What a Family Law Paralegal Really Does

Family law offices are fast-paced work environments, with constant deadlines and emotionally distraught clients. From initial intake to final hearing, a family law paralegal has many responsibilities. Petition preparation, discovery, motion practice, client communication, witness location, and investigation are all a part of the daily life of a family law paralegal.

Family Law Paralegal

What a Family Law Paralegal Really Does

Client Intake

Client intake starts with answering the phone, talking to potential clients, answering questions, gathering the basic information, and scheduling a consultation with the attorney. Once the client has met with the attorney and decided to hire the firm, it is the paralegal’s job to open a file for the client, provide them with the attorney’s fee agreement and welcome or engagement letter, collect documents and evidence from them, and explain what will happen next. A family law paralegal is commonly also responsible for collecting retainers and entering new client’s into the company’s accounting and/or billing system.

Petition Preparation and Motion Practice

Once a client has hired the attorney, a family law paralegal calendars any hearings that have been scheduled, prepares the initial pleadings and/or responses, and files everything with the Court. Because family law cases often involve serious issues, such as child custody and support, many cases require preparation and filing of various additional motions and responsive pleadings, for which a family law paralegal is responsible. This could mean preparing debt and asset lists, witness affidavits, child support worksheets, and/or responsive pleadings. Oftentimes the paralegal in a family law office is the person responsible for ensuring that everything gets filed with the Court in a timely manner. That could mean preparing a cover letter to the Clerk and mailing pleadings to the appropriate Court for filing in person at the Clerk’s office.

Client Communication

The majority of a family law paralegal’s day is spent communicating with clients. Many times, paralegals working in family law offices communicate with clients on a weekly or daily basis throughout the duration of their case. Due to the nature of the practice, the firm’s clients may be emotional and distraught; therefore, it is important that a family law paralegal have the people skills required to work with clients who are anxious and distressed.  Issues commonly causing distress and dispute among family law clients include:

1. Child support. Both parents can become quite upset about the payment of child support; either they believe it is too much (the parent paying it) or too little (the parent receiving it) or could be angry because it never arrives on time or has stopped at all. It can be difficult to communicate with a client if he or she is on the losing side of the dispute. Particularly when they do not understand why they lost, or the attorney believes they will.

2. Child custody.  No one in the middle of a custody is happy about the situation, and talking to anyone from the attorneys office can remind them of the circumstances and bring up feelings of anger and resentment towards the other parent.

3. Violation of Court orders. In family law, many orders are issued governing the parties and their behavior. Child support, visitation, payment of school fees or medical bills, division of property, etc. The parties are generally going through a legal battle and are emotional. They may violate orders or become very angry when the other party does.

4. Division of assets. Assets are right behind the children in the cause of dispute between the parties involved in family law cases. Not getting all of the personal belongings one wanted can be upsetting and divorcing couples can sometimes fight about assets for months.

Discovery and Investigation

Child custody and support can sometimes require investigation into both party’s income, expenses, assets, habits, and lifestyles. Gathering all of the facts and required information, lining up witnesses, conducting discovery, and preparing appropriate pleadings and correspondence is a task that falls to the paralegal in a family law office. Discovery may involve taking a basic form and set of questions and adding additional questions based on the particular facts of the case, typing in your own client’s answers to discovery questions asked by opposing counsel, and/or collecting, organizing, and delivering documents requested in a request for production. Gathering the facts and lining up witnesses means conducting witness interviews, sending requests for production, and issuing subpoenas.

Filing and Organizing

Family law practices can generate a large amount of paperwork. Pleadings, discovery requests, docket sheets, income tax returns, medical bills, debt and asset lists and appraisals, and client correspondence must all be filed and kept in an organized way that allows the attorney and staff members to locate needed information quickly. It is a family law paralegal’s job to keep track of all of the documents coming into the office and to keep client files organized and up to date with the latest information. Many offices keep a ‘to be filed’ tray where all documents needing filed in a particular client’s file are placed throughout the day. It is the paralegals job to regularly go through the tray and make sure that each document finds its way to the appropriate file. Misfiling or misplacing just one document can cause a client to lose the case.

Administrative Tasks

Because family law attorneys spend a great deal of time in Court, various administrative tasks, such as shopping for office supplies, collecting the attorney’s mail from the Courthouse, and going to the post office are the responsibility of a family law paralegal. Other chores such as billing, cleaning out and closing old client files, and reading court docket or case summary sheets are also generally assigned to a family law paralegal. Communicating with other professionals such as accountants, financial officers, bank personnel, doctors and healthcare providers on behalf of clients is also a large part of the family law paralegal job description.

Research and Writing

As with any other areas of the law, family law paralegals are assigned tasks based on their skills and experience. As more experienced is gained, more legally substantial work will be assigned. Conducting legal research, writing briefs and memorandum, and assisting in Court are tasks commonly performed by family law paralegals with several years experience. Experienced family law paralegals are oftentimes in charge of managing the office and other employees, keeping track of expenses and income for tax purposes, and coordinating hearings, client meetings, and depositions as well.

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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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