My day can begin in one of several ways:
a. A call from an initial consult (not a client) who needs an attorney in two hours for a hearing in the next county to represent her in a domestic violence protective order. You check your attorney's calendar to confirm what you already know. She is booked with one morning consult and one afternoon hearing in court in a different county. You pull out your local attorney referral list for this caller.
b. A call from a client that he is done taking the manipulation by his ex-spouse concerning the commute from the farthest western county in the state to pick up his children so that they can participate in a school activity . Ex refuses to meet him halfway or bring the children, even though it is his weekend to have the children. Demands a consult with your attorney to discuss taking what steps can be taken to get his ex to cooperate.
c. A call from the clerk's office to inform your attorney that your client's hearing on modification of custody that was set over ninety days ago, will not be heard because a previously scheduled trial is running into your scheduled hearing time. The trial preparation work you helped your attorney with, copying and arranging exhibits for her trial notebooks in addition to all of all her prep-time for the trial was for naught. The case is in a holding pattern. You know how this news is going to be received by your attorney. You don't want to begin to think about how the client is going to handle it.
d. A former client calls your attorney to tell her he has taken a position out of state and wants to know what he has to do to notify his children's mother, because at this point in the relationship, (post contentious custody trial), picking up the phone to call her is out of the question. Your attorney pulls up the Order and lays out the terms per the custody order: ninety days notice by one party to the other which will probably initiate a court hearing. Have not heard back from this former client.
e. Your attorney is in a four-way meeting with your client, opposing counsel and their client to try and discuss custody, child support and equitable distribution, when a prospective client comes in. You realize you inadvertently double booked your attorney. As you apologize and attempt to reschedule, the prospective client raises his voice significantly in his indignation, demanding your attention to his justifiable outrage at your mistake. You take a deep breath.
I have worked as a paralegal for over twenty-five years. I started out in the probate office of an Estate's firm in southern California assisting the lead paralegal with trust divisions. When my husband moved us to North Carolina, I was offered a position as a litigation paralegal for an attorney that did auto insurance defense work. I had to learn local county court rules and neighboring county court rules with relation to litigation while calendaring depositions, hearings, mediations, various deadlines for pleadings to be filed and trial dates. It was my first position having to deal with a dictaphone. It was not hard to learn, just a constant in that job.
To my North Carolina family's surprise I loved working in downtown Durham. It had a charm and ambiance that is enhanced more so today with the renaissance it has undergone with the new Durham Bulls Ballpark, the renovated Tobacco Center, the DPAC, the revival of restaurants in the Five Points area, and the outreach to the perimeter areas of downtown with new restaurants and music venues.
My next position was on the opposite side of auto insurance defense - working for the attorneys that represented the plaintiff against the insurance company. After starting in the new firm's office in Durham, the litigation department was moved to a new office in downtown Raleigh. I worked with a small group of paralegals in who handled all the documentation and calendaring for the firm's court cases. I enjoyed Raleigh as much as I had Durham, although the pace and energy were heightened there, mostly in part, because it is the state's capital.
After I left that firm, I maintained my position as a paralegal in personal injury. I had two layoffs in fourteen years, one for less than three month and one that lasted almost two years. It was during the second layoff that I decided to change legal fields.
I interview first for a real estate assistant position with a small office in Durham. I didn't get that position, but before I could be discouraged or move on to another interview, Ms. Barri Payne, a partner of the real estate attorney I had interviewed with previously, called me to set a time to interview with her for a paralegal position. The day I went back to the office for my interview, Barri had just returned from a hearing in family court in Durham. We first talked about my experience and my work history before we spoke about the position. I had never worked in family law, which is Barri’s specialization along her certification as a family financial mediator. I had confidence that with her supervision, I could learn the intricacies of case management for her clients. What convinced me I wanted to work for her was not the surprise question toward the end of the interview, if I wanted to start part-time or full-time, which as never been posed to me before, but her brief account of the case she had just appeared in. Her overview of her matter intrigued and challenged me. My only experience with family law had been my own personal experience, which for anyone who has gone through a separation, divorce or custody matter, is not a a reliable gauge. For one you are too close to your own matter, and you are no where close to being objective.
Early on, you realize that family law is not necessarily a rewarding field. You don't get Christmas cards from the clients you helped navigate through the worst times of their lives. All I knew that day sitting across from her, was I wanted to work with her. A year after I was hired she separated from her partners and opened her own practice and I, never one to adopt change easily, went along for the ride. That was four years ago
What I discovered then, that has not changed today, is that I wanted to help her help our clients manage separation, divorce, child custody and division of property. I sensed early on that her idea of representing clients was to help the client’s minimize the damage to the family. She encouraged negotiation and mediation. However, some matters required litigation from the moment we opened the case. It came as a surprise to me, jaded closet activist that i am, to realized that our court system does not take into consideration a client's emotions or struggles during a marriage or changes in life's circumstances regarding support and custody. The legal system has no feelings. You take your case to a judge, you may put your life, your livelihood, and most importantly your children's lives into that judge's hands. If you hope to have any control over the outcome of your situation, hire an attorney to educate you on your options. When it’s time to decide to hire or not to hire, you at least you have information to help you make a decision. Better yet, if you find yourself contemplating a change in your life that will require a court action, I recommend you go sit in the courtroom, whether it's child support court, family court or small claims and see how the system works. See the process. Watch how judges make decisions, how attorney's advocate for the client. I guarantee you, it's like nothing you see on TV.