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.
Duties of a Family Law Paralegal
In the past, paralegals may have been more similar to office secretaries . However, things have changed these days, so much so that today’s paralegals are more than just paralegals – except of course they are prohibited to carry out certain tasks that are exclusive to lawyers, such as giving legal advice or representing their clients in court.
As a family law paralegal, you may be focusing your career on dealing with matters that have something to do with family law. Needless to say, throughout your career as a paralegal with a chosen specialization you will be under the employ of a lawyer, law firm or governmental agency that is involved with family law.
Some of the most noteworthy duties that a family law paralegal might carry out could include:
- Interacting with clients: Most of the time, a lawyer delegates the task of obtaining pertinent information from clients to a paralegal. Once you are already a family law paralegal, you can expect to be engaged in a lot of interviewing and also updating about the progress of the case.
- Investigations: It’s also one of your duties as a family law paralegal to conduct investigations. Lifestyles, salaries, previous lawsuits received are some of the things that you will usually look into.
- Writing legal documents: Just like any other type of paralegal out there, a family law paralegal also has to create drafts of very important documents. Once approved by the family law lawyer that he or she is working for, the paralegal is also usually the one who creates the final documents, as well as organizing them.
- Assisting before the trial: In addition, it is the duty of a family law paralegal to assist the lawyer in preparing for the court battle that is about to take place.
There are so many other tasks that a family law paralegal carries out on a day-to-day basis at the workplace. The kind of work as well as the amount of work he or she has to do is impacted by certain factors, like the size of the law firm or governmental agency, and also how in-demand the family law lawyer he or she is assisting.
Becoming a Family Law Paralegal
Many years ago, just about anyone who wishes to become a paralegal may apply where the employer is not that strict when it comes to a person’s educational background or work experience.
However, these days most lawyers, law firms or governmental agencies require paralegal applicants to have successfully completed paralegal programs that prepare them for their careers. So if you are looking to become a family law paralegal for a prestigious employer, then make sure that you have finished the necessary program.
Whether you are intending to specialize in family law or any other field of the law, you will first have to sign up for a paralegal program just like any other paralegal wannabe. However, the program will also include special or additional subjects that will arm you with the knowledge and skill set intended for a paralegal specializing in family law.
These days, there are so many learning institutions that are offering all sorts of paralegal programs. In fact, it is also very much possible for you to complete a paralegal program electronically — with the use of an internet.
Requirements for becoming a paralegal student can vary from school to school or program to program. You see, there are various types of paralegal programs available nowadays. One example is associate degree in paralegal that usually takes a couple of years to complete.
There is also a paralegal program that’s perfect for someone who already has a bachelor’s degree from another college or university. Certification programs are available, too, and they usually are the quickest to obtain.
When choosing a paralegal program to go for, consider certain factors such as your educational background, available time and amount of money you can spend for training. Then the amount of money you wish to receive monthly for being a family law paralegal is also a consideration when choosing a program to sign up for.
A Family Law Paralegal’s Salary
Speaking of money, the current edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median national yearly salary of a family law paralegal in the United States is $49,500.
However, salary received by a family law paralegal working in the US or elsewhere on the planet can vary, depending on certain factors. One of these factors is the work experience of the paralegal. If you are employed by a prominent law firm, then you can expect to receive a higher salary than a paralegal who is working at a less prestigious one.
*The information provided in this article should not be considered legal advice that can only come from a qualified attorney. Paralegals may not provide legal advice except where permitted by law.