Transcript: Embracing Technology & the Future of Family Law – Randy Kessler
I’m Dan Couvrette, the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and DivorceMag.com, and today I have the pleasure of speaking with Randy Kessler. Randy is a top family lawyer in Georgia, and he has many, many accolades. He’s an author who’s written three different books: Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future, the Georgia Library of Family Law Forms, and How to Mediate a Divorce. Randy, do you have it handy?
Randy Kessler: It’s embarrassing. I’d have to dig it out of my bottom drawer.
Randy is an adjunct professor of Family Law Litigation at Emory Law School. He served as a Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association, the Georgia Bar Association, and the Atlanta Bar Association. Aside from being a top family lawyer who is very active in his family law profession, he is one of the nicest and most supportive people I know on the planet. I’ve known Randy for probably 15 or 20 years. Randy, I’ve invited you today as part of our Thought Leader Series, because I know that you can share some insights about your business and your practice over the past 10 years. We’re looking at the past 10 years and we’re looking at what’s coming up in the next 10 years. Randy, thank you very much for joining me today.
And before you ask me any questions, I’ve got to just give you some love back because Dan, it’s a pleasure to see you again, to have this excuse to be with you, even though it’s virtually, and just to see your success and the success of everything you touch because you’re friendly and you’re lovable and everyone likes you and you’re doing it all for the right reasons. You want to make the world a better place. So, thanks for everything you’re doing and we’re both in the same profession. We’re both trying to help people get through a tough situation with as little cost and as little friction as possible.
Thank you, Randy! Probably everybody’s tuned out now for this bro fest that we’re having here! We’ll get to the meat of the matter. Today, we’re going to talk about the business of family law, the practice of family law, and about clients – how things have changed and where they’re going to go. Let’s start with the business, Randy. Can you give me some insights into what you’ve seen have been the changes in the business of family law over the past 10 years, or even more than that? But maybe you’ll focus more on the last two years because there have been dramatic changes.
You’re smart to not let me go back 30 years because boy, has it changed in the last 30 years. It’s totally different between the internet and email and all that kind of stuff. Over time family law has evolved to where lawyers can be much more efficient. We don’t need tons of staff. We still have tons of staff. Maybe we’re old school. I want somebody doing just the billing and somebody just doing the office supplies and somebody doing the internet and lawyers to doing lawyering and paralegals doing paralegaling. But over the past few years that’s really come to a pinnacle where, there are some lawyers that are sole practitioners that are really able to do it all. 10 years ago, and longer ago you couldn’t do it on your own period.
The reason to not do it on your own is more esoteric and philosophical. You want somebody to bounce ideas off, make sure you’re giving the client the best advice. But lawyers have gotten more efficient. They’re more streamlined their practice and you see really good lawyers that don’t have a lot of staff and don’t have a lot of expense able to do a very good job. That’s one thing that’s been sort of unique. You still have the age problems of bandwidth when you have, my old partner used to say, I got one client, I can’t handle it all. I got two clients… Back up, start the joke over. I’ve got one client; I need more business. I’ve got two clients; I need more business. I’ve got three clients. I can’t handle it all. So, that sort of was the give and take. But now lawyers have a lot more bandwidth, can get a lot more done with the mechanics, the technicalities, the electronics, the internet, et cetera.
So, some lawyers still haven’t embraced using different programs, but the more advanced lawyers certainly are using programs that make it easier to handle a case and do the necessary work on it, right?
Even the dinosaurs like us take a long time to adapt. You can’t not use email. You can’t not use Word. You at least are forced to adapt and that’s better than the old days. But yes, we’re all evolving. We’re all going to case management software where you pull up a client file and everything’s there – whether it’s how much the client owes or how much work has been done on the file or who’s working on the file, or what tasks are coming up or deadlines. We’re all getting there and that makes us more efficient instead of calling my secretary and saying when’s the court date? I mean, it’s all in one place. So, technology has really streamlined the practice and probably made it more efficient and cost-effective for clients too because they don’t have to pay for us to have as much staff and as much support as we need. We pay the software costs.
But you’re more efficient. Do you find that clients are expecting you to be more efficient or to have certain standards?
