When you hire a law firm to represent you in a domestic matter, you should be hiring not only a team of capable and experienced attorneys, but also dedicated support professionals that help to make your life, and your attorney’s life, easier.
Legal assistants (also referred to as paralegals) are administrative assistants who are usually formally trained to perform certain legal support tasks. Many have degrees from four-year colleges, professional paralegal certificates or a combination of both. Legal assistants will often take on many different roles throughout the course of your representation.
Legal assistants will often put their formal training to use by participating in the drafting standard documents. This is always done under the careful supervision of an attorney and with a strong attention to detail.
It is a benefit to the client as it frees the attorney up to focus on developing the legal strategy for the case, and it saves the client money. Legal assistants frequently bill at considerably lower rates than attorneys, so it makes sense for them to help draft the often time-consuming standard documents.
Of course, the attorney reviews and signs all documents before they are filed to ensure quality, accuracy and legal compliance.
Gather and manage client documents
Most domestic cases require the client to produce a number of documents that are either mandated by law, or that the attorney intends to use as evidence at trial. Legal assistants are often in charge of communicating with the client to obtain the needed documents, following up with the client if there are items that are outstanding and organizing them for the attorney’s use.
A great way to save some time and money in this process is to review the requests for documents carefully and fulfill them completely the first time you are asked. Otherwise, your legal assistant will have to follow up with you numerous times regarding outstanding documents, and that means more time that may need to be billed.
Legal assistants often maintain the attorney’s calendar. In addition to scheduling meetings for you and your attorney, legal assistants are usually the ones to calculate, record and monitor case-related deadlines. It will likely be the legal assistant who will contact you to remind you of a deadline or to ask you to provide information needed to meet the deadline.
A liaison between you and your attorney
Attorneys are very busy and cannot always be at their desks to take phone calls when they come in. Your legal assistant, however, usually has greater availability since they do not have as many responsibilities that take them out of the office for long stretches of time.
And since they bill at lower rates anyway, it is often saves time and money to reach out to your legal assistant with day-to-day questions about your case. Legal assistants cannot give legal advice, but they can pose your questions to the attorney and reply back with their advice. If the answer requires a more thorough conversation with the attorney, the legal assistant can also schedule time for you to meet with the attorney.
Your legal assistant may be called upon to assist the attorney in the courtroom on the day of trial. They can help coordinate witnesses, locate exhibits, manage large amounts of documents, assist with any audio or visual presentation that is being used, take detailed notes on the proceeding or complete any other task as needed by the attorney.
Legal assistants should be considered an integral part of the litigation process. When considering the retention of counsel, be sure to understand how firms under your consideration utilize them in order to make the management of your case both efficient and cost-effective.
Kristen Keller is a contributing author to Men’s Divorce. Ms. Keller has been a Legal Assistant in the Denver office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. since January, 2013. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Northridge, and a paralegal certificate from University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked primarily in family law but has also supported attorneys in probate, bankruptcy, and construction defect litigation in the past. She and her husband Tim live in Lakewood, Colorado.