A family law legal assistant is responsible for supporting the work of a family law attorney and plays an integral role in the functionality of the domestic law practice. Family law is comprised of pleadings and motion practice and is considered one of the most emotional areas of the law. The legal assistant works closely with the attorney to ensure documents are filed on time as well as with clients who have questions or concerns about the timeline of their case. In addition to assisting with the law practice, legal assistants perform clerical and secretarial duties as needed to keep the firm running smoothly.
The family law legal assistant must be well-versed in the styling and format requirements of the local court in which the attorney practices. While the attorney is responsible for setting forth any legal arguments and conclusions in pleadings, the legal assistant may be asked to fill in factual information or the procedural history of a particular case. Once a pleading or motion is complete, the paralegal must file the document either through the mail, in person or via e-filing, which is available in a growing number of jurisdictions. The legal assistant also completes domestic relations forms including child support worksheets, financial affidavits, discovery requests, protective orders, proposed parenting plans, petitions for name change or deeds.
Communication With Clients
Throughout the duration of a domestic relations case, whether it is a divorce, custody dispute, paternity inquiry or child support matter, the client will be in constant contact with the law firm about the status of the case. The legal assistant is often tasked with fielding phone calls and emails from clients and providing updates about the next step in the process. Many law firms rely upon legal assistants to meet with clients at the outset to determine if the case is appropriate for the firm and the assistant must gather all relevant intake information during the initial contact. In the event the attorney needs information from the client during the discovery process, the legal assistant must send discovery requests and help clients understand the nature of the requests.
Communication with Court Staff and Opposing Counsel
During domestic litigation, the legal assistant may be in contact with the court staff and opposing counsel in order to keep the case moving forward. Opposing counsel may contact the law office to arrange for a settlement negotiation or to make discovery requests. The court staff may contact the paralegal in order to arrange for a pretrial conference, set a trial date or inquire as to the status of the case. In the event a family law case involves a state child welfare agent or social worker, the legal assistant must be prepared to communicate with these individuals throughout the proceeding.
Clerical and Secretarial Duties
In addition to their direct work on a legal case, a family law legal assistant may also be called upon to perform clerical or secretarial duties for the attorney. These tasks may include making copies, sending letters to opposing parties or editing pleadings for grammar and formatting. The legal assistant may perform other duties as needed around the law office including answering phones, helping with office management or preparing bills for clients.
Stephanie Reid has been writing professionally since 2007, with work published in the Virginia Bar Association's "Family Law Quarterly" and the "Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy." She received her Juris Doctor from Regent University and her Bachelor of Arts in French and child development from Florida State University. Reid is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Maryland.