In a few short months, it will be twelve years since I was asked to write my first draft of a demand letter in a family law case. It was my first major assignment as a law clerk in a family law firm in my new home of Phoenix, Arizona. I had been given some basic instructions and background of the case. I wrote the letter, read it, made a few edits, and sent the final draft to my new boss. I remember she called me soon after I sent her the email, and my heart stopped a little bit. I worried, “Was it that bad?” When I answered the phone on my desk in my makeshift corner office (it was a desk in a corner), I was not reprimanded. I was praised. What I did not know at the time I had been hired was that my boss had not been looking for a law clerk with no family law experience when I called her out of the blue looking for a job. What she really needed was a paralegal or legal assistant. She assured me in that call that she was glad she had listened to her gut and hired me. She seemed certain I was supposed to be there, and suddenly I did too.
In the decade since I have had moments of doubt about my chosen profession. The cases are hard, the emotions are high, and the process can be maddening. Despite a couple of half-hearted detours from family law, I have been drawn back each time, always more committed than before to making my practice fit me, and not the other way around. With each case, I have learned more about myself as an attorney, and about the practice of family law.
I’m committed. My clients matter to me. When I disagree with a client or vocalize concern, it is out of an abiding commitment to advocating my client’s best interests. I do not represent large businesses or entities. I represent people who are in emotional purgatory. I represent people desperate to end toxic relationships, reunite with children, assert independence, ensure their financial future, or simply hit the reset button and move on. I take this commitment seriously.
I litigate with integrity. “What goes around, comes around.” The saying is trite, but it rings true. Several years into my practice I adopted a mantra: No single case is worth my reputation. When faced with ethical dilemmas and challenges, it is this mantra I recall subconsciously. I find tremendous power in truth and transparency. I’m honest with clients, with opposing parties and attorneys, and with my staff. I am direct. I have found this to be the most effective way to litigate.
I know enough to know I do not know everything. Family law does not work best for parties unless it is collaborative. Over the years, I have created a fantasy league team of family law professionals, with specialized expertise on everything from dividing up stock options to reuniting alienated parents with estranged children. One of the most frequent mistakes I see new attorneys make (self-included) is presuming he or she can fly solo without fostering any collaborative relationships. It is a mistake I strive not to make, regardless of how long I have practiced.
I want more. I always want more. I want more peace in family law cases. I want more opportunities to help more families. I want some of my clients to want happiness for themselves as much as I want it for them. I want family law to be respected for the complex practice of law it is.
As I ready myself to embark on my tenth year of private practice and the twelfth year since I started in family law, I realize what I want is to practice law my way. I want to volunteer more, I want to serve on the bench more as a judge pro tem. I want to settle more cases that should be settled, and I want to try the cases that merit the financial and emotional investment. I want to write and teach. I want to explore ways that I can educate more people about family law.
It occurred to me that while I can do much of that working for a great firm, I can only do all of this working at my own firm. I am excited about this opportunity to create and grow a firm that represents my deep respect for my clients and the family court. My colleagues are among the smartest, kindest people I have every met. Family law attorneys are mediators, litigators, writers and public speakers. They are therapists and counsellors. They are contract attorneys who understand estate and probate, domestic violence, and real estate transactions. The Rahaman Law Firm is my attempt to create something that works better for my clients and for me. I’m thrilled at the opportunity.