Family Law

My parents separated for a brief period of time when I was in the fourth grade. I don’t remember there being too much controversy over where I would be crashing as (a) the separation didn’t last long and (b) I was not exactly the prize pig over which anyone in their right mind would compete. Anyway, the one thing I remember about that time was how my dad treated me. My father, who had previously acted as the proximate cause in his son’s nervousness and irritable bowels, was now a prince among men. He took me to a basketball game and laughed at my jokes in a deeply insincere way. If you ask me, this is the highest compliment another person can pay you.

I tell this story to establish my bona fides in the areas of family law, custody disputes, and even the fathers’ rights movement. I’m pretty much an expert. In the past week, the issue of fathers’ rights has popped up in unusual ways and places. Fox News reported over the weekend that a group of fathers are suing the state of Utah over their adoption laws. Bode Miller, meanwhile, won a bronze medal on Sunday, which prompted Slate to reprint an Emily Bazelon post on Miller’s odd custody dispute. And finally, a law firm in Florida has elevated fathers’ rights to perhaps its highest purpose: marketing.

The question posed by all of this is what if, with all apologies to Shaq Fu, the biological does bother?

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Sometimes, there is a baby in the room. A real one, usually in the arms of a nervous mother. Because it is Brooklyn, still as diverse a place as there is in the world, the baby might be black, brown, white or yellow. It does not matter. What matters is that there is a freaking baby in the room. I am blessed with four children, all ten and younger, and am the oldest of five, so I am not one of those people for whom children are curiosities best viewed at distance. Even so, there is something surreal about having a baby in the room while I am manning an office at the Brooklyn Family Court for a few hours once a month, trying to help a beleaguered parent make sense of the chaos inherent in their involvement in an adversarial proceeding involving their child. But I, like my fellow volunteers from in-house legal departments, Biglaw firms, and solo practices around New York City, soldier on. And come back, month after month, in the hopes of helping one more person deal with their (literally) intimate and emotional legal issues. In my case, I have been coming back since late 2006. I plan on continuing for as long as I have the strength and the program remains in place.

I am not looking for recognition. If this column motivates someone to dedicate themselves to a pro bono project that they can believe in, that would be great. To be honest, I did not even think about doing pro bono for many years, for all the typical reasons. I was still too junior, too busy, too unable to commit myself to a project that could potentially conflict with my billable matters. While I respected my fellow Biglaw associates who involved themselves in the usual Biglaw pro bono fare — e.g., asylum issues, wrongful convictions, and the like — I was never moved to action. But that changed in 2006, when Greenberg Traurig, in conjunction with some large corporations and other Biglaw firms, announced that it was partnering with the New York City Family Court to start a volunteer-attorney driven program to assist self-represented litigants trying to navigate the hectic, crowded, and extremely fast-paced Family Court system. A system that is challenging for even the most hardened attorneys, but where 95% of the litigants choose, mostly because of financial reasons, to go without a lawyer until one is provided for them. Put simply, help was (and continues to be) needed….

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Does your school offer Law and Finger Painting? I bet they would if you asked.

Don’t look now, but spring is right around the corner. Spring semester, that is. For 3Ls around the country, just a few classes stand between them and graduation into one of the worst legal job markets.

Ever since President Obama suggested that the third year of law school could be cut, we’ve heard a lot of law professors talk about how essential the third year of law school is. You can take clinics! You can become “practice ready”!

Sure, you can do those things. But it’s unlikely that you are going to take any course in your last semester of school that will help you get a job when you graduate. Why would you do that? You can be unemployed just as easily taking small, low-stress classes that won’t screw up your GPA on your way out of the door.

Every school has its own selection of ridiculous upper-class electives, but I’d like to focus on how the big boys do it. The Ivy League law schools have been setting the standard for legal education for generations. Their students (for the most part) have jobs waiting for them on the other side of graduation. I’ve put together a full course schedule for an Ivy-educated 3L. Please feel free to send this to any professor who thinks that the third year is too important to lose…

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People who love their dogs almost always love them forever… But with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry.

– Justice Matthew Cooper, who will preside over New York’s first dog custody case. Two Washington Heights women are divorcing and both want custody of their dog “Joey.” When reached for comment, Joey licked his butt and stared intently at a discarded Chipotle wrapper.

