Within the legal community there’s a common belief that the role of paralegal is just a step on the way to becoming a lawyer. But for some of us being a paralegal is enough in itself. Working as a paralegal in legal aid is both challenging and satisfying. Here’s why.
Within a legal aid team, a paralegal provides a huge amount of support. We don’t just deal with admin, a mistaken view still held by some. Instead, we assist the lawyers by taking on a lot of the background work, including liaising with clients and answering their questions. This means that the lawyers can concentrate on the elements of the case and court work that really does require their expertise. After all, there’s much more pressure on legal aid work due to stricter LAA guidelines and the shorter timescales in which a case must be concluded. So we all need to play our part.
For a paralegal in legal aid, helping vulnerable parents through a difficult time is a really important role. Drawing on years of experience can help us provide answers to client questions so they know what’s happening at every stage. We try to make sure clients don’t feel judged and help them access the right support services. But we also have to tell them when there are things they need to change or accept.
We build strong professional relationships with experts. Barristers and guardians quite often come to us first; in fact, we often support the fee earner in cases where we’re instructed by a guardian, such as making sure all the paperwork is provided to the guardian in a timely manner, preparing applications and dealing with the instructions from experts.
Paralegals don’t get stuck in the same routine, there’s no such thing as a typical day. One day you may be at fact finding or final hearings supporting clients, another you’ll be liaising with barristers to provide instructions from clients. Or you could be preparing documents such as final statements at the end of a case you’ve been involved with throughout.
We can get involved in CPD, such as taking courses to better understand different areas of family law such as the care system. And your firm may offer other training. The Family Law Company provides training in deaf awareness, which is really useful as we sometimes have clients who will benefit from this.
Support is there. A good firm will nurture its paralegals, but within the local paralegal community you may also find an unofficial network where we all provide help, advice and support for each other.
The life of a legal aid paralegal can be hard work, it can be emotionally exhausting, but it is certainly never boring.
Written by Clare Glazsher, Sharon Creaven and Tanya Johnson, Care Paralegals at The Family Law Company