Cloud-Ready? Tips for Virtually Managing a Family Law Firm
Family practice lawyers manage a lot — they’re tireless advocates, litigators, and advisors, while offering guidance to help clients through often intense and emotionally trying times. The pandemic has brought the vital role of family lawyers into sharp relief.
The quarantine and shutdown forced many organizations to go remote on short notice. The economy, business and the courts are adjusting to social distancing with increased virtual activity. How is your family law firm adapting?
COVID Impact on Families is Felt by Firms
For families juggling changing relationships, the pandemic has added new layers of pressure to the family dynamic. Imagine a couple in the process of divorcing, now quarantined together. Or distant parents negotiating a Zoom visitation rather than take the health risks of traveling. Issues related to divorce, custody, child support, and health decisions can’t be put on hold during a quarantine; they only intensify.
Quarantine Impact on the Courts
Family courts across the country are facing unprecedented backlogs. Many state and local courts have closed for all but essential activity, and pending cases removed from the docket. Federal Circuit, district, and bankruptcy courts are relying on audio and video conferencing technologies to host oral arguments, initial appearances, preliminary hearings, arraignments, misdemeanor sentencing, and other procedures remotely. A great resource page: Court Orders and Updates during COVID-19 Pandemic, offers details by jurisdiction.
Pre-pandemic rules have gone out the window. In the state of Michigan, for example, participants were required to be present in-person to participate or witness most court hearings. Like many state and local courts, phones were not allowed in the courtroom. Today, anyone with internet access can follow state and local court proceedings practically instantaneously. In a number of jurisdictions, judges have the ability to stream and host court proceedings via Zoom and YouTube.
To keep cases moving, courts have expanded the ability to electronically file motions and are allowing new actions to be filed as well.
The important thing to know is that the changes we are seeing in the practice of family law may well be permanent; the old ‘normal’ is likely a thing of the past.
Tips for Family Law Practitioners
What does this mean for family attorneys? The pandemic, social distancing and health concerns require family law firms to get creative in order to continue serving clients effectively.
To thrive in the new normal, start by assessing your firm’s technology. The following are three key areas of virtual practice management to focus on. Virtual platforms and cloud technology can help build client trust and make it easy for clients to work with your firm.
Efficiency: Spend time with clients, not paperwork
Family lawyers repeatedly create the same standard documents, letters, and court forms. If you are routinely using copy/edit/save to recreate the same form for a new client, explore the library of templates in the AbacusLaw Family Law Bundle. Standardized forms can be prepared quickly, are consistent, and have fewer errors.
Mobility: Work anywhere, with access to the information you need
If your team is tracking time on paper or in spreadsheets, move to automated time tracking. Time tracking improves productivity and offers visibility into the activities of each associate. Diligently tracking time will help you better capture all billable hours, maximize revenue, and can save hours of manual effort.
Automated time tracking data can directly flow into the billing system. An automated paperless billing function, such as APX PayNow, allows you to invoice clients electronically, offering a link that clients can access to pay easily via credit card. A solution that is friendly and easy to use reduces stress for clients and engenders trust.
Security: Offer clients peace of mind
Security is crucially important as firms and clients increasingly work remotely. If your current process involves sending sensitive forms and information by email, find a more secure alternative.
A secure portal site is a secure encrypted location where clients can share or receive sensitive documents with you. Access-controlled and highly secure, this method reduces the risk of loss or breach that is common with email. A secure portal can allow clients to sign documents online using eSignatures.
Law firms of all sizes are shifting to virtual operations, and COVID-19 helped accelerate that trend. Several months after the shutdown, firms are realizing that a virtual family law practice is not only possible, but it may be the optimal long-term business model. Working virtually in the cloud offers family lawyers freedom and mobility while improving the delivery of services to clients.
Most of us are in Phase I or II of re-opening; the lull before full re-opening is a great time to take action. The AbacusNext team will talk with you and provide a free tech assessment of your current operations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 858-882-4810 ext. 6185.