The following post is written by Kristen McElroy, a paralegal at Kuder, Smollar, Friedman, & Mihalik who has coordinated KSFM’s volunteer efforts with the Attorney Negotiator program at the DC Superior Court for the past five years.
D.C. Superior Court Attorney Negotiator Program
As a paralegal, my role is to provide administrative support to the attorneys. I help them to prepare a case for court but I am rarely afforded the opportunity to see how the documents I prepare are used in an actual courtroom. With our firm’s participation in the Attorney Negotiator program, I had a chance to help people firsthand and see the process from the client’s perspective.
Attorney Negotiator is a volunteer project designed to guide pro se litigants through the process of an initial hearing. Most are unfamiliar with court procedures and have questions and concerns about what the opposing party filed, how to respond and what to expect when they enter the courtroom. The volunteers prepare the litigants, complete any required paperwork as well as offer to mediate an agreement, so that when they are called before the judge their hearings can move forward, hopefully, a little more expeditiously.
For just about everyone who is not a lawyer, going to court can be intimidating and overwhelming. Each time, I was reminded of the high stakes of family law. The pleadings are not just paperwork; they represent people’s children, retirement, savings and their homes. Part of our task was to keep the parties focused on finding a resolution to their issues rather than assigning blame. Every one of the clients I worked with had strong feelings about how they wanted their situation to be in the future so reaching a compromise could be challenging.
In the five years I participated in the program, I assisted hundreds of people with the completion of various court forms and pleadings. I had the unique opportunity to take my office knowledge and use it in a practical setting, helping to navigate a confusing maze of legalese. Even though most cases weren’t resolved in a single appearance before a judge, I believe the services provided by the volunteers got them one step closer to closing a difficult chapter in their lives.