Family Law through the Generations

Family Law through the Generations

On February 16, 2005, the Committee on Law Student Perspectives hosted an event at the City Bar where five panelists discussed family law as it relates to every generation. Moderator Andrew Schepard, Professor at Hofstra University School of Law, introduced the distinguished panelists: Mark Leider, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Children, Inc.; Eve Stotland, Senior Staff Attorney at The Door; Harold A. Mayerson, Mayerson Stutman LLP; and Alfreida B. Kenney, a solo practitioner who focuses on Elder Law.


Some panelists noted that although Family Law classes benefit law students interested in pursuing a career in family law, those students should also consider taking a broader range of classes because family law practice often involves skills derived from many different disciplines, such as psychology, procedural law, and economics. Some panelists also believed that first-hand experience, either through clinical programs or volunteer work, is important because it teaches prospective family law lawyers to be comfortable, sensitive and appropriate with their clients. It may also be advantageous for law students to set up informational interviews with prospective employers far in advance of their job search. Informational interviews would give the law student a chance to learn more about diverse organizations in a low-pressure environment. Informational interviews would also allow employers to get to know the law student, whom they may later contact if a job ultimately becomes available.


Children/ Adolescents: Family Treatment Courts and Problem Solving Courts are gaining popularity. These courts take a more holistic approach than traditional courts by focusing more on the family unit and on mediating the family through their problems. One common problem, recently recognized, is that youth are aging out of foster care (in New York, they are removed at 21; in most other states, at 18). Research shows that many kids are not ready to live alone by that age, so there are several organizations seeking to assist them. Another recent problem is the growing population of unaccompanied alien minors, who may be smuggled or trafficked into the country alone. The government is currently trying to better protect those children.

Matrimonial: New York is the only state that has not yet adopted No Fault Divorce. This means that in order to divorce, one spouse must plead and prove specific grounds for divorce, describing the fault of the other spouse. Many organizations are trying to get this issue in front of the legislature to remove that requirement because it adds unnecessary hostility to divorce proceedings.

Elder: When a person can no longer manage his affairs, that person may appoint an “Attorney-in-Fact,” with a Power of Attorney, to act on his behalf. Unfortunately, there can be abuse of the power of attorney privilege, causing many problems for the family. Thus, there are often disputes among family members when the time comes to create a power of attorney.

Mediation: Most of the panelists felt that mediation has been an under-utilized tool that could benefit many families. The adversarial process involved in litigation does not promote peace in family relationships. Unfortunately, New York does not have a very well developed mediation program in family law. The panelists suggested that interested law students get traditional legal experience before attempting mediation, because in mediation, it is extremely important to be knowledgeable about the governing laws. It may also be a good idea to build a strong client base through traditional practice before getting involved in mediation.

The Committee on Law Student Perspectives would like to thank these distinguished speakers whose expertise and insight added greatly to our knowledge of family law.

1 At the time of publication, Samantha Martin, a student member of the Committee on Law Student Perspectives, is a second year student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. .

Samantha Martin 1