These days, being chained to an office is no longer necessary, so start thinking about ways to become more mobile in the practice of family law. You can be free from the confining walls of an office! You work too much already – you might as well do it from a space that you actually enjoy.
By Chad E. Burton, Legal and Productivity Technology Expert
“The future of family law.” It sounds so fancy, huh? Weren’t we supposed to be living in a society with flying cars and by robots to satisfy our every need at this point (à la The Jetsons)? We’re not there yet, obviously. And your practice is not run only by technology.
That said, it is coming. Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in how we serve our clients. Emerging business models are being announced on a regular basis. It is truly an exciting time to rethink how best to deliver legal services to clients.
Does this mean that every lawyer in America is going to ditch their office, hard-copy files, and past practices for virtual (or other new-age) models? Of course not. But you should start to think about ways to become more mobile in your family law practice – and improve your delivery of legal services to clients at the same time.
The Future of Family Law: Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Technology
Regardless of where a particular practice stands on the scale of use of technology, that use cannot be ignored. ABA Model Rule 1.1, Comment 8, provides that competency includes a lawyer’s understanding of the “risks and benefits of technology” as applied to the delivery of legal services. Does competency include technology? You bet! In other words, lawyers can no longer stick their heads in the sand and wear their fear of technology as a badge of honor. Lawyers have to look at technology in a way that benefits their clients.
We can save discussions on the wholesale disruption of the traditional firm model and focus on something that can be done today: maximizing mobility. Anyone reading this article should at the very least be using a smartphone. Having such a device empowers lawyers to practice on the go. Add a tablet to the mix with the right structure internally in a firm, and lawyers can practice from anywhere.
So how do we get there? To increase mobility, we must focus on these three areas:
- The actual technology; and
- Internal firm structure.
Getting Your Head in the Game
Not to sound too hippy-like, but adopting new practices regarding mobility starts with how lawyers think about their practice. It is easy to get entrenched in the “way things have always been done” mentality. It’s easier, right? Changing behavior takes work and you already have enough work from clients.
If mobility is desired, then change must occur. It is not just about picking up a smartphone and leaving the office. As discussed below, some structural change is needed to maximize mobility. So once you get your head in the right place, the remaining factors are easier to swallow.
The Future of Family Law: Replacing Old Technology and Paradigms
When was the last time you thought about your firm’s technological structure? Have you adopted a paperless environment? Or, like many firms, are your files stacked on tables or shoved away in file cabinets only to see the light of day if you are physically standing in your office and can find that folder or piece of paper? This makes a big difference for mobility. You need to access your client data from anywhere while on the go.
Going paperless is a start. But, even with a legacy server on site, that won’t get you home (literally or figuratively) to access your data. That is where cloud or web-based technology comes into play. Platforms exist that allow lawyers to access their documents and other firm data from anywhere with an Internet connection.
For example, Clio is a cloud-based law practice management platform that includes time and billing, calendar, contacts, reports, documents and communication functionality, among other features. All of this can be accessed from a tablet or smartphone.
CosmoLex is another popular cloud-based law practice management software; it integrates trust and business accounting, time tracking, billing, email and document management, and tasks and calendaring in a single application.
TimeSolv offers legal time and expense tracking, billing, and management features designed to integrate the work of an entire law firm. It boasts responsive tools to run every department of your law firm efficiently.
Law firms in more than 170 countries have used PracticePanther to automate their firms, get paid faster with one-click billing, and track billable time and expenses. The mobile app allows lawyers to work from anywhere on any device.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for technology ideas. More and more developers are finding innovative ways for lawyers and professionals to operate on the go.
The Future of Family Law: Getting the Structure in Place
Adopting cloud-based technology is a critical step towards a more mobile law firm. Under traditional firm models, taking this step is also going to require a change in behavior for the team. If you are a true solo, that makes it much easier. However, if you have other team members, including lawyers or administrative staff, they need to buy into this mobility and technological change concept. Of course, not only will it benefit them, but if they do not follow policies and procedures developed to enable mobility, then the proponent of mobility can be hamstrung if the information is not available through the chosen platforms.
This is where outsourcing administrative work to virtual assistants and receptionists comes into play. If administrative functionality is mobile, that enables lawyers to be mobile as well. Virtual assistant relationships can be set up to fit a particular practice’s needs. This comes back to that change in mindset concept discussed above. Previously, having staff meant having people onsite. That is not necessarily true anymore.
Moving Towards a Mobile Family Law Practice
It is not expected that every lawyer will abandon how they have done business for years or decades. Instead, starting to think about ways to become more mobile in the practice of law will have a positive effect on delivering legal services to clients. Being chained to an office is not necessary anymore. So go, be free from the confining walls of an office! You work too much already – you might as well do it from a space that you actually enjoy.
Chad E. Burton is a former litigator who developed one of the nation’s first “new model” law firms, leveraging cloud-based technology and modern business practices to develop a lean virtual law firm. He is the CEO of Curo Legal, a strategy, design, and development firm focused exclusively on the legal industry. Curo works with clients to design and build digital products aimed at making the law more accessible and making lawyers more efficient. www.curolegal.com
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