Reflections of a Paralegal by Claire Bousfield

By Claire Bousfield

I am now just twelve months shy of finishing my law degree, and over the last four years of study I have gained considerable theoretical knowledge about the law. During this time, I never had any doubt I wanted to be a lawyer, but if I was being honest with myself, I was clueless as to what the day-to-day life of lawyering looked like (beyond my heavy consumption of legal TV dramas that is). So, I did what most aspiring legal practitioners do in their final years of university, I applied for a position as a paralegal.

It is now six months since I started my job as a paralegal with Balance Family Law, and this is a reflection of my experience so far.

Most people understand a paralegal as a lawyer’s assistant. They answer phones, manage emails and appointments, read an abundance of legal material, and draft and proofread correspondence, the everyday tasks that lawyers just don’t have time to do. I thought this too, but, reflecting on my time as a paralegal so far, I have found this is a misconception. In short, my role in the firm goes far beyond ‘assisting a lawyer’, and often, I am expected to bring my legal knowledge, opinions, and thoughts to the table alongside the lawyers I work with.

During my short time working as a paralegal, I have found the work challenging, intellectually stimulating, and extremely rewarding.

Working in family law means that every day is different. Some days are filled with drafting, editing and legal research. Other days I may attend client meetings, liaise with clients over email and phone, communicate with paralegals and lawyers in other firms, prepare documents for court, and engage in discussion with our lawyers around the direction of client matters. While every day is different, it is always fast paced. It is certainly not mundane. I am often assigned urgent tasks that need to be completed in short timeframes. We do try to avoid multitasking in our firm, but in the fast-paced environment of the legal profession, this is sometimes inevitable. There is no doubt that the busy nature of our firm has provided an opportunity to hone my organisational skills!

While my passion has always been to practice law, I also have an interest in the human mind – how people think, how they react, and the reasons people do what they do. I always saw psychology as a good fit with law, which led me to my double degree in law and psychology. While much of psychology is often focussed on the pathology of the individual, it is also the study of human interactions and relationships. It is this understanding of social psychology that I find particularly applicable to my work as a paralegal in family law. Divorce, for example, is the second most difficult event an individual will go through. The disruption of family life can be traumatic. Through my study in psychology, and now my practical experience of family law, I have learnt that a relationship breakdown, and a person’s reactions throughout, are not linear. In a nutshell, it is emotionally complicated.  Because of this, it is especially important to always have regard for a client’s emotions and acknowledge the pain they may be feeling throughout the process. It is often my role to liaise between our clients and the lawyers in my firm.  The experience of separation for our clients is often stressful and overwhelming, and every client (or person) experiences these unpleasant emotions in a different way. I find in my work, while people may react to a letter you send, or a phone call you make, in a negative manner, it is vitally important to remain empathetic, to apply my active listening skills, and ensure that each client feels and is heard, every step of the way.

My experience as a paralegal has so far been extraordinary. I have learnt that working in family law is not just about the legalities, but just as importantly is about assisting clients as they re-build their lives going forward. It has been extremely rewarding to assist clients and their families to negotiate their way through the complexities of the family law system. It is especially fulfilling to see those occasions where while clients conclude their relationship as a couple, they continue their relationship in a changed but positive capacity, for example, as co-parents.

It is also a privilege to work alongside and learn from the lawyers in my firm. To have access to their knowledge and experience, and their willingness to share this with me, is invaluable. My exposure to and working with a variety of professionals in the legal sector, including lawyers, mediators, barristers, and psychologists, has also allowed me to develop a more in-depth understanding of what it is to actually work as a lawyer.

In just six months I have learned so much in my role as a paralegal. I look forward to being able to further develop my skills, and learn so much more, as I approach my final year of university and begin my career as a family lawyer.

You can also follow the author of this blog, Claire Bousfield on LinkedIn.

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Finalist - Corporate Kindness Awards

Issued by Corporate Kindness Awards · Winners announced April 2022

Winner - Sole Practitioner of the Year

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Dec 2021

Winner – Partner of the Year (Family Law)

Issued by Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year Awards · Nov 2021

Winner - Service Business Award

Issued by Ausmumpreneur Awards · Sep 2021

Winner - Service Business of the Year

Issued by Roar Awards · Sep 2021

Winner - Innovation Award for Legal Education and Change Initiatives

Issued by APAC Insider · Aug 2021

Winner - Top Boutique Law Firm 2021

Issued by Australasian Lawyers · Aug 2021

Winner- Boutique Law Firm of the Year

Issued by APAC Insider · Aug 2021

Finalist - Boutique Law Firm of the Year

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Jun 2021

Finalist - Innovator of the Year Award (Company)

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Jun 2021

Finalist - Innovator of the Year Award (Individual)

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Jun 2021

Finalist – 30 Under 30 Award (Family Law)

Issued by Lawyers Weekly 30 under 30 Awards · Apr 2021

Winner - Rising Stars in Family Law

Issued by Global Corp Media · Mar 2021

Finalist -Rising Star Ausmumpreneur of the Year

Issued by Ausmumpreneur Awards · 2021

Finalist -Social Change Hero

Issued by Roar Awards · 2021

Winner - Boutique Law Firm of the Year

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Sep 2020

Winner - Family Law Firm of the Year

Issued by Corporate Live Wire · Sep 2020

Winner - Service Business Award

Issued by Ausmumpreneurs · Sep 2020

Winner -Emerging Mumpreneur

Issued by Ausmumpreneur · Sep 2020

Finalist - Sole Practitioner of the Year

Issued by Australian Law Awards · Aug 2020

Winner - Rising Stars of Family Law

Issued by APEC Insider · Jul 2020

Winner – Family Law Firm of the Year (Australia)

Issued by International Advisory Experts (IAG) 2020

Outside of Balance, I am an adjunct lecturer and assessor with the College of Law in the ACT. In this role, I lecture and mentor future lawyers in the ACT and surrounding regions, as they complete their Practical Legal Training (which is the course you are required to complete to be able to practice as a lawyer).

When I am not lawyering I love to travel and have already made it to 18 countries across Europe and Asia. My personal goal is to travel to every continent, including Antarctica. My favourite destination so far is Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, where I skydived over the Swiss Alps!

My innovative approach to law has seen me, and Balance Family Law recognised with over 23 national and international awards and accolades since 2020 including the prestigious Lawyer’s Weekly Family Law Partner of the Year 2021, Australian Law Awards Sole Practitioner of the Year 2021, Australian Law Awards Boutique Law Firm of the Year 2020 and the Gold Ausmumpreneur Award for a Service Business in 2020 and 2021. I have also received consecutive Chief Minister’s Awards for Excellence for my work with families and children on the frontline during my time working in child protection. In 2022 and 2023, I was invited to be a Judge at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards, and Partner of the Year Awards, and the National Ausmumpreneur Awards.

As one of Australia’s most respected family lawyers and a gamechanger in the lawyer space, I look forward to working with you to navigate this challenging time in your life.