself, and seeing the direct, positive impact that I and others can have on people’s lives is one of the most meaningful experiences I have had in the workplace, and this makes me feel like I have made the right choice.

Contact Henderson Family Law today if you would like to discuss a family law matter.


This content is provided as a general informational source by Henderson Family Law, and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, or establish a lawyer-client relationship. Every situation is complex and fact-specific, and appropriate advice will vary accordingly. Do not rely on this information for legal decision-making under any circumstances. Please consult with us and obtain proper advice and strategy concerning the specifics of your particular situation.

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