I recently spoke at a great event, Mike Whelan’s Lawyer Forward Conference. The attendees were lawyers from solo or small law firms and most of them focused on family law. Not surprisingly family law is one of the primary practice areas identified by the American Bar Association in their 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report. Family law is practiced by one in four of the solo respondents, and one in five lawyers in firms of two to nine lawyers in that survey.
These family law lawyers met in breakout sessions to share their best tips. Topics ranged from how to succeed on petitions to modify the parent-child relationship, dealing with clients that refuse to sign a final decree of divorce, work arounds on real estate market assessments for low-income clients, to technology that helps makes practicing family law easier.
The last topic caught my attention. (I’m a little predisposed to that topic, I know.) The lawyers in those sessions rely on two types of tools.
The first technology indispensable to family law lawyers was cloud-based practice management, and the second was emerging co-parenting tools, like Our Family Wizard.
Family lawyer software—Two essential tools
Practice management tools like Clio allow these lawyers to run their practices from home offices without having to invest in expensive hardware. As well as have full access to their files at multiple courthouses and mediation centers using Clio’s apps on their mobile phones and tablets. They can automate repetitive document creation using templates, and track client funds in trust accounts. Clio’s client portals let them share documents, bills, and secure messages directly with their clients. Practice management makes it easy for family law lawyers to handle larger caseloads.
After families finalize their separation, family law lawyers rely on co-parenting tools to help their clients manage the court’s support orders. There is a new class of technology that help parents coordinate family visitation and custody schedules, track shared expenses, provide a neutral messaging device, and automate funds transfers. These co-parenting services often come with smartphone apps, which makes it easier for many low-income families to access.
There were several features that made Our Family Wizard a favorite with the Lawyer Forward attendees. First, the service offers price waivers and discounts for indigent or military account holders. Second, the service lets lawyers set up dummy accounts that can be used to teach clients how to use the co-parenting app. Last, with a client’s permission, lawyers can monitor accounts to document compliance with court orders. This is key for many lawyers, letting them continue to help and advise clients.
Technology for family law firms is advancing. The Texas lawyers at Lawyer Forward taught me a lot on how legal tech is being adopted within the family law bar.