Of the many branches of legal studies from which a professional practicing law can choose, family law is one of the broadest and most widely-used categories within judicial matters. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, family law is defined as “an area of law dealing with family relations including divorce, adoption, paternity, custody, and support.” Professionals represent a variety of clients in this field of law, some of which include:
- Matters pertaining to the end of marriage (divorce, splitting property, etc.)
- Restraining orders and issues of abuse
- Rights of parents and grandparents to children (including child custody and support)
- Adoption of children into a new family
Paralegals in Family Law
As someone who may be interested in entering the study of family law, one may consider the positions available to help people in this area legally. Some options include lawyer/attorney, paralegal, and several others. While lawyers and attorneys work directly with clients to work through the details of each case and research the laws and statutes applicable, paralegals focus primarily on assisting the attorney with daily activities and keeping them organized, thus enabling the attorney to concentrate on the client and the research.
Additionally, paralegals place a high emphasis on ensuring efficient communication between the client and the attorney during cases. It is important to note that financial matters are often involved in family law cases, thus resulting in the need for paralegals to look into the monetary accounts of one or both individuals. Some other responsibilities that fall on a family law paralegal include:
- Creating and maintaining calendars and schedules for the attorney
- Managing client interviews to build information for the case
- General research for legality issues brought about by the case
- Writing documents, statements, motions, and other court communication
- Responding to basic client requests
- Planning the proper paperwork and documentation for court
Finding the Right Fit
The first step in the process of becoming a paralegal in family law is deciding if this branch of legal studies is a good fit for your personal strengths. As a family law paralegal, there are three major assets that one must possess.
Asset #1: Emotional Neutrality
A family law paralegal must have the ability to remain emotionally neutral, since the majority of clients a paralegal works with in this field are involved in some kind of highly emotionally charged environment, whether that be divorce, abuse, or child custody battles. The ability to communicate with a client about what has happened when they are experiencing strong emotions is often difficult for many people, and must be something that someone in this career has learned how to do successfully.
Asset #2: Compassion
Compassion must also be a large part of your job as a family law paralegal, which may seem counterintuitive at times, but makes sense once one realizes that working with clients means communicating well, and communication is far more effective when empathy is present. Since this is a job where both emotional neutrality and empathy are involved, it can be challenging to know at which points to use each strength. A truly effective paralegal must be good at both of these things, and must be able to discern when each is appropriate.
Asset #3: Organization
In addition to the aforementioned qualities that a family law paralegal must have, it is absolutely crucial that the individual is also organized and analytical, as their job requires a lot of day-to-day activities like maintaining schedules, records, and research data for cases.
Steps to Take
Once you have decided that a career as a family law paralegal is the right fit for you, there are several steps to take in order to achieve your goal of becoming a paralegal in this field.
Step #1: Pick a School
Obtaining a degree in paralegal studies is the first step to becoming a family law paralegal. Within the study of law, many schools will offer programs that attempt to prepare you for this type of career, but it is vital to be aware that paralegal programs that have been approved by the American Bar Association, or ABA, are the only programs that are guaranteed to properly equip you to be effective in this job. Based on this information, choose a school that has an ABA-approved paralegal studies program in order to ensure that you are investing in a quality education.
Step #2: Pick a Specialization
Even though the field of family law may seem narrow in what one can do, there are actually several different routes from which to choose in this type of career. A general paralegal studies degree will work as a foundation for success in this career, but it is also wise to select a specific sect of family law in which to specialize. The National Association of Legal Assistants, or NALA, provides the ability to obtain certification in four main areas of family law: adoption and assisted reproduction, dissolution case management, child custody, support, and visitation, and division of property/spousal support.
Step #3: Pick the Courses
The final step in your journey to becoming a family law paralegal is to decide which classes to take in order to enable you to learn the correct knowledge for this career. Depending on which university you choose for your studies, you may have the opportunity to take courses in which you will study laws pertaining to:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Divorce and annulment
- General marriage topics
- Spousal support
- Division of property
- Abuse and neglect
Regardless of which university and subsequent specializations and courses you choose, a career as a family law paralegal can be fulfilling for someone who is passionate about helping others through difficult situations. Legal resolution is often times the beginning of healing in the lives of individuals experiencing family issues, making the job of a family law paralegal one which has the potential to impact others profoundly for the better.