What does a typical family lawyer’s career path look like?

Written by: Lucy Wickham, Realm Recruit
Published on: 6 Apr 2021

Family law blog

If you’re a practising solicitor who is considering a move into family law, you might wonder what a typical family lawyer’s career looks like. Of course, as the effects of the pandemic and digital transformation continue to change the legal landscape, “typical” careers are becoming increasingly rare, as solicitors make the move into consultant work or seek to move in-house. However, for those taking the leap into family law as a qualified solicitor or after a career break, it’s useful to have a roadmap to work from. Legal recruitment experts Realm Recruit take us through what a typical career journey might look like.

Find out more news, advice and information on issues around children and family law, including relationship breakdown and children in the context of divorce or separation, plus children in public law and cross-border disputes, at the Law Society’s Family and Children hub.

Newly qualified - 3 years PQE

This stage of your career is all about learning and finding out which areas of family law you like the most! More generally, solicitors tend to find that they develop a preference for matrimonial / divorce matters or children law, however, if a lawyer works for a specialist firm, they might also get a taste for a specialist area of family, such as surrogacy or fertility law.

Family law disputes that are handled in the judicial system include: divorce, separation, adoption, child custody, visitation rights, financial settlements and distribution of assets, domestic violence, guardianship, and child abuse and neglect. Other matters which are covered by this area of law include: validity of trusts, wills and inheritance laws, deaths, pension, retirements and other benefits, and the coverage and validity of insurance claims.

Associate to senior associate (4-9 years PQE)

Family law has become increasingly niche in recent years. After practising for several years, many solicitors decide to specialise in an area such as adoption law, domestic abuse cases or cohabitation law.

Those who want to specialise can apply to become an accredited Resolution Specialist in their chosen area or apply to be on the Law Society’s Family Law or Children’s Law Committees. The Family Law Committee:

  • reviews and promotes improvements in family law, practice and procedure, including child care law and procedure
  • reviews and advises on the role, design and operation of any relevant accreditation schemes

Alternatively, a family associate or senior associate may choose to become an accredited mediator or get involved in collaborative law. It’s also at associate level when many family solicitors focus their efforts on cultivating a strong personal brand, through networking, social media and pro bono work.

You already have a personal brand – you just may not know it yet. It is already influencing your relationships with colleagues and contacts, affecting which clients you win and retain, whether you get that next promotion or new job. Find out more about how to develop and cultivate your personal brand.

The Law Society also offer family and children law accreditations. These are awarded to solicitors and legal professionals who meet the highest standards of technical expertise and client service in specific areas of law. The quality mark logos on legal practices’ websites, printed material or offices can signify if a solicitor or legal professional is accredited. Becoming accredited is a great way to make yourself stand out as a family law solicitor. Find out more about accreditations.

Partnership (10+ PQE)

Lawyers tend to be in with the chance of becoming Partner after working in practice for around a decade.

At this stage in their career, most of family lawyers’ work is self-generated through recommendations and the reputation they’ve built up over the years.

Some solicitors might also have the opportunity to supervise or mentor junior colleagues, perhaps as a team leader or head of department.

Solicitors switching practice areas, or returning after a career break

There will usually be an expectation that these solicitors will start off as a paralegal/junior lawyer or shadow a senior solicitor. This means lawyers who retrain are likely to experience a temporary pay cut while they get to grips with their new practice area – this is something to keep in mind, especially for those with significant financial obligations. Solicitors with a background in a litigation-centric specialism are generally the best suited for a move into family law.

The fee-sharing model

While it’s true that partnership is still thought of as the holy grail for lawyers, in recent years, growing numbers of family solicitors have chosen to leave the security blanket of the traditional law firm and become self-employed consultants.

The fee-sharing model allows family lawyers a greater degree of control over how, when and where lawyers work, but it often also results in them earning more too.

It’s been predicted that a third of lawyers will be working under this kind of model in five years' time. The rise of flexible and remote working over the last 12 months is likely to have expedited the move towards this consultancy approach and more and more family lawyers may choose this alternative to the traditional legal career.

The "new normal" has given many solicitors the chance to stop and reflect on what they want from their careers. Our research into the future of legal recruitment showed that the desire for flexibility in the legal market has been around for some time, and going forward it will become a prerequisite. The introduction of freelance / consultant solicitors and the shift towards homeworking has shown an industry traditionally resistant to change that new ways of working are possible. Read our article about how to cultivate a portfolio career >

If you need any more support or career advice, check out our resources: