Quick Tips

How to Differentiate Yourself as a Family Law Paralegal
guest author: Sue Slater, CDFA

Years ago, I realized that if I wanted to be an integral part of the case management process in my firm, I would need to start doing tasks that would be outside the role of a typical paralegal. I saw my window of opportunity in the financial part of our firm's divorce cases. Please know upfront that you don't have to be an accountant or forensic expert to make a difference. Immersing yourself in learning and understanding some basic accounting principles and the anatomy of a tax return will go a long way in you being able to help your supervising attorney to manage the financial portion of the case. Next, listen to the financial experts your firm works with, and never be afraid to ask question after question after question of those experts, until things make better sense. Over time you will be able to provide your attorney with relevant, pertinent and specific information that WILL make a difference throughout the case. Here are some quick tips to think about and implement when up'ing your paralegal game:

Identify, Verify, Repeat: When reviewing discovery or discussing financial issues with a client, be sure to not only identify things like potential assets, debts, possible dissipation of martial income or assets, but also verify, verify, verify all that is being said is true and accurate. Client's memories or perceptions are not always the reality, especially in the midst of a divorce. Your attorney will need all the supporting documents to prove (or disprove) the information presented and that starts and ends with the paralegal.

Start Discovery on Day 1: It will take a considerable amount of time to gather all of the important financial information in a case. Get your client on board with how important it is for he or she to keep receipts for spending, retain copies of important records like tax returns, bank statements or investment account statements. Create a standard list of documents for your client to gather and give the list upon the client retaining. Don't make the list overwhelming as your client is processing an enormous amount of information and emotion. My list is called "10 documents to give within the next 10 days." Small achievable steps will help build trust between not only you and the client, but between you and the attorney as he or she will know that you have a succinct understanding of what discovery is needed and when.

Building the Best Balance Sheet: Starting discovery on day one will help to lower the risk that you will miss identifying assets and liabilities. It is important to have one place to be a repository of that information you are gathering. Software programs like Family Law Software or Excel will allow you to enter all of the marital and non marital assets. People are no longer just dividing houses, cars and bank accounts. They are dividing retirement accounts, stock options, timeshares, tax refunds, sporting team tickets, credit card points, animals, art work, etc. etc. Try adding a "notes" section to the balance sheet that can have important information such as:

  1. Net balance or value
  2. Date that asset was acquired or sold
  3. How asset or debt is titled
  4. Monthly payment amount
  5. How asset or debt was acquired
  6. Term of any loan or
  7. Source of funds used to purchase or account where funds were deposited after the sale of an asset

Stay educated: Learning never stops. A Paralegal must get continuing education as well as stay on top of recent family law cases in your jurisdiction that may have impact on current or future cases in your office. We have the benefit of working in an area of law that isn't subject specific. Meaning there are benefits in taking an hour webinar on topics such as bankruptcy, estate planning, personal and business taxes, or business valuations in order to give you more exposure to new ideas and theories that may one day help you to better serve your attorney and client. Finally, look at adding tools to your paralegal tool belt such as obtaining other designations like the CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst), RP (Registered Paralegal), or an advanced paralegal certificate in family law. Some other ideas are to take an accounting class at your local community college or get certified in QuickBooks. Any education and training will not only bolster your personal knowledge, but will add to your credibility and your overall marketability.


Sue Slater, CDFA is a managing member of Core Divorce Management, LLC, where she works as a freelance paralegal to assist attorneys in managing every aspect of a divorce case. Ms. Slater prepares pleadings; memorandas and briefs; demand and settlement documents; trial notebooks; and deposition schedules and summaries. She conducts legal and factual research, as well as client interviews. Ms. Slater coordinates and manages document production, maintains general client contact, and assists lawyers at trial. She also locates and interviews witnesses and experts, as well as gathers and reviews medical records. Ms. Slater handles all aspects of the cases from initial client contact to trial preparation and participation. She has worked for over fifteen years as a family law paralegal, where she has stood at the side and supported her attorney team in all aspects of litigating a divorce matter. Ms. Slater holds the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in operations management from DePaul University.

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