Full Time Practice

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Family Fun with Law

Does your family have any idea what you do in your legal practice? If not, invite them in. It's always fun for them to visit your office or watch you in the courtroom. However, what I'm talking about here is getting them involved in a more personal way. Let me share a couple of things we have tried in our family.

At one point our son, about 8 years old, told us he had not eaten several candy bars that were now missing. He said this with chocolate smeared on his face and the candy wrappers on the floor of his bedroom. We mentioned those facts to him, but he still insisted he had not eaten the candy bars. My husband, who is a judge, asked him if he would like to have a trial. Our son responded with a loud yes.

We allowed him to pick his own defense attorney (a sister). We used other family members as a prosecutor, judge, and jurors. After a lengthy trial of about 10 minutes, he was found guilty. We had a leftover piece of pool fencing that we used to put him "behind bars" for his crime. He was sentenced to 5 minutes.

This mock trial was funny, and it gave our children a feel for what is involved in a trial: fact finding, arguing before a judge, etc.

Other times we have helped our children enter into contracts. For example, our oldest daughter decided she wanted to charge our youngest daughter a fee every time she slept in her bedroom. For some strange reason our youngest daughter agreed to this arrangement (probably because she was afraid of the dark). In order to make sure everyone was clear on the commitments of both parties, we helped them draw up a contract which they both signed. Then later when they disagreed about the arrangement, all we had to do was bring out the signed contract.

Once again, this little experience with contracts helped them understand what their parents did and helped prepare them for future contract negotiations.

Have you had any enlightening family legal experiences you'd like to share? I am sure many of us would love to read them, smile over them, and maybe try them in our own families. Please share!

--Nan Barker, vice-chair of the international JRCLS Women in the Law Committee, has served as chair of the Phoenix WIL section. She is the recipient of the Phoenix chapter's Jesse Udall Award for 2010 for outstanding community service.


  1. Nan, your stories did make me smile. Here's one of mine. Years ago, when my oldest daughter was about 5, the incessant fighting with her 3-year-old sister over various toys was getting unbearable. I decided to teach my 5-year-old the art of NEGOTIATION (i.e., how to use words instead of force to get what you want in life). She was very interested in the training, and apparently took it to heart, as I would soon see. A few days later, we were celebrating her little sister's birthday, and little sister received a coloring book that older sister very much wanted (that's actually not saying much, because they always want what the other has, regardless). Dreading a grabbing, pulling, screeching, and crying match, I was pleasantly surprised to see the two of them go quietly into their room and come out about 10 minutes later with big smiles on their faces. Younger sister held a tattered, old coloring book with every page already colored, and older sister had taken possession of the brand new birthday coloring book. When I asked what happened, older sister explained that she had NEGOTIATED with younger sister, explaining to her that the old coloring book was actually better because of all the beautiful coloring on the pages. I really couldn't even be upset by the whole thing: (1) because they were both so pleased and (2) because older sister has some crazy good negotiation skills.

  2. Eileen Doyle CraneMay 23, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    Great ideas, Nan! I never even thought of doing that, although I was at the University of Chicago last month and held a mock-law class with my two little granddaughters and they were great! Could discuss rules and consequences very easily. Very concerned about justice!

  3. I loved the article Nan. It was fun, but conveyed an important idea as well. We never had a trial in our household (but what a good idea), but I did prohibit contracts of adhesion between older and younger siblings and set a minimum age for a contract to be binding within the household. I rescinded at least one contract between two of my children that violated both rules and required restitution by the older sibling. That being said, I never even thought about these rules as a way of using my legal training. Thanks for that thought.

  4. What a fun post! Thank you, Nan.