Five items of technology that improve the efficiency of the family law attorney-client relationship

Posted Saturday, August 15th, 2020 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants

Some family law litigants simply “don’t do technology.” That resistance slows their case and costs them money. There are five items of technology that every family law client should have access to if they hope to speed their case and save on fees.

The most obvious piece of technology every client should possess is a computer. A lot of family law client work is filling out forms, or drafting statements or trial preparation materials. While it’s possible to do this on a smartphone or tablet, it’s hardly efficient. In theory one could even do this drafting with paper and pen or pencil. It was done that way 40 years ago and folks managed. But it is inefficient and, if editing is required, it requires someone to turn handwritten drafts into electronic text. If that someone is the attorney or his or her staff, that will cost the client money.

For any contested family court matter, the case becomes much more expensive when a client does not have access to a computer. Often I will be required to handle the first draft of documents that clients could do themselves if they had a computer. Further, rather than have the client do the initial draft at his or her convenience–with time to reflect and edit–the draft we produce will be created during the time the client and I can talk/meet. Often such drafts have significant omissions as I am only obtaining information the client discusses during our conversation. I often have to do significant redrafting when the client later recalls additional information. Every redraft costs the client money.

The second piece of vital technology is email. Email is the most efficient way to exchange documents. For documents when an original isn’t required, it can suffice as the sole method to exchange documents. It is often the most efficient method of providing advice. Oral transmission is subject to the problems of imperfect recall and miscommunication. Mail is both slower and less efficient to search and store. Even text is less efficient to search and store–I use text for scheduling issues but discourage it for all other communications. A client lacking email is requiring much of my communication to be made through mail. The acts of printing correspondence and envelopes, copying the correspondence, and mailing the correspondence requires more time than hitting “send” on an email. More time means more fees for the client.

When timeliness is important, mail is also a highly inefficient method of exchanging ideas. Thus, when clients lack email, I often resort to the phone for relaying or seeking information. The dreaded “phone tag” of leaving messages for each other (and many folks don’t even listen to their voice mail any more) wastes time. Further, the immediacy aspect of oral communication reduces the ability to contemplate before responding. Clients who lack email pay more fees and get less considered responses to their questions.

The third piece of vital technology is Microsoft Word. While I’m no fan of Word as a word processing program–this blog is being drafted in Word Perfect–it is the format for almost every form promulgated by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Since much of family law practice is filling out forms, and many forms can be drafted by the client with editing and revision by the attorney, a client who has access to Word can save a lot of money. While Google Docs is capable of opening and editing Word documents it often creates odd formatting changes when it saves. One of the reasons I still prefer Word Perfect is that Word makes it extremely difficult to modify formatting changes. The formatting changes that Google Docs create in Word documents are nearly impossible to fix. Word is the program every family court litigant needs.

The one family court form that isn’t filled out in Word is the DHEC divorce form, which requires Adobe. Further most family court filings are “saved” as PDF documents and almost every “paper” document–bank statements; web pages; all types of records–are stored as PDF documents. Other than photographs and audio/video recordings, almost every document I send a client will be in a PDF format. When I need to preserve email communications between third-parties and my client, the ability to print such emails to a PDF is essential. Adobe Reader is the standard program for creating and opening PDF documents. It is free and every family court litigant should have it.

The final vital piece of technology is the most expensive but still can be had for around $100: a scanner with a multiple-page feeder capacity. For many documents that cannot be downloaded from the internet, the ability to scan them as one PDF file is the easiest way to transmit them to an attorney. If one only has paper copies of one’s tax returns or a medical record, one can copy and mail them to me but that takes time and postage and wastes paper. It will also take me a few days to receive it, slowing down the client’s case. The multiple page feeder function is important. Email me multiple pages of one document as separate one-page documents and I am billing for my time organizing and collating those pages back into one document. That time costs my clients fees/money.

Some family law litigants “don’t do technology” because they lack money (how they have money to pay for an attorney remains an enigma). Others “don’t do technology” out of stubborn pride or simple confusion. Their failure to “do technology” slows down their case and is expensive.

4 thoughts on Five items of technology that improve the efficiency of the family law attorney-client relationship

  1. Greg, a good overview, but each of your topics needs more space.
    Speaking at a bench bar seminar years ago, I said, “There is a place in this world for Microsoft Word, but it is not in a law office. Real lawyers use WordPerfect.” We are slowly converting to Word, but I still prefer WordPerfect, especially for appellate briefs.
    For document creation, I use South Carolina Divorce Forms, which handles both Word and WordPerfect. Using these templates, I usually complete the six or seven-page case-specific retainer fee agreement and the UCCJEA affidavit before the client leaves the initial consultation.
    Not only should lawyers scan or save all documents to PDF, they should also OCR (optical character reader) those documents so they can be searched, highlighted, and cut and pasted. Lawyers who do not OCR documents fail the ethical test of competence.
    Family court lawyers need the Traxler Trilogy: child support calculator, alimony calculator, and equitable apportionment calculator. Lawyers using Word should check their work with WordRake to eliminate legalese and verbiage (WordRake suggested eight modifications in your column.) A good time and billing system is mandatory (I use PCLaw, which is not a good system. No lawyer should use QuickBooks.)
    I hope you will continue to write on technology as we have an ethical duty of technical proficiency.

    1. Thomas,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree on the superiority of Word Perfect, which was originally designed specifically for attorneys and allows one to instantaneously develop table of contents and authorities (plus allows for easier formatting changes). However this blog is aimed at what technologies clients need. What technologies attorneys need would be a separate blog. Given that I still use Amicus Attorney as my case management software, still rock a PC, and still use Word Perfect, I’m not the attorney to write that blog.

  2. Matthew E Pecoy says:

    Word Perfect has gone the way of the dinosaurs. No room for it in a modern day practice.

    1. Matt,

      How many appeal briefs have you drafted?

      Draft as many as Mr. McDow and I have and you would quickly appreciate how well it generates and updates Tables of Contents and Tables of Authorities.

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