When I became a lawyer 12 years ago, I thought I'd do a combination of real estate and family law, taking cases for a diverse range of clients. The first case I ever handled was a straightforward, mediated divorce. I was hired to come in and deal with paperwork and help the couple divide up the equity in the house. Right from the beginning, I found myself drawn to the male's side. And before long, my partner and I decided to focus our practice exclusively on men's family law.
It's rare to focus a law firm on a single gender, and the decision has limited my client base. But specializing has helped me make a name for myself in a crowded field.
I handle a wide range of family law cases for my clients: everything from divorces to child custody cases to paternity tests. When I started out as a gender-neutral practice, I noticed a real difference between my meetings with male and female clients.
With female clients, I would explain the legal side, but I also found myself getting emotionally involved and holding their hands throughout the process. Meetings would often drag on for hours because I spent so much time discussing their problems with them.
In contrast, I can be much more direct and blunt with male clients. Meetings typically last just 45 minutes, and are focused on legal tactics instead of emotions. That's how I prefer to work.
Many lawyers feed into their clients' emotional states to generate more billable hours -- they'll say, "Call me when you're upset or any time you have a question." But I don't want to act as my clients' therapist. Lawyers are trained to be lawyers. Our job is to come in and get results, not to say, "It's so terrible that he did that."
I also wanted to help men because I find that they often get the short end of the straw in legal battles. Women are usually better communicators, so they're more likely to discuss divorces or custody battles with their friends. But when guys get together with friends, we're more likely to talk about sports than child custody issues. Since men rarely have the benefit of learning lessons from others' legal battles, this puts them at a disadvantage when they need to go to court.
How it helps me
Maintaining a specialized focus has helped me build a name for myself in this area. When I meet people and tell them, "I deal with divorces and child custody for men," it sets an image in their head. They'll often recommend me to friends who are dealing with these issues. But if I didn't specialize I'd just be another lawyer.
I've also built up my name in this niche by writing books, blogs and newspaper columns. My marketing approach helps me get referrals from the types of clients that I'm good at dealing with. I don't want to serve everyone and be the McDonald's of law firms; I want to deal with the issues I know I'm well-equipped to handle.
By specializing in men's rights, I've become familiar with the laws that affect them, and I'm better able to represent my clients. For instance, we see a number of cases where a man has been falsely accused of domestic violence. When you're dealing with a lie, it can be one of the hardest things to fight. But I'm familiar with cases like that, and I've become skilled at poking holes in the accuser's flawed evidence.
Because I deal with a limited subject area, I don't need to spend countless hours researching each case, so I can be efficient with my work. This allows me to remain cost-effective, which in turn attracts more clients. If I were trying to cover all the fields that most lawyers tend to deal with, I'd be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.
We don't need to be huge
I know I don't get as many cases as more generalized law firms, but I'm okay with that. My partner and I have 100 clients on the books on any given day, and last year, we made just over $300,000 in revenues. We're hoping to grow in the coming years and bring on a couple of associates. I never want to run a huge firm, though. Specializing in a focused niche and keeping a lower client load helps us achieve balance in our own lives.
I don't want to eat, sleep, and breathe my client cases. I want the ability to enjoy my life. When you get stressed out, that transfers to the clients -- and they have enough on their plates.
David T. Pisarra has written about men's family law for publications including Divorce360, SingleDad.com and the Santa Monica Daily Press. He has three books, "A Man's Guide to Divorce Strategy," "A Man's Guide to Domestic Violence," and "A Man's Guide to Child Custody."
-- As told to Kathryn Hawkins