The majority of my practice involves serving as a Guardian ad Litem for children in custody and visitation cases in the Family Court in Spartanburg, Greenville, and their surrounding counties in South Carolina. There's a quote I read many times since I began to practice several years ago:
Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand. – Bruce Barton (emphasis added)
I truly believe one of the “secrets” to the steady line of business I have been able to enjoy since beginning to practice is the fact that I “developed the opportunity that was at hand” immediately upon being sworn in. That opportunity is the South Carolina's Bar's Guardian ad Litem TrainingCLE, which I now have the privilege of moderating beginning in 2014.
The live version is held in late January or early February each year, but is also recorded and available for credit throughout the year as a distant learning online seminar. The CLE requires a six-hour time investment (on top of the monetary cost), but it qualifies the attorney to serve as a paid Guardian ad Litem in private divorce and custody actions. The materials typically include helpful documents, such as sample pleadings, reports and other documents required for GAL investigations.
Being certified as a GAL can lead to being appointed to serve in private (a.k.a. paid) GAL cases. However, the benefits extend far beyond just the monetary compensation. Here are just a few ways GAL work benefits your new practice:
- GAL work requires you to work with (at least) two attorneys at once, though not necessarily in an adversarial capacity. This is great for forming connections within the legal community and allowing established attorneys to get to know you and the quality of your work and your judgment, without the added pressure of advocating entirely opposite positions.
- As a GAL, there will sometimes be several different types of hearings that you will be required to attend on behalf of the children you represent. You gain a front row seat to observing experienced attorneys argue their clients' positions on fact patterns that will likely appear in your own practice at some point. You should take the opportunity to learn everything you can.
- If you're like me, working with children is, more often than not, the best work I can do in my practice. If you commit to doing your job as GAL well, the parents of the children will usually recognize your efforts and equally appreciate them, even if they agree on little else involved with their case. They say that a happy client is the best marketing an attorney can hope for, and when you apply this rule to your GAL work, with two appreciative parents, you've just doubled your positive word-of-mouth marketing with one case.
- Equally true, if two clients are happy with your services, you probably have a decent chance that their attorneys are also pleased with your service and abilities. Thus, two new professional referral sources are born. These attorneys may refer to you actual litigation clients or may add you to their preferred GAL lists and request your appointment on their future cases. The point is your name and reputation is taking root without spending the first dollar of your “marketing” budget.
This list certainly isn't exhaustive and I would suspect that others have found a number of positive benefits that I've yet to come across myself. Personally, I originally took the training several years ago in the hope that I would one day be lucky enough to be appointed to a GAL case simply because I love the work and I truly feel it is some of the most important work that goes on within the Family Court. The fact that I can actually earn a living doing the work that I love doing is an unexpected and unintended benefit, which I hope other family law attorneys will enjoy as well.