We bring you family lawyers’ top software picks to help improve many complex tasks. Find out how experts use these tools to boost productivity.
Improving Productivity with Software
Family law attorneys need the same kinds of practice and case management software as their colleagues working in other areas of the law, but they also have unique needs, such as: performing calculations regarding child and spousal support payments, calculating the tax implications of property division, and creating/tracking child custody arrangements, to name just a few. Whether it be filtering your document for run-on sentences, simplifying child custody and visitation, or managing your practice’s billable hours, there’s likely to be software or an app to help improve your productivity and better serve your clients. We reached out to judges and family lawyers for a sampling of products they thought were integral to their daily practice of family law; here’s what some of them had to say.
Writing is one of a lawyer’s primary stocks in trade. It is bewildering to me why so many of us write so badly. We should be better at writing given that we get paid to do it. Beyond the core spelling and grammar functions of the eponymous word processor, I have come across a wonderful software app called WordRake. It is an add-on for Microsoft Word that places an icon driven menu bar in your Microsoft Word software. With a click of a few buttons in Word, WordRake becomes your computerized proofreader. WordRake filters your document for run-on sentences, redundancy, and other grammatical mistakes far beyond what Word can do. It does it all from the comfort of a visually appealing, user-friendly interface. Because it is a Word add-on, it runs within Word: no cumbersome bouncing in and out of independent programs. You create a document and run WordRake while you are working on the document in Word; it then analyzes all of your text, highlights the problem portions, and includes recommended text to fix the problems.
– John E. Harding, family lawyer and principal of Harding & Associates in Pleasanton, CA.
Our Family Wizard
During my tenure as a domestic relations judge, I heard many cases where parents were not able to communicate with one another appropriately. This behavior by one or both of the parents took on a life of its own and provided an extremely negative approach to parenting issues. When parents were not able to communicate appropriately, it often adversely affected the children. In these cases, I would order the parties to exclusively (barring an emergency) utilize Our Family Wizard for communication and scheduling. I monitored these cases by having them appear monthly until I was comfortable that the communication had improved. Included in my court order was authorization for the guardian ad litem or child representative to review all communications and to report to the court at each monthly court date. In my experience, communication improved, and as a result there was a positive focus on the children. The feedback I received from attorneys and litigants was encouraging. Everyone involved in these cases felt that Our Family Wizard was a benefit in placing the emphasis on the children rather than the animosity between the parents.
– Barbara M Meyer, retired judge, Circuit Court of Cook County IL, Domestic Relations Division.
Family Law Software
Family Law Software easily handles all of the financial issues in a divorce case. It not only computes guideline child support in my state (and 20 others plus all of Canada), but it also allows me to see alimony and property division options to create complete settlement scenarios and variations. The built-in ability to generate Financial Disclosure statements for the Court with one click is a bonus. We start every case with entry of the financial data from the client – which the clients can directly enter for themselves easily and securely. Once the data is entered, you have the ability to see the
entire financial picture of the marital and non-marital estates, cash flow, and even projections of net income and net worth up to 50 years out. The tax computations are reliably accurate, and the one-click reports – such as “Best Filing Status in the Current Year” or “Best Use of Dependent Exemptions” – are incredibly useful. I use Family Law Software in every family law case involving a financial issue that comes in to my office.
– Nancy Chausow Shafer, family lawyer and principal at Chausow Shafer, PC in Highland Park, IL.
I researched and tested a number of cloud-based practice-management programs, and chose MyCase because it offers a robust set of features that save my practice time and money. Affordable and powerful, the software helps me manage all aspects of my law practice, including contacts, calendars, cases, documents, time tracking, and billing. It also allows all members of my team – whether in the office or working remotely – to access the digital file at any time. The MyCase iPhone/iPad app makes it easy for me to bill time on the go; using my mobile devices, I can capture billable time no matter where I happen to be. Before MyCase, I often lost valuable, billable time because I wasn’t necessarily at my desk when responding to clients or opposing counsel. I am capturing so much more of my billable time that MyCase is nearly paying for itself every month. As a solo practitioner shouldering a fast-paced domestic practice, I consider MyCase to be my secret weapon: it allows me to focus on serving my clients rather than worrying about case management and billing issues.
– David E. Wells, principal and founder of Wells Law Firm, PC in Myrtle Beach, SC.
Day One journaling app for iPhone/iPad is an exceptional way to create a virtual timeline with images of specific facts relevant to the issues in your client’s divorce. This is significant because until such apps existed, most preparation had to be done by clients telling their story directly to the attorney or paralegal, and printing out pictures or evidence. Day One allows your client to create a chronological timeline of activity, with pictures and descriptions; the file is password-protected, can sync with iCloud or DropBox, and the client can email an entry (with photo) or the entire timeline in PDF format to you or anyone in your office. The client simply snaps a photo (of event, screenshot of text conversation, or other), and then adds a description to that photo. If you are using a cloud-based practice management system (and I recommend them strongly), you could have your client email or upload the timeline directly to your portal so that it is in your client’s “virtual case file”. The program allows you, your client, or paralegal to have virtual access to a time-based series of events to better understand or convey the situation to a mediator or judge, if necessary.
– Mark I. Unger, family lawyer, mediator, and consultant at The Unger Law Firm in San Antonio, TX.
Our firm has been using CosmoLex for a few months and is very impressed with how much it has improved productivity. CosmoLex is a cloud-based product, so all upgrades are automatic. Easy and accessible, Cosmolex has freed-up my time, allowing me to focus on my firm and clients. In the past, we needed to stop throughout the day to write receipts and track work that was manually documented on time sheets. With CosmoLex, we spend a total of about 20-30 minutes at the end of each day recording everything. This saves tremendous time and increases productivity. We can now easily run reports that reflect information requested by the court.
– William L. Peebles, family lawyer in Hattiesburg, MS.
I have recently discovered a new piece of technology that I have begun to use in my family law practice. Called PhoneView, this Mac application accesses iMessages, SMS/MMS, WhatsApp messages, contacts, call history, voicemails, app data, Safari web bookmarks, and web history from iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices. The most useful tool for my family law practice is the ability for clients to download an unpleasant text thread between themselves and their spouse. Gone are the days when clients took multiple screenshots of text messages that were hard to read and identify the sender. Instead, PhoneView puts the text thread in chronological order by date and time; identifies the sender; and attaches the sender’s message to each entry. This format makes it much easier for judges to read the text thread and for the lawyer to authenticate it as evidence. A key piece of advice would be to not download a client’s text message history to your own Mac computer: instead, get the client to download the thread and print the text conversation for you. You do not want any other information that is downloaded to the program on your computer in case the client has sent inappropriate texts that might violate federal or state wiretapping laws.
– Melissa F. Brown, principal and founding attorney of Melissa F. Brown, LLC in Charleston, SC.
We looked at many different options to help automate the process of being ble to provide clients with different scenarios of child support and alimony payments, keeping in mind IRS treats child support and alimony differently. We determined that not having to enter information multiple times and being able to deliver custom reports and itemized sheets to show the different settlement options available was important to us. After using Easy Soft’s Divorce Financials software with one of our clients, we immediately saw the value and implemented the software firm-wide. We now have the ability to generate tax-optimized settlement scenarios in all 50 states, and Divorce Financials has really allowed us to provide the best scenarios for alimony and child support to our clients.
– Michael A. Gould, director of business valuation and litigation services at Rotenberg Meril in New York, NY.
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