Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of The St. Louis Bar Journal magazine. View in the archives.
If you mention “family law” to a group of lawyers and judges at a social gathering, you will see most of them looking for the exit. The view from outside this area of practice and into the courtrooms of those judges who handle these cases is not one that shouts, “Come on in. This is fun!” But as lawyers and judges, we often are required to help litigants with matters that are essential, and life-changing, whether they are “fun” or not. This is never more true than in the family law arena.
Thankfully, we have plenty of attorneys who practice family law. Many do nothing else. Most judges have to “take their turn” in family court, while others willingly spend their entire judicial careers there. Generally, judges and attorneys are either all in on family law or avoid it completely. On behalf of the “please don’t make me do that ever again” crowd, I offer my deepest thanks to those of you who have committed yourselves to what can be a thankless job.
We are fortunate in the legal profession to have attorneys and judges who willingly take on and embrace these potentially hostile court proceedings. As I often say, the people who need help the most are sometimes the hardest to help. But those lawyers and judges know that frequently there are good things that happen in family court. Adoptions are at the very top of that list. Getting someone out of an abusive relationship is right up there. Making sure a child has a safe place to live and food to eat brings satisfaction that is hard to find elsewhere in our profession.
I did some domestic work way back when I was first practicing, and then handled a number of family court matters as a trial judge. I presided over the juvenile court for six years, and found it to be a place where we sometimes felt we had made a positive difference in a child’s life. That kind of feeling does not come along often enough.
I’ll conclude with a quick story. (I’m sure you aren’t surprised.)
Once, at the end of a trial of a family matter in the far northeast corner of the state, the lawyers wanted to be heard on attorney fees. One side was represented by a team of attorneys from “out of town.” Also in the case were Gary Dial, who was the guardian ad litem, and Rickey Roberts, who was opposing counsel. They both became judges later in their careers. The team of lawyers made the largest fee request I had ever heard. The year was 1995, and they requested fees for the partner at $250 per hour, the associate at $150 per hour, and a paralegal at $80 per hour. I asked Rickey Roberts if he had any objection, and his response was perfect. “Not only do I not object to their client paying those fees, I would like to apply for the paralegal position.”
Sometimes you get to smile, even in family court.
I tip my hat to what family law attorneys and judges do. They are helping families and helping our community. Thank you.