Our clients are our first priority. For years, we have heard the charge to “zealously” represent our clients. Our Rules of Professional Conduct require us to “act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client,” We are to “pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer” and “take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor.” While we can debate endlessly the meaning of what “lawful and ethical” measures we can employ in representing our clients, the role we play as family lawyers deserves additional consideration.
The Preamble to our Rules of Professional Conduct notes that a “lawyer is a representative of clients or a neutral third party, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice”. It also notes that we each perform various functions as advisor, advocate, negotiator, intermediary, third party neutral, and evaluator.
While our Rules of Professional Conduct do not give specific direction to family lawyers on how we should act as it relates to children, we understand that children are the ones most affected by the end result of our clients’ matters. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a national organization “promoting professionalism and excellence in the practice of family law,” notes in its “Bounds of Advocacy” that most ethical goals are addressed to all lawyers, regardless of the nature of their practice, and, consequently, issues relevant to a specific area of practice cannot be dealt with in detail. Despite its lofty aspirations, that is true with respect to Virginia’s Rules of Professional Conduct. As a starting point, the Academy provides that “an attorney representing a parent should consider the welfare of, and seek to minimize the adverse impact of the divorce on, the minor children”. While not binding on all family law practitioners in Virginia, it is certainly a laudable (and common sense) aspiration.
The Family Law Section has long sought to provide tools for family law practitioners to address the unique issues raised in their cases related to children, including publications such as “Children and Divorce” and the video “Spare the Child,” both of which are available on the State Bar’s website. This Section will continue to provide this type of information to its members to assist them in representing the families of Virginia.
I hope all of you have a happy holiday season and look forward to continuing to work with the Board of Governors in the New Year.
Charles E. Powers, Chair
Family Law Section