A day in the life of… a paralegal

Occupation order: what you need to know?

When I began my career as a paralegal with McAlister Family Law, I genuinely had no clue what I’d let myself in for. I anticipated I would spend a lot of time with the photocopier and kettle, as I developed my limited knowledge of the law. I can’t deny the fact that I’ve developed a deeply rooted love/hate relationship with the printer, but equally I could never have envisaged the extent and variety of fascinating tasks with which I am trusted to carry out on a daily basis.

One of the best things about working for McAlister Family Law (MFL) is that it is a firm dealing with both Legal Aid and Local Authority childcare cases; I assist with a wide variety of different clients and issues including, but not limited to: domestic violence; non-accidental injuries; sexual abuse; substance abuse; jurisdiction issues, deprivation of liberty and discharge of care orders.

There is no such thing as a typical day at MFL because the nature of our work lies so far outside the parameters of predictable. From issuing care proceedings to meeting with clients, reading psychological assessments and drug reports, briefing counsel, drafting orders, watching police interview footage and writing statements, the variety is infinite. I have visited courts across Lancashire, sat in many a court room at the Manchester Civil Justice Centre, been to a rehab facility (context: to take a client’s statement), visited an 11-year-old child to take instructions from her and even been involved in a pre-trial conference with a Queen’s Counsel in London.

Any preconceptions I may have had about right and wrong, victim and perpetrator, have gone out of the window since working here, and this is something for which I am eternally grateful. This is a job that requires you confront societal constructs and expectations, and challenge them.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please do get in touch today. We are here to help.

Admittedly, I am new to the legal sector, but I believe MFL’s work environment is like no other. I joined the firm having only an amateur understanding of the law, obtained from my local library and reading the Children Act 1989.  But as I seek to broaden my knowledge, every question I ask – and I ask a lot – is answered with careful consideration, with no colleague too busy to offer their help and advice.  And someone is always happy to keep you company at the pub!

Every day is a new learning experience, and I am grateful to be surrounded by professionals who are generous with their knowledge and encouragement.  I couldn’t have chosen a better environment in which to pursue my legal career.

“I am grateful to be surrounded by professionals who are generous with their knowledge and encouragement.”

Nina Rawlings, paralegal

Back to school?

Back to
school?

Some schools are opening up their classrooms again, some are not, but as the lockdown continues to ease, we are hearing from parents about strong disagreements as to the best way forward.

If parents cannot agree arrangements for their child or children, an application can be made to the court for a remedy. Parents can also apply to court in relation to a Specific Issue, and the court can address the issue of whether or not a child should return to school during the pandemic.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please do get in touch today. We are here to help.

The court application

A Specific Issue Order is an order from the family court to determine a specific question which has arisen in connection with any aspect of the parties’ parental responsibility for a child, and a Prohibited Steps Order is something that prevents a parent from making a decision about the child’s upbringing, such as their education. The court will take into account the parents’ opinions and the best interest of the children and make a decision. The children’s educational development, efficient home -schooling techniques and underlying health issues in the family may all be considered by the court when deciding the issue, but most cases will be decided on its own merits.

The court’s guidance to promote an agreement

Before making an application to the court, parents should try and agree arrangements as much as they possibly can. During this pandemic, it is important to consider the family court’s guidance on compliance with Family Court orders and arrangements for children. (We have provided a link below for the guidance)

https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/

This court guidance promotes as much communication as possible between the parties to enable parents to consider the children’s best interests. Therefore, an application to court should only be made if there is no hope of an agreement regarding the children’s schooling and very much as a last resort.

The court’s ability to hear an urgent specific issue application

Unfortunately, during the current situation there is little time for the courts to deal with these issues; even if the case is an urgent one, there is no guarantee that the court will be able to hear the case before the children are due to go back to school. This may leave parents in limbo and wondering what to do. Mediation can be an option to see if an agreement can be reached, but both parents must agree to that route, so seeking legal advice may assist them as they attempt to reach that agreement.

If you are unsure about what to do during the pandemic in relation to a specific issue or arrangements for children, we would advise you to seek specialist independent legal advice from an experienced family lawyer.

McAlister Family Law: surviving COVID-19

Could you provide a bit of information about your organisation for those who are unaware of it please? 

Part of Beyond Group, which establishes specialist law firms, McAlister Family Law is a niche child and family law firm, with offices in Alderley Edge, Manchester and London. We’re proud to say we are unlike almost every other family law firm in the country, as McAlister Family Law is one of the very few that specializes not only in divorce and finance but also child law.

How did the coronavirus outbreak affect your organisation? 

It actually had a positive effect. The Group invests heavily in state-of-the-art IT systems and we work on a paperless basis, so it was business as usual: we were able to look after our local, regional, national and international clients without any break in service. We moved seamlessly to a collective home-working environment – for some of us, the only question was whether to set up the “home office” in the spare room or go for a more mobile “hot desk” style by way of the ironing board!

How did your organisation feel about COVID-19’s effect on the business? 

Most importantly, we were the first port of call for multiple domestic violence charities, and we worked harder than ever to support vulnerable children caught up in the challenging situations that arose directly out of the lockdown. We have two specialist children teams and they frequently worked through the night to help protect those most at risk.  In addition we were of course concerned about the health of our people and our clients, given the many unknowns, but our collective resilience both as an organization and as individuals within that organization ensured we have survived the outbreak from a business perspective; we acknowledge that we have been fortunate to do so and we are all immensely proud to be part of such a forward-thinking firm.

How has your organisation adapted during the coronavirus outbreak? 

We very quickly set in place our work from home protocols and the feedback we’ve received from our clients and our people is that we have successfully managed to continue business as usual. Having said that, the outbreak did hit our Alderley Edge office hard from the perspective of not being able to operate on a drop-in basis, and we missed that face to face contact and interaction with our clients, friends and fellow business owners within the village community.

How are you presently operating as an organisation, at a time when some coronavirus restrictions have been lifted? 

We are currently working towards opening up again, with plans for our Alderley Edge office to open first at the beginning of August, once we are sure we have put in place all the requisite measures to do so safely for both our clients and staff. It is still very much business as usual – albeit remotely – until that time and we are, in fact, incredibly busy!

If you had to give reasons to feel positive as an organisation at this present moment in the coronavirus crisis, what would you say? 

  • We can be proud that as business we survived the crisis with no negative impact
  • Our significant investment in IT and introduction of forward-thinking office procedures has proven to be intrinsic to our unrivalled customer service offering
  • We have genuinely embraced the concept, and value, of work/life balance and learned that despite a lawyer’s tendency to work long hours, it is achievable
  • We even recruited two young professionals during the lock down period!

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