* You’d think that when discussing major reforms to the patent system, the director of the USPTO would be there, but you’d be wrong. You’d also be wrong if you thought we had a director right now. [National Law Journal]

* Welcome to the future of Biglaw: Allen & Overy has realized that it’s a waste of money to keep hiring in a weak market, so the firm is recruiting its alumni to serve as contract attorneys in times of higher legal demand. [Legal Week]

* Dean Gregory Maggs, the interim leader of George Washington University Law, is being lauded for increasing first-year enrollment by 22 percent in a time of crisis. Excellent work, sir. You flood that job market. [GW Hatchet]

* Just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean you’re “entitled to rise up and become partner.” Getting a job in the new normal involves having a good attitude and social graces. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Ladies, if you get pregnant after a fling with an Olympic medalist and move out of state, please know your “appropriation of the child while in utero [will be deemed] irresponsible, reprehensible.” [New York Times]

* GTL stands for “Gym, Tan, Laundry,” but the owner of these Jersey Shore clubs thinks it stands for “Gym, Tan, Lawsuit” — thanks to losses uncovered by its insurer in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. [Newark Star-Ledger]

South Park metaphorically linked the 2004 election to a matchup between a turd sandwich and a giant douche. As bad as the Bush era had become, John Kerry came across as such a self-righteous tool it was hard to get swing voters psyched up to vote one way or the other. I think of this episode today as I approach the tale of two lawyers sniping at each other over Facebook about whether a woman deserves to have her parental rights terminated. It’s not that I think either is really wrong, as much as both of them exhibit the worst of their respective positions in their online feud.

So what did one entitled Biglaw lawyer say about a poor client, and what did a self-righteous public interest lawyer say in response? All bets final once you read past the jump….

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‘I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.’

I think dogs should have about the same legal rights as children. That makes me a little aggressive about the legal standing of family pets, and deeply ambivalent about the necessity of treating undeveloped terrorists like “humans.” Children (and dogs) have the right to not be beaten or emotionally abused. They should have the right to clean and safe environments. They should have the right to run and play as much as possible. They should have consistent, reliable access to healthy meals, medical care, and mental stimulation.

They have the right to speak of course, but they don’t have the right to be listened to. If the dog starts demanding a blood sacrifice from the impudent delivery man, the dog is to be ignored. Similarly, you shouldn’t need “tips” for managing your kid’s iPad use. Just take the damn thing away and let the kid punch itself out. You’re the adult, you have a monopoly of force.

Of course, I’m raising a kid (and a dog) in a two-parent home. When parents get divorced, children attain the geopolitical standing of Southeast Asia during the cold war. And in that context, McDonald’s is part of the military-industrial complex that makes money off of the conflict between two warring superpowers…

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If you’ve messed up and managed to get married without an airtight prenup, you’re going to have a messy divorce. Unless you have a fairy tale romance that can never be torn asunder, but statistically you don’t, so you should be planning for divorce. And congratulations to our gay brothers and sisters — with Illinois joining the 21st century this week as the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage, you too will soon have to begin planning for divorces.

But when you get divorced, who should you hire to represent you? One publication has compiled its list of the 10 divorce lawyers you don’t want across the table from you….

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What better way to do it than with my wand? This is the best part of my day.

– Judge Cynthia Giuliani of the Clark County, Nevada Family Court, explaining why she decided to put her gavel aside on Halloween as she finalizes adoptions — because she thinks that “what adoption does for children actually is sort-of magical.”

For the past few years, members of the mass media have been continuously harping on how difficult it is for law school graduates to secure jobs after graduation. After all, only a little more than half of the class of 2012 managed to find jobs as lawyers, and the class of 2011 didn’t fare much better.

Joblessness can have real life consequences other than the inability to repay law school debts owed to the government or private lenders, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not just graduates of lower ranked schools that have faced significant hurdles in the job market.

Today, we bring you the story of a young mother, a 2011 Ivy League law school graduate, who just lost custody of her son because she moved to another state to take the only job she was able to find. We’re afraid that this is the “new normal” for law school graduates…

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