10 Most Common Tasks of a Family Law Paralegal

Family law is one of the most popular areas of the law for paralegals to practice, but what exactly does a family law paralegal do? Below is a description of the 10 most common tasks of a family law paralegal.

Family Law Paralegal

10 Most Common Tasks of a Family Law Paralegal

1. Answering the phones. This is the most common task for many law office paralegals. Clients, potential clients, Courts, and opposing counsel call all day and it is a paralegals responsibility to take the calls and route them as needed. Most of the time, the attorney will not be available immediately for phone calls, so learning to take good phone messages is essential when working as a family law paralegal. Each message should include the caller’s name, phone number, and a complete message that makes sense. Do not be tempted to believe that if you do not understand what the caller is wanting, the attorney will. Ask questions and make sure you know exactly what the caller said, and what he or she wants the attorney to do.

2. Scheduling appointments and hearings. A family law attorney is generally very busy, with many hearings on the calendar and appointments taking up most of the rest of his or her time, so managing the calendar can be much more difficult than it sounds. The attorney will need to have free time so that he or she can work on client files, and return and make phone calls. Hearings may also be cancelled or rescheduled frequently, and sometimes will pop up at times when new clients are already scheduled to meet with the attorney. This requires either moving the hearing, or rescheduling all of the potential clients. Making sure that all hearings, trials, and appointments are on the calendar, and in the correct place can be difficult, and requires some proactive thinking. Planning a time at the beginning of the week to review the hearings, depositions, and client meetings on the calendar, and double checking that all are still on and have not been rescheduled can be very helpful. You may also want to mail out hearing notices to clients with hearings the following week. Proactively managing the calendar will keep the office running smoothly and your boss in the right place at the right time.

3. Corresponding with clients. Much of a family law paralegals time is spent corresponding with clients by phone, email, and in person. Many family law clients are going through a very difficult time in their lives, and will count on their paralegal to not only keep them updated and involved in their case, but to listen to them and hold their hand through it all. People skills and the ability to emphasize with clients are very important traits for a family law paralegal to posses. It is also helpful to know how to gently extract yourself from a conversation, as there will be some clients who use their paralegal as a counselor, making it difficult to end the conversation and get back to work.

4. Preparing standard pleadings. Divorces, adoptions, custody and support modifications, guardianships, and many of the other types of cases that family law attorneys handle begin with a standard set of pleadings that a paralegal prepares as soon as the client hires the attorney. These pleadings are generally forms that require only basic information, but it is important to pay attention to the details, as both paralegals and attorneys sometimes accidentally leave in other client’s information and that can make things complicated, or at the very least, embarrassing when the client notices.

Test your ability to notice the details by reviewing the following two standard pleadings to see if you can spot the difference. Which pleading is correct?

Decree of Dissolution of Marriage 1   | Decree of Dissolution of Marriage 2

5. Organizing and maintaining client files. After a few weeks of stuffing documents into a client’s file, it tends to become disorganized, and may begin to take up too much space. Pulling files in order to weed out duplicate documents, organize it for the attorney, and make sure everything that belongs in it is there is a common task that a family law paralegal must do before each hearing or client meeting.

6. Filing. Family law practices generate and receive lots of paperwork, and it all needs to be filed somewhere. Family law paralegals can expect to spend time everyday filing, and if the office is disorganized at all, it may be quite a bit of time. Locating the file that a particular document goes in can be time consuming when the lawyer and even just one paralegal have files on their desks, and/or stacked around their desks.

7. Reviewing and drafting correspondence from/to other attorneys. Lawyers who practice family law are constantly writing to one another, attempting to negotiate a settlement for their client. Reviewing the incoming correspondence and preparing responses is a task regularly performed by a family law paralegal.

8. Client intake. Client intake may be performed by family law paralegals when the attorney is unavailable or as part of a client’s first meeting with the attorney. During client intake, potential clients are asked to fill out a form, providing basic contact and personal information and a limited amount of information about their particular case. They then meet with a paralegal, attorney, or both, to discuss their case. The goal of client intake is to collect enough information from the client that the attorney can determine if he or she wants to accept the case, and what needs to be done first should they accept it.

9. Assisting clients with discovery requests. Many clients need help collecting the documents required by requests for production, as well as with formulating answers for interrogatories. As a family law paralegal, it is your job to assist, and then to assemble the discovery and provide it to opposing counsel. This may mean calling banks, companies, and government offices to determine where a document is located and how to get a copy of is for interrogatories. As a family law paralegal, it is your job to assist, and then to assemble the discovery and provide it to opposing counsel. This may mean calling banks, companies, and government offices to determine where a document is located and how to get a copy of it, typing interrogatory answers, or making copies of documents and indexing them to send to opposing counsel.

10. Keeping the attorney up to date and on task. This is a task common to many paralegals, not just those practicing family law. Because a paralegal answers the phones and greets clients as they come in, it is the paralegal who receives case updates and new information about cases first. In a family law office, there can be many updates a day, and it is important to keep the attorney informed when any new information is received or important events occur. Family law paralegals must also keep track of many deadlines and hearings and make sure the attorney is working on the most important tasks first. Having various inboxes and places to put files can help. That way the attorney knows which stacks of files to work on first, and which ones can wait.

About Shelley Riseden

Shelley M. Riseden is a freelance paralegal providing research, document preparation, and writing services to both attorneys and non-attorneys. She is an expert at conducting legal research and has a natural ability to grasp complex legal issues.Phone: 765.667.5139, E-mail: smriseden@earthlink.net or shelley@virtuallylegal.net, Skype: shelley.riseden, Yahoo: Virtually_Legal

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