I could not imagine a client not expecting us to be efficient. I’m getting old and clients are getting younger and younger. I’m one of the early adopters, so I’d use PowerPoint early on before PowerPoint was cool. I used to think if I had a computer in front of me on my table and the other lawyer didn’t, what would their client think? I tell lawyers to bring a computer; even if you’re not going to use it, the expectation is that you better know how to use the technology. Clients nowadays come in with their own laptops, and they say, “Let me show you a spreadsheet. Let me show you my assets. Let me show you the evidence I have.” They’re all using portable electronics. They’re using new software, new technology. We better understand it. We better know how to text. We better know what all the terms are. So not only do we have to use technology because it makes us better, but also because we’ve got client expectations to satisfy.
And what do you think happens to the lawyers who haven’t embraced technology or are not using technology. Do you think that that gets back to their clients and then it reduces the referrals that they get because they feel like they’re not dealing with the most up-to-date family lawyer? Do you think there’s any impact at that level?
First and foremost, it affects their effectiveness. being less technologically savvy and on the cutting edge you’re just missing out. There are tools there that we should all be using that we can use. It affects their ability to be the best lawyer they can be. But secondarily, clients are perceptive – especially family law clients. In family law, there are two sets of lawyers both doing the same thing. And there is pressure on both family lawyers to use all the technological tools that are available; otherwise, they look like they are behind the times.
We’re not defending the criminals and the other side is prosecuting the criminals. We’re not defending the insurance company while the other side is prosecuting the insurance company. We’re defending a spouse and the other side is defending a spouse. So, why aren’t we doing all the cool stuff that the other side is doing? Clients see it at the forefront. One firm’s using Dropbox and electronic and you’re able to send your files in over the internet. The other lawyer has to bring them in and scan them in over the computer.
Certainly, word gets out. It’s got to hurt their business and their reputation.
And do you think that the practice has evolved at the court level as well in terms of you being able to file documents easily now, electronically, and communicating that way? I know you’ve used Zoom, certainly during the pandemic. Have the courts stepped up faster than before?
Courts are so much more efficient. Courts now embrace technology. There’s this fear that you weren’t really doing justice or being judicial or being professional if you let a lawyer just call in on the phone and talk about something, or you had a FaceTime call with a judge that seems informal. Now, I can be in one county in the morning and another county in the afternoon. I can do a mediation, take a break, pop into a court date, have the court date then go back to my mediation. I can handle a lot more. Courts love it. Judges enjoy it. They can be much more efficient. Who likes crowded courtrooms with lots of bailiffs and scuffles and wear-and-tear on the courthouse and elevators get stuck and there’s a traffic jam and somebody was late? Absolutely it’s here to stay. But I will tell you there’s something about going to the courthouse and stamp filing something. We file something electronically; it takes two or three days to get it back when all we’re doing is pushing a button. I still don’t understand how electronic filing isn’t more efficient than the other way.
But I guess everything’s got its bumps in the road.
I guess some people who are going through a divorce if they’re doing a Zoom call or Zoom meeting with the court and the lawyers, et cetera, they might be more at ease or less ease because I know walking into a courtroom isn’t the most comfortable setting for most people who haven’t been in a courtroom. Do you think it’s easier with using a Zoom call than being in a courtroom?
Sure. If you ask how many of my clients have previously been in a courtroom, very few. How many of them have previously been on Zoom? A lot. Certainly, they like Zoom. For those that are uncomfortable, they come, and they sit right behind me, or we turn the computer, and they sit at this little client chair over there and the court can see them. That way they have the comfort of being with their advisor, their advocate…
…and still not having to be in the same room as their soon-to-be ex. They certainly like that and appreciate that. Technology has certainly helped make everybody a little better, make the core system even more efficient.
You mentioned clients saying that they come in with their computer where they may not have come in with a computer 10 years ago. Are there any other changes and differences? Let me just mention to people who are listening, that your firm is dealing with a variety from high-net-worth people to middle-income people, and you have 30 people at your firm. How many lawyers now, 12 or 14?
