updated on 17 May 2022
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What does a family paralegal do?
As a family law paralegal, you will be one of the first points of face-to face-contact with the firm for clients seeking help and advice regarding family law issues. Such issues may include:
Your role will involve taking detailed instructions, dealing with preliminary issues and assisting fee earners with complex cases and billing.
Current paralegal opportunities can be found on the LawCareers.Net Jobs page.
Typical paralegal tasks
You will spend much of your time as a paralegal completing forms. Most family law forms can be found on Practical Law Company on the Thomson Reuters website.
Suppose a partner or associate (also referred to as a fee earner) instructs you to complete a Form H (an estimate of costs) or a H1 (a statement of costs for a final hearing). While doing this you should also prepare a spreadsheet of your workings for them to review.
You may be provided with a precedent when you are first asked to do this (but don’t bank on it!), but otherwise you can have a look under similar matters to see the workings of trainees or other paralegals in the firm. Feel free to reach out to these individuals for further guidance if you’re still stuck. It’s always good to have a precedent to work from – if you don’t have this then having a chat with someone that has done this before will be useful.
If you’re searching for a paralegal role, read this LCN Blog: ‘Six ways to find a paralegal role’.
You may be asked to acquire property particulars to demonstrate what a client or the other side’s housing budget should be. If you’re asked to do this, the fee earner will ask you to search for several properties in a certain area, with X many bedrooms and/or a garden, etc.
You will then need to search for appropriate properties on property search websites, such as Zoopla, PrimeLocation or Rightmove. Once you’ve found a suitable property, you can print the webpage to a pdf form. If there’s an estate agent brochure available, download it and save it into the client’s file.
Another paralegal task is being asked to put a schedule of these properties and a corresponding map with the properties pinned, and then create a bundle with these properties’ particulars. The firm I worked at used Bundledocs, but different firms use different document management systems, so make sure you’re familiar with using the document system first. If you’re not familiar with a software or system (trust me, you’re not the only one!), you can ask the IT department to show you, or they might already have process notes on how to do this on the firm’s intranet. When in doubt, ask. As Albert Einstein once said: “The smartest people on the planet are often the ones who ask the most questions”.
When you have been shown how to do something once, make sure to make thorough notes (you’ll be surprised how quickly you forget things). If it’s quite technical or you’re a visual or auditory learner, you can record how to do it and save it on your phone in a specific folder.
Interested in being a family paralegal or solicitor? Read this solicitor’s practice area profile on family/matrimonial law.
Another task you might be asked to do is sending out procedure letters at the outset of any matter with a new client. This task requires you to set out the process from start to finish where the client can see what they are getting involved in. Procedure letters are usually split into divorce, finances and children as they are three different litigation routes. Alternatively, you may be asked to send out a generic procedure fact sheet for divorce.
Chasing the court over the phone
You wouldn’t have guessed it, but paralegals spend a lot of time chasing the court over the phone to get an update on their client’s case. As a family paralegal, you might have the Bury St Edmunds Regional Divorce Centre on speed dial.
During the pandemic, most courts experienced a significant backlog, which can be frustrating because you’re kept on hold for a long time. But you have to persevere because an associate or partner is waiting on an update and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to disappoint them!
When phoning from a law firm, you’ll be subject to some questions at the start, such as the name of your client, name of other side, first line of the address of the petitioner, postcode of the petitioner, ground for divorce, and date of the marriage.
You might also be asked for your firm’s address and postcode, so it’s a good idea to have this written down on a post-it note, so you’re not fumbling around on Google.
After the phone call, you’ll need to make an attendance note of that call, which includes:
Some departments prefer their attendance notes to be as verbatim as possible and so it might be useful to write your attendance notes like scripts.
After you’ve written your attendance note, you’ll then need to time record your time on the phone and the time spent writing the attendance note.
To discover the ins and outs of time recording, read this LCN Says: ‘Time recording: the ultimate guide’.
Throughout this LCN Says, you will notice that I’ve highlighted the importance of asking and having a precedent before attempting to do a task. As this is key to completing a task to the best of your ability, it makes sense to see gathering precedents as part of your duties as a paralegal.
Suppose you haven’t done a task before it’s important to ask for a precedent. In that case, it’s normal to feel anxious voicing to a partner or associate that you need a precedent or some guidance on how to do a particular task. Still, I’ve found it’s always better to ask, rather than trying to tackle it on your own and making a mess of it.
This is non-chargeable work where one party has to pass a file to a (former) client or their new solicitors. If you’re asked to do this, you may wish to scan in all the file and compile on Bundledocs or go through it physically and remove anything that needs to be removed. Anything internal should be removed, and (it sounds obvious) but also anything embarrassing that you would not want the client to read of course. You can also remove repeats where several copies of the same letter, for example, have made their way onto the file.
It’s also vital to remove references to other clients or work on other matters, for confidential reasons. This happens most often in the correspondence files where there’s an email with a barrister who is acting with that fee earner on two concurrent matters and happens to mention both in one email. When the matter is going to another set of lawyers, you might be instructed to also remove the invoices and any references to your firm’s fees eg, cost updates, billing guides, etc.
You can read more about time recording via LCN Blogs: ‘What they don’t teach you in law school – time recording’ and ‘Time recording – time well spent’.
Christianah Babajide (she/her) previously worked as a paralegal at Payne Hicks Beach and is the content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.