We have 15 lawyers. So, we have all ranges.
Has dealing with your clients changed over the past 10 years? Are they more anxious? Are they more likely to want a peaceful divorce than they were 10 years ago or is it the same for you?
the emotional aspect of divorce has not changed over time. that it’s still the same, it’s rejection. It’s how can my spouse not want to be with me? How can my spouse do that? Am I not good enough? So, the emotions are very, very similar through the pandemic and before the pandemic. But people also have a window to the world now they didn’t have 10 years ago.
It’s a lot easier to see out the window no pun intended. We’ve got great views here.
We want people to look out the window and think about the world that they have to look forward to. But truthfully, they’re not going home to their basement apartment. They’ve got to get dressed nice, shave, shower, and go out to meet somebody. They can get online. It reminds me of when we first had our first divorce and the person said, “I met her online on a dating app,” and I thought to myself, “No wonder you are getting a divorce! What a crazy way to meet somebody.”
The truth is nowadays you get to know somebody when you’re sober and when you’re thinking straight and you can turn the computer off in a second, as opposed to hoping that you run into the right person by chance. So, regarding the dating world and getting back out there, the social world makes it a lot easier for people to move forward. It’s still not easy, but easier probably in today’s world to meet somebody else. Easier to still feel connected to the world than it was 10 years ago.
And are people more inclined to use mental health professionals than they were 10 or 20 years ago? Because that conversation seems to be coming more and more to the forefront that it’s okay to reach out for help.
I don’t want to say this and sound elitist, right, that it’s a rich people thing. But we represent a lot of folks that can afford significant divorce fees and the more money you have, the easier it is for me to say you should get a therapist, or more likely they already have a therapist because therapists are expensive. To afford a lawyer and to afford all these other things. So, the people that have more money don’t all go to therapists.
But I do think people, in my opinion, are more open to therapy and from my perspective, when they say, do I look bad if I go to a therapist? Are you kidding me? The judge is going to say good for you to acknowledge that you need some help. So, people are more open to it. I also think the world is more open to it now. We’re having all this sunlight being shed on mental illness and mental health and it’s not as much a stigma anymore to have any of these diagnoses. When we ask people what medications are they on and we hear antidepressants and sleep medicines I don’t bat an eye. I mean, it’s just very, very common that people are addressing these issues.
In conclusion, is there anything you can say about where do you think we are going? Are things just going to keep on progressing technologically? Are the courts going to keep on evolving? What’s your vision for the future of family law?
I hope we don’t go backward. I hope we keep going forward. I hope people don’t say, well, it’s easy to get a divorce because I can just do it online on Zoom. It’s still not easy. The hard part is the emotional part, the actual breaking of the relationship, whether you’re married or dating somebody or whatever it is. So, I don’t think things are going to change that much. People are going to be human beings. People are not going to be monogamous. People are going to stray. People are going to want happiness and the basis for most divorces is not cheating or this or that. the basis for most divorce is pretty much, I’m not happy. What can I do to make myself happy? Unfortunately, or fortunately, a lot of people say if I got divorced and I separated from him or her I’d be happier.
some of them are absolutely right and some of them are absolutely wrong. But it’s going to be an answer and it’s the right answer for some, it’s not the right answer for others, but it is an answer and people are going to always as look at that as maybe that’s a way to be happy if I could just change my whole standard of living, change my environment, change my spouse or my significant other. So, I don’t think things are going to change that dramatically and I don’t see the laws changing. Congress gets it. People have the right to be happy and if they want to get divorced, we’re not going to go back to the fault-based grounds that you have to prove someone had something bad. Nowadays in America and every state, we have no-fault. If you want a divorce and your marriage can’t work, who’s the judge to tell you you’ve got to stay in it. That’s how we feel in every state currently and that’s here to stay.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Randy. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. It’s of course always a pleasure. People want to learn more about Randy. I recommend that you go to his website. It’s ksfamilylaw.com. Have I got that correct, Randy?
You did. Or they can just Google me, Randy Kessler, or www.divorceprotect.com, but you can find us, and I am happy to answer questions.
Thanks again, Randy. You have a great day. Take care.